The buzz and excitement following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones was sky high in the days and weeks following the 2023 NFL Draft. The franchise, for the first time since 1996, had selected an offensive tackle in the first round and seemingly solidified a position group that underwent a heavy rebuild the last two seasons.
That buzz continued to build as the projections started to roll in for the big, athletic offensive tackle who has some impressive plays on tape during his time at Georgia and didn’t allow a sack in college. That projection, of course, also led to the focus shifting to the actual lineup, with the belief that Jones will be the starting left tackle sooner rather than later in the Steel City.
While incumbent left tackle Dan Moore Jr., with 33 career starts under his belt, won’t go down without a fight at the position, Jones will eventually be the guy at left tackle, hopefully for the next decade. The real question with Jones, at least right now, becomes: should he be the starter at left tackle in Week 1, taking on the responsibility right away of protecting quarterback Kenny Pickett’s blindside?
For many, the easy answer might be “yes.” There’s a lot more to it than that though. Let’s look at the Pros and Cons of Jones being the potential Week 1 starter for the Black and Gold.
— Prized draft pick hits the field immediately: In recent years, rookies have hit the field faster and faster for the Steelers, which continues a shift in philosophy. Prior to the last half decade or so, rookies would typically sit and learn and be eased into onto the field. That’s not the case anymore. That might be due more to the rookies entering the NFL more equipped to have an impact right away, but it still goes against the traditional belief for the Steelers. After the last two offseasons of rebuilding the offensive line, bringing in the likes of Mason Cole, James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo in free agency, the Steelers would be able to get a good, long look at the ideal starting line they had in mind this offseason with, from left to right, Jones, Seumalo, Cole, Daniels and Chukwuma Okorafor.
— Pass protection on Pickett’s blindside improved: Jones didn’t allow a sack at Georgia, and while he has just 19 games under his belt in the SEC, that’s still a rather remarkable number. Much of the concerns with Moore the last two seasons have come in pass protection. He’s been far too inconsistent and allows too much pressure and too many sacks, which ultimately led to the Steelers searching for an upgrade. On paper at least, the Steelers have found that upgrade, in both pass protection and the run game.
— Learning using real football experiences: There is no experience like real experience, and that’s what Jones would be getting on the fly. Sometimes, it’s much easier to learn through doing, rather than watching and interpreting. Hitting the field right away in NFL games would give him that opportunity to grow and learn within the game, hopefully improving each and every week.
— Legitimate tests right out of the gate: Talk about a gauntlet to open the season, in terms of opposing pass rushers: San Francisco’s Nick Bosa in Week 1, Cleveland’s Myles Garrett in Week 2 on Monday Night Football, Las Vegas’ Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones and fellow rookie Tyree Wilson in Week 3. That’s quite the stretch. Trial by fire, truly learning on the job. Sink or swim, Broderick. That’s quite the measuring stick for where Jones would currently be, and where he needs to get to at the position.
— A true, nasty mauler in the run game: The Steelers had a great deal of success in the running game down the stretch in the second half of the 2022 season. The offensive line gelled as run blockers, leading the Steelers to the No. 7 rushing attack in football after the Week 9 bye. While that was certainly impressive, the offensive line lacked that truly nasty mentality in the run game. Jones brings that in abundance. He’s a great athlete, moves very well and looks to punish defenders in the run game. Moore is a great athlete as well, but he got by with athleticism and sound technique and positioning, rather than that true punishing style of bully ball. With the way the Steelers are very clearly trending toward bully ball, Jones fits it to a T. He would seemingly set the tone in that department for the offensive line, even as its youngest piece.
— Thrown to the wolves in season-opening gauntlet: While the season-opening gauntlet of pass rushers in Bosa, Garrett, Crosby, Wilson and Chandler Jones can be viewed as a potential pro when it comes to Broderick Jones opening the season as the starter, it has to be viewed as a potential negative, too. That’s certainly not an easy stretch to be inserted into the lineup for, especially starting out one’s career in the NFL. Getting the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Bosa right off the bat, and then DPOY candidates year after year in Garrett and Crosby is as tough of a stretch as an offensive linemen could face in a season, let alone starting one’s career.
— Still learning new technique: In Pittsburgh, Jones will have to learn and adapt to offensive line coach Pat Meyer’s independent hand usage in pass protection. Jones already got a jump on it in rookie minicamp last weekend, but it’s a new concept for him, one that will take time to truly get comfortable with and master. Remember how much the offensive line struggled early on last season in pass protection? Now think of Jones, on the blindside, against that gauntlet of pass rushers to open the season while trying to learn a new technique. Yep, it’s concerning. Maybe it’s wise to let Moore be the sacrificial lamb, of sorts, to open the season, protecting Jones a bit.
— Breaking up the band: Granted, this is already happening with Seumalo taking over for Kevin Dotson at left guard, so it won’t be the same starting five that closed the 2022 season in style. Still, going into the season with two new starters entirely on the left side of the offensive line, especially two new starters that are unfamiliar with each other, could be a problem. I thought Moore got better down the stretch in 2022 and put together a solid stretch from Week 12 at Indianapolis to Week 17 at Baltimore. He didn’t really do anything to “lose” his job, per se, during that span. Still, the Steelers sought an upgrade and made it. Putting two new starters on the left side to open the season in front of Pickett and running back Najee Harris could be a bit problematic, especially against the stretch of games to open the year.
Clearly, the pros outweigh the cons, at least in this article, when it comes to Jones being the Steelers’ Week 1 starter at left tackle. Pittsburgh didn’t trade up for him at No. 14 overall to leave him glued to the bench too long, and there’s a good chance he beats out Moore in training camp to earn the starting job to open the 2023 season.
Should Jones do that, all eyes will certainly be on him. There’s no denying how great of a test the first three weeks of the season are, in terms of the caliber of pass rushers the Steelers will face. Chances are, if Jones is the guy to open the season, Pittsburgh will give him plenty of help with a tight end or a running back chipping, but it’s still going to be a very tough test out of the chute.
We’ll see what happens, but this could go either way with Jones and Moore. It will be one of the most important and interesting position battles in training camp at Saint Vincent College.