Updated: Jul 2, 2021
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
The Steelers' offensive line was a big question mark heading into the 2021 season regardless, but with the news last week of the release of veteran guard David DeCastro, the concern has been amplified even more. They'll have four new starters on the offensive line and Chuks Okorafor is the longest-tenured offensive linemen, who's heading into only his fourth season.
It's also unclear who will replace Maurkice Pouncey at center, as a training camp battle will take place between third-round pick Kendrick Green and veterans B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer. There's just a lot of inexperience and unknowns with this young Steelers offensive line, so it makes sense that Pro Football Focus named the group as an Achilles' heel that could derail their 2021 season.
"Pittsburgh will roll into the 2021 season trying to replace effectively an entire offensive line in one offseason," Sam Monson of PFF wrote. "Some 3,645 snaps from starters last year are gone, and the only player penciled in to start this year who did so a year ago (Chukwuma Okorafor) wasn’t supposed to and only had the job because of an injury to Zach Banner.
"Long-time stalwarts Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro have all departed, leaving the Steelers to find replacements all in one offseason. Okorafor played all last season but generated a lowly 57.5 overall PFF grade, struggling badly as a run blocker and allowing 26 total pressures in pass protection."
Monson points out that it's really not the Steelers' fault that they're left with a really young inexperienced offensive line, as their core offensive lineman just got old quickly. In a matter of just 18 months, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva, and DeCastro have all departed via either retirement, free agency, or release.
"To be fair to the Steelers, they are simply the victim of circumstances (or at least not thorough long-term planning) with much of the turnover," Monson wrote. "Pouncey retired, Villanueva departed in free agency and DeCastro needs another surgery to fix a long-term ankle injury that threatened to end his career. It’s not necessarily about blaming the team for the current situation, but rather highlighting how problematic it is. Even if they were replacing all three players with proven commodities, the chances they would jell immediately are slim. Replacing them with the kind of question marks they have in several spots is even riskier.
"The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger back chasing one more Super Bowl, and they have both the defense and receiving weapons to make that run, but their passing attack may never have the platform it needs with this offensive line. Roethlisberger had an average depth of target of just 7.4 yards last season, ranking 26th in the NFL and coming in as the lowest mark of his career. His big-time throw rate was also well down from his usual number. Those are numbers that have to change for the Pittsburgh offense to get to where it wants to go, and both need a solid offensive line in front of him to do so."