Today is April 1st and the Pittsburgh Steelers currently only have three tackles under contract for the 2023 season. No, that’s not an April Fools’ Day joke, it’s the truth. While the team did recently bring in free agent tackle Joshua Miles for a workout, he left Pittsburgh unsigned and has since signed with the Atlanta Falcons. With the Steelers at least bringing Miles in for a visit and on the heels of them recently signing free agent tackle Le’Raven Clark, it’s easy to believe that they might sign at least one more tackle prior to the 2023 NFL Draft getting underway.
While the idea of the Steelers possibly signing another free agent tackle in the coming weeks might sound exciting, the available list of players who started the new league year as unrestricted or non-restricted tendered types isn’t, and especially when comes to those who are 31 years of age and under and have at least 34-inch arms. A short list that I cobbled together that fits that criterion includes the likes of Cedric Ogbuehi, George Fant, Brandon Shell, and Billy Turner.
Now, it is important to remember that the XFL is now starting to wind down their 2023 season and after that happens, the Steelers might have a tackle option or three to consider. After all, the Steelers have signed players from the spring professional leagues in the past with one of them, center J.C. Hassenauer, actually sticking.
While I haven’t gone deep into the 2023 XFL tackles who figure to be available soon, there was one that stuck out to me during my quick research. Oh, he’s a Pittsburgh product as well. His name is Jaryd Jones-Smith.
Currently, Jones-Smith, who originally signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 NFL Draft, is a member of the St. Louis Battlehawks and he plays left tackle for them. While Jones-Smith did miss two games earlier this season due to him being suspended for an in-game brawl, he currently is the highest-graded run blocking tackle in the XFL by Pro Football Focus. Overall, Jones-Smith is currently the sixth highest-graded tackle by PFF and he’s easily one of the longest when it comes to his arms (36 1/4-inches).
It might be worth pointing out at this point that former Steelers’ quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is the offensive coordinator for the Battlehawks. Additionally, Pat Perles, the son of former college head coach and architect of Pittsburgh’s famed “Steel Curtain”, George Perles, is the Battlehawks’ offensive line coach. Not that those are hugely noteworthy links back to the Steelers, but they are links, nonetheless.
Fans of the Pitt Panthers probably know all about Jones-Smith by now as he played in 33 games and had 13 starts in total in college. A serious 2015 knee injury while he was in college seriously hampered his playing time and ability. Even so, he rebounded from it and was selected to play in the 2018 East-West Shrine Game. He also went on to participate in the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine as well. His RAS score ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft was 7.15 and at the combine, he measured in at 6064, 317-pounds. For whatever it’s worth, his 5.22-second time in the 40-yard-dash at the combine was tied for the 11th fastest that year of the offensive linemen who ran in Indianapolis.
To date, Jones-Smith has very little NFL experience in regular season playing time between the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens in 2020 and 2021, respectively. He was mostly a practice squad player for both teams during those two seasons. He was previously a member of the Texans, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers as well but obviously failed to stick with any of those teams. His playing time this season in the XFL might very well be his last run at getting one final shot at a summer NFL roster spot.
In closing, the Steelers are likely to select a tackle during the 2023 NFL Draft and probably sooner rather than later. They’ll also likely add one or two as undrafted free agents as well. Even so, the Steelers will likely need a few more tackles on their offseason roster and unless they are willing to sign a player currently on the free agent scrap heap such as Ogbuehi, Fant, Shell, or Turner, they might ultimately add a 2023 XFL product. If they do add an XFL product, Jones-Smith might just be a player they look to sign.
The Battlehawks play on Sunday against the Houston Roughnecks if you want to take a close look at Jones-Smith.