The Steelers have had quite the shake-up on the offensive line early this offseason. Here’s a look at the projected starters and primary backups in 2020.
It’s funny how quickly things can change in professional sports. While football has more consistency from year to year than others, we’ve witnessed first hand with the Steelers this offseason how a quick group of players can be replaced.
Pittsburgh’s previous starting offensive line unit group was one of the most experienced units in the NFL. Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro spent years by each other’s side – doing their best to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright. Even Matt Feiler and B.J. Finney have been solid backups for Pittsburgh, and when Marcus Gilbert continued to go down with nagging injuries and ultimately went to Arizona, Feiler was there to step up into his place.
Unfortunately, the Steelers aren’t going to have that same continuity for the first time in years. Ramon Foster retired this offseason after a terrific career at left guard, and his backup, B.J. Finney, signed with the Seattle Seahawks.
Fortunately, Feiler was retained for 2020 on a second-round tender, and Zach Banner signed back on with a cheap one-year deal. The Steelers also brought in long-time guard and center, Stefen Wisniewski. As of now, here’s an outlook for each position on the offensive line:
Starter: Alejandro Villanueva
Backup: Chukwuma Okorafor
There’s virtually no chance Alejandro Villanueva isn’t starting on the left side of the Steelers offensive line this year. Though he turns 32 this season, Villanueva has been a staple to Pittsburgh’s starting o-line unit for the past five years and has earned two Pro Bowls during that time.
Behind him, I project Chukwuma Okorafor to be the primary backup. Okorafor was drafted in the 3rd round in 2018, and he should be ready to take the lead as the primary swing tackle.
Starter: Matt Feiler
Backup: Stefen Wisnewski
As a right tackle last season, Matt Feiler graded out as Pittsburgh’s top offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus. While he may be the best option to play right tackle again in 2020, Feiler has the versatility to kick inside to guard – a position he played in 2017 for the Steelers.
Instead, I have him kicking inside to Ramon Foster’s old spot at left guard. Stefen Wisniewski will be given a shot to compete this year, but judging by his cheap deal, I think Pittsburgh views him as more of a backup. I have Wisniewski taking on B.J. Finney’s role as the interior swing offensive lineman.
Starter: Maurkice Pouncey
Backup: Stefen Wisniewski
No surprise here. Maurkice Pouncey is penciled in as the starter at center for the Steelers again in 2020. However, the 8-time Pro Bowl and 2-time All-Pro is coming off the worst season of his career. Pouncey earned just a 51.5 overall grade in 2019 – ranking him 36th out of 38 qualifying centers, according to PFF.
Wisniewski has loads of experience at the position. If Pouncey gets hurt or takes another big step back, Wisniewski could be there to help.
Starter: David DeCastro
Backup: Stephen Wisniewski
No need for an explanation here. David DeCastro is the best offensive lineman of this group, and his job is as safe as anyone’s on the team.
Wisniewski is projected to be his backup heading into the 2020 season. He has experienced all over the interior offensive line, and he will fill in for DeCastro if he goes down with injury.
Starter: Zach Banner
Backup: Chukwuma Okorafor
This is where things start to get dicey. Though Okorafor will be given an equal opportunity to win this job (and the Steelers could elect to keep Feiler at right tackle), I have Zach Banner winning the starting right tackle spot.
Mike Tomlin is a big fan of Banner and the progress he has made so far in Pittsburgh. With Banner’s size and strength, he’s best suited as a right tackle in the NFL. I have Okorafor being the primary backup to both offensive tackle positions.
A lot could change between now and the draft. If the Steelers were to bring in a high-profile lineman or draft one early, it could switch things up. However, this is my best guess as to how Pittsburgh will deploy its offensive line in 2020.