2023 NFL Draft

Is Offensive Tackle A Two-Man Race In The Draft For The Steelers?

The Pittsburgh Steelers went into free agency with a clear objective in mind: revamp the offensive line. Up to this point, they have kept all five starters from a season ago while adding OGs Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig as well as backup OT Le’Raven Clark into the fold. Still, the work doesn’t appear to be done just yet as Pittsburgh has shown quite a bit of interest in both the center and offensive tackle positions during the pre-draft process. Many expect Pittsburgh to address OT with their first pick in the draft while NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger recently said that he wouldn’t be shocked if Pittsburgh drafted both an OT and C high to fix the offensive line once and for all.

While names at center like John Michael Schmitz, Joe Tippmann, and Steve Avila have been linked to Pittsburgh, it’s becoming more and more likely that OT will be one of Pittsburgh’s first two selections in the 2023 NFL Draft. Unless they trade up, Pittsburgh has a slim chance to land one of the top names including Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio State or Broderick Jones from Georgia who will likely go in the top 15 picks. However, there are a couple of other OTs receiving first-round grades that the Steelers have shown extensive interest in during the pre-draft process: Tennessee OT Darnell Wright and Ohio State OT Dawand Jones.

Pittsburgh has had its fingerprints all over Jones and Wright since the start of the pre-draft process. They talked with both prospects at the Senior Bowl and likely spent some time with both during the NFL Combine. The Steelers sent the house to the Ohio State Pro Day to see Jones along with HC Mike Tomlin having dinner with Jones prior to the Pro Day. Pittsburgh sent OL Coach Pat Meyer to Tennessee’s Pro Day to watch Wright and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Pittsburgh had notable interest in Wright since the Senior Bowl. Jones had been reportedly scheduled for a pre-draft visit as well, showing Pittsburgh doing all the due diligence they can on one of the top tackle prospects in the draft class.

While Pittsburgh also brought in Oklahoma OT Anton Harrison who should be in consideration as a potential draft pick, Harrison simply doesn’t have the sheer number of fingerprints on him as Wright and Jones do. Both guys profile as mauling right tackles that win with sheer size, strength, and aggressiveness in the run game while also being a chore to work around in pass protection. Jones is a behemoth of a man, standing 6’8 2/8”, 374lb at the Combine with a freakish wingspan of nearly 88 inches. Wright is a big man in his own right, standing 6’5 3/8”, 333lb with nearly 34” arms and had a breakout season for the Vols, shutting down the likes of Will Anderson Jr. and BJ Ojulari in the SEC.

LT Dan Moore Jr. is the weaker link at the tackle position with Chukwuma Okorafor being solid, yet unspectacular. While drafting Harrison to usurp Moore at LT would be a cleaner fit (and it’s a distinct possibility), it appears that Pittsburgh is leaning toward adding a big, mean people mover at tackle and having either Jones or Wright step in at RT and have Okorafor kick over to LT, or simply have Jones or Wright attempt to supplant Moore at LT. The cleaner fit would be to move Okorafor to LT, draft the rookie to play RT, and have Moore become the swing tackle, but Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff can cross that bridge when they get the guys in the building.

The Steelers haven’t drafted an OT in the first round since Jamain Stephens in 1996, speaking to the drought this team has had regarding the investment of premium draft capital into the position. Assistant GM Andy Weidl is a trenches guy where the OL and DL was prioritized in Philly, and it looks like he and GM Omar Khan aren’t messing around when it comes to improving the depth and caliber of the OL for 2023 and beyond.

While Jones and Wright may be better suited for Pittsburgh’s 32nd pick at the top of the second, the demand for tackles as well as the plethora of CBs, DL, and EDGEs available later may force their hand to take their guy at #17. Whether that ends up being Wright or Jones remains to be seen, but both prospects look firmly to be in the crosshairs when it comes to becoming a Steeler in the next two weeks.

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