The Pittsburgh Steelers had the benefit of having one of the best offensive lines in the league for the better part of half a decade, from roughly 2014-2018, thanks to a combination of pedigreed talent, shrewd scouting, and excellent coaching.
The line was in need of a rebuild very early in the Mike Tomlin era after he took over as head coach in 2007, losing center Jeff Hartings immediately, with Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith, and Kendall Simmons all gone by 2008. They managed to win the Super Bowl that season with perhaps one of the very worst lines to ever do so. Their game-winning drive was preceded by a safety by virtue of a holding penalty in the end zone.
The rebuild started with the selection of center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round in 2010, followed by tackle Marcus Gilbert in round two in 2011. They used their top two picks in 2012 on guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams. While Adams didn’t pan out, seventh-rounder Kelvin Beachum ended up becoming their left tackle until injury and free agency saw him give way to college free agent Alejandro Villanueva, who would go on to two Pro Bowls.
In between, as well as just before in 2009, they hit on some diamonds in the rough in free agents Ramon Foster, Matt Feiler, Chris Hubbard, and others of lesser importance who nevertheless played an important reserve role, like B.J. Finney.
It was one of the most fertile periods of line play for a while in team history, guided by Mike Munchak, who was hired to coach the line in 2014 and left after the 2018 season. They’ve since watched their line deteriorate through age and retirement, a revolving door of coaches, and a less than adequate strategy for maintaining the pipeline.
Even though they’ve turned to free agency the past two offseasons to reinforce the area with Mason Cole, James Daniels, Isaac Seumalo, and Nate Herbig, the addition of Georgia tackle Broderick Jones in the first round this year was a long time coming, and overdue.
Not only is it the first time in more than a decade, since Adams in 2012, that the Steelers have used a selection in the top two rounds on an offensive lineman, it is the first time that they have drafted a tackle in the first round since Jamaine Stephens in 1996.
In between Adams and Jones, the Steelers used a 2014 fifth-round pick on versatile lineman Wesley Johnson, who ultimately settled in at center in the NFL, followed by a fourth-round selection on tackle Jerald Hawkins in 2016, a third-round selection on tackle Chukwuma Okorafor in 2018, a seventh-round pick on tackle Derwin Gray in 2019, a fourth-round pick on guard Kevin Dotson in 2020, and third- and fourth-round picks, respectively, on interior lineman Kendrick Green and tackle Dan Moore Jr. in 2021.
The only selection the Steelers made in the top 90 on an offensive lineman during that entire run was Green 87th overall, and that is in the running for the worst of the selections. The Steelers thought they had it a little too good for a little too long along the offensive line. Combine that with some draft misses and you have the situation where over the last two years they have to very nearly entirely remake the trenches for new quarterback Kenny Pickett.
While he is not guaranteed to win the job, the Steelers could open the 2023 regular season with an offensive line featuring Jones, Seumalo, Cole, Daniels, and Okorafor left to right. That’s a far cry from what they trotted out just two seasons ago. But they were the ones who put themselves in this situation and were of course the only ones who could help themselves get out. Though perhaps the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers helped a little as well.