With the 123rd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select … Jerald Hawkins, offensive tackle, Louisiana State.
With defensive needs already met in the first three rounds, the Steelers decided to invest in the offensive line in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. In LSU’s Jerald Hawkins, the Steelers receive a lineman with plenty of playing experience under his belt, but one who will need mechanically polished in order to exceed at the NFL level.
Hawkins (6’6″, 305 lbs.) won the starting job at LSU as a redshirt freshman. Coming out of the SEC, he was no stranger to elite competition at the college level. A capable swing tackle (able to play on both the left and right side), Hawkins rotated throughout his three years in school. In 2014, he started every game at right tackle, and in 2015, he missed only one game due to an ankle injury. Hawkins is as reliable as they come in terms of availability.
Scouts say that Hawkins’ biggest strengths are his field awareness and change-of-direction skills. His quick feet and fast burst off the line allow him to get the upper hand in positioning against defenders. Gifted with a long frame and 34-inch arms, Hawkins is able to spread himself out and engage in blitzers coming off the edge.
Despite his size, Hawkins has been criticized for his “linear build”, referring to his narrow shoulders and hips. CBS Sports’ scouting report notes that although Hawkins often gets a good initial jump on defenders, he too often fails to finish blocks. Stronger defenders are able to break free of Hawkins’ grasp, while smaller defenders can take advantage of his tall frame.
Hawkins will have to improve his overall strength in order to succeed in the NFL. Additionally, his technique will need worked on. Hawkins tends to bend at the waist when facing a quick edge rusher, and he engages blocks with his hands too far apart.
Given his upside, Hawkins was a strong pick in the fourth round. Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak serves as an ideal candidate to polish Hawkins’ weak points and introduce him to life as a lineman in the NFL. With cornerback, safety and defensive tackle already addressed in the first three rounds, it was time for the Steelers to find more help along the offensive line.
Initially, Hawkins will serve as offensive line insurance. The Steelers picked up offensive tackle Ryan Harris in free agency following the loss of Kelvin Beachum, but it is currently unclear whether Harris or Alejandro Villanueva will start at left tackle. Marcus Gilbert will continue to start on the right side.
Mike “The Turnstile” Adams, for reasons only God knows, is still on the Steelers roster. Here’s to hoping that Hawkins can take his spot as primary backup, and possibly more.
Final grade: B+
Upside, depth, value: Jerald Hawkins provided the Steelers with all of the necessary components for a quality draft pick in the fourth round. His skills will surely be fine-tuned under the guidance of Coach Munchak, and the Steelers now have a solid backup rotation at tackle in case of injury.