There’s no way to sugarcoat the play of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line throughout the 2021 season. It was dreadful.
From injuries to inconsistent play, the Steelers’ offensive line really struggled from start to finish in a transition year after watching center Maurkice Pouncey retire, guard David DeCastro be cut with an injury, and guard Matt Feiler and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva walk in free agency.
After watching things transpire like they did on the field now-retired GM Kevin Colbert got busy in free agency, signing veteran interior linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole, while also re-signing promising fifth-year right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. The additions of Cole and Daniels forces second-year pro Kendrick Green — who really struggled at center as a rookie — back into his more natural guard position, where he’ll battle with third-year pro Kevin Dotson.
Second-year lineman Dan Moore Jr. appears locked into left tackle for the foreseeable future, providing some stability at bookend tackle positions for the Steelers.
Despite rebuilding on the fly, the play of the offensive line still might not be good enough for the Steelers.
Pro Football Focus seems to think so, ranking the Steelers’ offensive line No. 30 in the NFL ahead of the 2022 season in its latest positional group rankings, just ahead of the Seattle Seahawks at No. 32 and the Chicago Bears at No. 31.
Currently, PFF projects the Steelers’ starting offensive line to read left to right: Moore Jr., Dotson, Cole, Daniels and Okorafor, which is the ideal starting five based on the linemen on the roster.
“The Steelers do at least have a solid guard duo along with some youth that should improve,” PFF’s Michael Renner writes regarding the rankings. “That being said, the bar was so low a year ago that a huge leap for 2022 seems unrealistic. Not a single one of Pittsburgh’s returning offensive line starters earned an overall grade over 65.0 in 2021.”
It’s understandable that the outlook remains a poor one for the Steelers’ offensive line, especially with three of five starters from Week 1, 2021 returning again this season. However, there needs to be a caveat with some of the players and the grades they recorded last season from PFF.
Moore Jr. was forced into the starting lineup late in the preseason due to Zach Banner’s injury, causing the Steelers to shift things around a bit with the Texas A&M product stepping in at left tackle and Okorafor shifting back over to right tackle in an effort to try and solidify the offensive line.
Though he had his struggles as a rookie, Moore Jr. got better and better as the season progressed and more than held his own against fellow Aggie Myles Garrett in the two matchups last season. It’s telling how the Steelers feel about him that they didn’t address tackle at all until signing journeyman reserve Trent Scott late in the offseason.
Okorafor had one of his better seasons overall in 2021, both as a run blocker and in pass protection. He’s not going to move the needle at the position overall, but he’s a steady presence on the offensive line who has made improvements each year in the NFL.
As for Dotson, he struggled with two ankle injuries last season, which sapped him of his mobility and overall strength in his lower half, leading to some struggles. Healthy now, Dotson should be able to get back to his high level of play he showed as a rookie in 2020, assuming he can hold of Green in a battle for the starting left guard job.
As for Cole and Daniels, with 114 combined games played in the NFL, they’re not short on experience, which will be a huge boost to a young offensive line overall in 2022 in the black and gold. Will that be enough to make the Steelers’ offensive line at least serviceable this fall? That remains to be seen, but there’s certainly some reason for optimism with a new-look offensive line.
After all, it can’t be worse than last season.