(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
The Steelers ranked dead last in rushing yards per game (82.5) and yards per carry (3.6) in 2020. They need better running backs and a new scheme should help with Matt Canada as the new offensive coordinator replacing Randy Fichtner who didn't have his contract renewed following the 2020 season. But the biggest issue was the offensive line. They looked old and tired this past season, especially down the stretch.
Veterans Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva and David DeCastro were all below the line. It's been reported that Pouncey is expected to retire soon and Villanueva is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March and might retire anyway. DeCastro, who turned 31 earlier this month probably has a few more years left. Due to the offensive line struggling and the run game being abysmal, offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett also didn't get his contract renewed and the Steelers are in the process of finding a replacement.
It's a must that the Steelers either go center or offensive tackle in the first two rounds. Running back could also be in play, but it's crucial that they get some top-tier offensive lineman. You can find a running back late in the draft. It's hard to find elite offensive linemen in the later rounds.
Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood would be an excellent place to start to retool the offensive line. Leatherwood is massive at 6-foot-5, 312 pounds. He's built as the perfect left tackle. He has long arms and incredible footwork. His length is his greatest strength which allows him to be dominant in the run game. Once he gets locked in on a defender, Leatherwood possesses the ability to pancake the opposition with pure strength.
Look how dominant Leatherwood is in the clip below when run blocking. Once he gets his hands on a defender. It's over.
Leatherwood started 41 games at Alabama and played in 48 games. He also provides versatility as he played both offensive tackle and offensive guard in college, and he excelled at both positions. Leatherwood is projected to be a late first-round pick or an early second-round pick. The Steelers have the 24th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft so he could fall just at the right spot. In my opinion, Leatherwood has the potential to be a plug-in-play starter on the Steelers' offensive line. Especially with the possibility of Villanueva not being re-signed or retiring. As mentioned, he's also capable of playing guard.
Leatherwood is the complete package, but he does need to make improvements in certain areas. He needs to improve his body control and balance, and some question his recovery athleticism. Leatherwood is solid in pass protection, but he's at his best when it comes to run blocking. He's an absolute mauler. He moves bodies in the run game, just like Kevin Dotson. It would be great to see both Dotson and Leatherwood line up on the left side for years to come.
In 2020, Leatherwood was named first-team All-SEC and was the co-winner of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy along with Alabama center Landon Dickerson. Leatherwood was a unanimous first-team All-America selection and was awarded the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman.
Here are Leatherwood's measurables from the Senior Bowl.