The Steelers should be hampered by the lack of equity invested in OL

The Pittsburgh Steelers have neglected their offensive line over the years. Here’s why the front office is to blame for the lackluster results.

I was a big fan of Pittsburgh’s decision to sign free-agent running guard James Daniels this offseason. Daniels has been one of the most underrated interior offensive linemen in recent years, and just 24 years out of his rookie contract, he’s a player who could remain the centerpiece of this offensive line.

Unfortunately, a strong free agent signing doesn’t make up for the neglect the Steelers have had for the position over the past decade. For some reason, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert seem to have in mind that they can get away with spending almost no significant draft capital on the offensive line. It is a strategy that has clearly failed.

In 2021, Pittsburgh lost four starters along its offensive line — including two former All-Pro players in David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey. Despite the huge holes they left, the Steelers front office naively believed they could get away with it without spending elite draft capital on the OL.

In a 2021 NFL Draft crowded with offensive line talent in the early rounds, Pittsburgh skipped the trenches in order to draft a running back. While Najee Harris was productive as a rookie, he wasn’t efficient – proving that OL play and RB efficiency go hand in hand.

We’re now 10 years away from the Steelers spending as much as a second-round pick on their offensive line. It’s the longest streak in the NFL (and certainly not one Pittsburgh should be proud of).

While the league’s elite offenses enhance the offensive line, the Steelers settle for a patchwork job. This must change. Unfortunately, that likely won’t be the case in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Steelers must invest in OL in the draft

Spending decent money on a mid-level free agent will only get you so far, and free agency should be seen as a way to fill in the gaps — not find entry-level talent. Even if I like James Daniels a lot, there is a chance that he will turn out to be the only good element of OL’s five starters this year.

Finding a quality offensive lineman in the NFL Draft is a must, but it’s not a priority for the Steelers. This year, there are some very good prospects that could be available when Pittsburgh comes around. Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson are versatile inside offensive linemen with a great college band who could step in and improve the trenches on day one. It’s also possible that an extremely talented offensive tackle prospect like Trevor Penning will drop to pick 20.

Unfortunately, that’s not an area the Steelers have shown interest in this offseason. During Tomlin and Colbert’s Pro Day road trip, they went from place to place visiting top quarterback prospects.

As a result of their visits and what we know based on historical trends, there isn’t a single OL prospect on Pittsburgh’s radar in the first round of the NFL Draft this year (and there there may not even be an offensive lineman they would have considered in the second round).

The Steelers haven’t drafted a first-round offensive tackle since 1996 or an offensive lineman of any kind in the first or second round since 2012. At some point, that questionable philosophy has to change.

Mike Tomlin needs to start focusing on the trenches after Kevin Colbert leaves. The Steelers can no longer manage by patching up the offensive line and hoping for good results.

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