The makeover of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line, a unit that had been together since 2015, began last winter with the trade of right tackle Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals.
It continued last month with left guard Ramon Foster’s retirement.
With age and expiring contracts creeping up on the group, it might be time for the Steelers to address both issues next week in the NFL Draft.
Not since 2012 have the Steelers used their top draft pick to take an offensive lineman, selecting guard David DeCastro in the first round. The last time they used a second-round pick on the line was that same year with the selection of tackle Mike Adams.
Without a first-rounder this year and with skill position areas requiring greater emphasis, the Steelers are unlikely to take a lineman with the No. 49 overall pick.
Still, this draft might be the time for the Steelers to use one of their six picks on a lineman, particularly one who plays on the exterior. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is 31 and entering the final year of his contract. At right tackle, incumbent Matt Feiler and top backup Zach Banner are set to become unrestricted free agents after the season.
Chuks Okorafor, a third-round pick in 2018, is the only tackle signed beyond this season. If Feiler moves inside to replace Foster, Okorafor and Banner would compete for the right tackle job in training camp.
General manager Kevin Colbert is thankful he has Feiler in the fold regardless of the position he plays.
“He has made himself into a solid starter at the right tackle position,” Colbert said. “We know we have a guy who is an effective right tackle and can play left guard. We feel comfortable knowing we have options in more than one position. … It’s a nice issue to be able to deal with, and we’d rather have more help than not enough.”
Thankfully for Colbert, the 2020 draft class has an abundance of tackles that could provide depth in the trenches. Many of those, however, will be long gone by the Steelers make their first selection.
“Like receiver, this particular position will play a prominent role in the draft’s opening night, with four no-doubt first-rounders and some other names that could be called within the first 32 picks,” said NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein, who ranked tackle as the second-deepest position in the class.
Zierlein listed eight players that could be taken among the top 40 picks.
“There is a greater supply of potential future starters in this season’s draft than in the last several years,” he said.
The top tackle prospects are Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas. The second wave consists of Houston’s Josh Jones, USC’s Austin Jackson, Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson and Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland.
“I think the tackle position is strong early, but some think it’s a little overrated, that some of these guys are pushed up because they are needed,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I think that’s a valid point, but there are still some very good prospects.”
Armed with three draft choices in a 34-pick span, starting with their compensatory pick in the third round, the Steelers could target a sleeper at tackle such as Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho, who was flagged for medical issues at the Senior Bowl and then underwent knee surgery.
Kiper is bullish on Ben Bartch of Division III St. John’s (Minn.) and Matt Peart of UConn. Another possibility from a non-Power 5 school is Charlotte’s Cameron Clarke, who could move to guard or be a swing tackle in the NFL.
“He held his own against elite competition when he had a chance,” Kiper said. “He could have a chance to make a football team and be better than advertised.”
The Steelers met with West Virginia’s Colton McKivitz at the NFL Combine. At 6-foot-6, 306 pounds, McKivitz played three seasons at right tackle before switching to the left side as a senior and earning third-team All-American recognition. He is considered a later-round possibility.
“One thing I take pride on is doing my job,” McKivitz said. “I was raised to play the game honest. I take pride in chasing perfection. It’s just being a physical player and making sure my job is done.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
Sports | Steelers/NFL