Steelers shouldn’t bat an eye about Alejandro Villanueva joining the Ravens
By Tommy Jaggi
The Steelers recently lost their former left tackle to the Baltimore Ravens following the draft, but should Pittsburgh care?
Alejandro Villanueva has had quite the journey. After beginning his collegiate career at Army as a defensive lineman, Villanueva switched over to wide receiver and was ultimately undrafted. The war hero served three tours in Afghanistan before returning to the NFL where his career ultimately took off as a left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Under the direction of brilliant offensive line coach, Mike Munchak, Villanueva thrived thanks to his 6’9” frame and quick feet for a man of his stature. He ultimately was awarded Pro Bowl honors in 2017 and 2018 as the starting left tackle on one of the best offensive lines in football.
However, a lot can change in just a few short years. While Villanueva was still solid in pass protection last year, he (and the rest of the offensive line, for that matter) really struggled to create any sort of running space on the ground as Pittsburgh’s line ranked dead last in the league in rushing and were ranked 31st in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now at age 32, Villanueva recently signed a two-year, $14 million deal with the rival Baltimore Ravens – $8 million of which is guaranteed. But should the Steelers be worried about their left tackle joining one of the top teams in their division?
Steelers should be fine with Villanueva joining Ravens
A few years ago, I would have said this was a huge blow. Finding quality offensive tackles in the NFL isn’t easy, Villanueva was probably one of the best that Pittsburgh ever had. However, nobody should really be concerned that he will somehow be a ‘double blow’ to this team with his departure from the Steelers as he joins a division rival.
Though he may still have a few good years left in the tank, it’s possible that the Ravens overpaid for him this offseason. I know what the Steelers had at offensive tackle wasn’t great last year, but with Zach Banner returning from a torn ACL, perhaps they could even be an improved unit without AV in 2021.
This isn’t to say that either offensive tackle will be better than Villanueva from the gate, but the plan is to return them to the positions they are most comfortable with. Mike Tomlin in his pre-draft press conference made mention of moving Chukwuma Okorafor to left tackle and leaving b=Banner on the right side. At the very least, this would play to their skill sets. In addition, the Steelers drafting an athletic SEC tackle in Dan Moore Jr. in the fourth round, and he may be able to turn into a starter down the line.
However, the biggest reason I wouldn’t worry about the Ravens signing Alejandro Villanueva, because it just doesn’t seem like a great fit. Baltimore’s offensive line has the narrowest splits in the league and their linemen need to be able to move defenders in the run game in order to have success on offense. That’s not really AV’s forte.
What everyone seems to be failing to mention is the competition that Villanueva will now be forced to face after staying in the AFC North. Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt are widely regarded as the two best edge defenders in the NFL, and now Villanueva will get to square up against them a combined 4 times this season.
Alejandro Villanueva has had an excellent NFL career and a fascinating journey through life. However, he will be 33 years old at the start of the season, and I don’t think the Steelers need to view him as a threat to their success just because he joined the Ravens.