In today's NFL, the offensive line represents the foundation of a team's success. In previous decades, success was predicated by a team's defensive unit. Yet, with the noticeable shift to an offensive-centric league, the offensive line has been viewed as an essential element to a team's ability to score points and win games.
This past season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Though they had much success during the first half of the season, eventually, their inability to win at the line of scrimmage exposed them down the stretch; resulting in an increase in sacks and pressures allowed. Most importantly, the offensive line's deficiencies in run blocking resulted in a league-worst 84.4 rushing yards per game in 2020.
For the Steelers, this will be an offseason of many changes, after their disappointing playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns. One can be assured that one of the biggest changes will happen with the offensive line. Their current configuration features veteran linemen such as Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, who have seen their best days pass them by. There is no question that this process will not be easy, but it is a necessary process if the Steelers hope to stay relevant.
This year's NFL Draft will feature some of the best talent at different positions along the offensive line in years. If there is any better time for the Steelers to start the rebuild of their offensive line, this year will be as good as it gets.
Left Tackle - Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)
Alex Leatherwood was college football top offensive lineman in 2020. In addition to winning the Outland Trophy for most outstanding linemen, he earned both Unanimous All-American status and First Team All-SEC status in 2020 with Alabama. Though there was a slight regression in his pressures allowed from his junior season, his physical and athletic attributes are likely to make him desirable for any NFL team looking to rebuild their offense. If there was a noticeable weakness on the Steelers offensive line last season, it was on the left side, which was occupied by Alejandro Villanueva. The insertion of a physical and mobile lineman like Leatherwood, is ideal as a starting point for strengthening their offensive line.
Center Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)
For 11 seasons, center Maurkice Pouncey was the centerpiece of the Steelers offensive line. His hall of fame resume includes several Pro Bowl and All-Pro designations throughout his illustrious. This past season was arguably the worst of his career. The moment that defined his season, took place on the first snap against the Browns in their Wildcard playoff loss. It is clear that the Steelers will be in the market for a center this offseason, to succeed Pouncey, even if he decides to return for one more season. Creed Humphrey out of Oklahoma, is a player that plays with a tenor and physicality that would make him a natural Steeler. According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey allowed zero sacks or quarterback hits all season with the Sooners. Considered by many as the premier player at this position, Humphrey's is a plug and play talent that can become a tremendous asset for the Steelers' ailing run offense.
Left Tackle Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame)
Since 2016, Notre Dame has been an offensive line factory, especially at the tackle position. With past names such as Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey, the Fighting Irish has built a strong reputation of producing first round tackles. Destined to join this list is senior Liam Eichenberg, who earned All-America honors, as well as the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy. According to Pro Football Focus, he posted a team-best pass-blocking grade (85.6) and run-blocking grade (78.8), while surrendering zero sacks and three quarterback hits in 845 snaps this past season. At 6'6, 305 pounds, he possesses the ideal size, excellent feet and lateral movement to be successful in the NFL. What he lacks in athleticism, he compensates it with proper technique. So, if Leatherwood is taken before the Steelers selection at #24, taking Eichenberg would be just as good.