Offensive tackle is arguably the most important position on the offensive line, as the tackles are the players charged with defending against the defense’s edge rushers. Yet, for all the moaning about how long the Steelers have gone without draft a cornerback in the first round (last time was Chad Scott in 1997), Pittsburgh as gone longer without drafting an offensive tackle with their first round pick.
- The last time they did so was in 1996, fresh off the defeat in Super Bowl XXX and the loss of Leon Searcy in free agency when they took Jamain Stephens….
…OK, that pick didn’t work out so well, but does that mean that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should end the drought in the 2016 NFL Draft?
Steelers Depth Chart @ Offensive Tackle Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter
Marcus Gilbert has been the Steelers starting right tackle since Willie Colon injured himself in the 2011 opening day debacle vs. the Ravens. Gilbert started 13 games in 2011, but injuries limited him to four in 2012. Gilbert’s hold on a starting job was challenged in 2013 when coaches alternated Kelvin Beachum with both Gilbert and Mike Adams, but since Gilbert’s benching, he’s been the starter, although injuries did cost Gilbert 4 games in 2014.
- Following the 2014 season Pro Football Focus rated Gilbert as the 10th best pass rushing right tackle.
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had obviously come to a similar conclusion several months earlier, as they’d resigned Gilbert to a 5 year contract.
Playing on the other side of Gilbert is Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate, former US Army Ranger, and veteran of Afghanistan.
Villanueva spent 2014 on the Steelers practice squad, after the Steelers picked him up off of waivers from the Eagles, and moved him to the offensive side of the ball. While Alejandro Villanueva still must prove himself, the Steelers felt comfortable enough in his abilities that the allowed Kelvin Beachum to depart as a free agent.
Steelers Depth Cart @ Offensive Tackle Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups
While the Steelers clearly like Alejandro Villanueva, they’re hedging their bets when it comes to protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side, which was made clear by their decision to sign free agent tackle Ryan Harris from the Denver Broncos. Harris has over 70 starts to his name, and started all 16 games for the Super Bowl champions.
Oft forgotten, the Steelers also have Mike Adams who sat out 2015 on the PUP list, but will return for to play out the final year of his rookie contract. It remains to be seen if Adams can recover from the back surgery that ruined his 2015 season, but it should be noted that Adams did play well in relief of Gilbert in 2014.
The Steelers also enter the 2016 NFL Draft with Brian Mihalik and Matt Feiler, the latter of whom spent 2015 on the Steelers practice squad following stints on the Houston Texans practice squad in 2014.
Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Offensive Tackle
So, one week out from the 2016 NFL Draft the Steelers have one proven starter at offensive tackle, another starter-designate who shows a lot of potential, a Super Bowl veteran backup, and another player who will probably not live up to his billing as a second round pick, but could provide valuable depth.
- They also have two untested NFL roster bottom feeders.
That is a good, although not great place to be in terms of depth. Starting-caliber offensive tackles do not grow on trees, as the Steelers learned in 2011 when they were forced to turn to Max Starks after Jonathan Scott proved he couldn’t cut the mustard.
- Offensive tackle clearly isn’t a high priority for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2016 NFL Draft, but what priority should it take?
The Steelers have an insurance policy behind both starters, and if Mike Adams regains his health, they’ll have another one.
There is never a bad time to draft an offensive tackle with an eye towards developing him for the future, but given the Steelers depth at tackle and their other needs, the Steelers 2016 draft need at offensive tackle must be considered Moderate Low.