Steelers should set aside one draft trend for this OT in the 2022 NFL Draft

Head coach Mark Farley of the Northern Iowa Panthers co0aches offensive lineman Trevor Penning #70 of the Northern Iowa Panthers. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Head coach Mark Farley of the Northern Iowa Panthers co0aches offensive lineman Trevor Penning #70 of the Northern Iowa Panthers. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images) /

The Steelers desperately need help along the offensive line, but the small-school status of Trevor Penning could prevent them from landing an elite offensive tackle in 2022.

The Steelers have their work cut out for them during the pre-draft process this offseason. After sneaking into the playoffs as the newly-added seventh seed this year, Pittsburgh was humiliated by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The outcome of this game shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone, as nearly every metric proved that the Steelers were roughly the 23rd best team in the NFL this year. Now that Ben Roethlisberger will be gone from the team, many NFL Draft analysts are predicting Pittsburgh will take a quarterback with their first selection (20th overall). However, that’s not guaranteed to be the case.

While nobody is going to argue that quarterback isn’t the most important position on any team, the Steelers may not feel like the right QB candidate is in this class, and there is no shortage of needs elsewhere. Several of these needs fall on the offensive line.

In a patchwork effort, the Steelers tried to string together a young offensive line after losing four starters along their OL during the 2021 offseason. This was clearly a futile attempt. After ignoring the OL in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh took Kendrick Green and Dan Moore this year.

Unfortunately, the offensive line is still in shambles, and some would argue that the team needs to address this unit before the Steelers can start thinking about their long-term quarterback. The 2022 NFL Draft is strong at offensive tackle near the top, and there are several players who should be on Pittsburgh’s radar early in the draft.

One of those players is Northern Iowa OT, Trevor Penning. The standout offensive tackle for UNI has both remarkable traits and excellent film. Though he was up and down during Senior Bowl week, you can see how immensely talented he is and Penning has all the tools to become a great tackle in the NFL.

However, in order for the Steelers to take him in the first round, they would have to go again perhaps their biggest draft trend of all: only taking Power Five players in the first round.

Penning should be an exception to Steelers draft trend

I completely understand why teams have certain thresholds that they stick to in the NFL Draft. Through trial and error, teams have learned to limit risk in order to make sure they hit in the first round. One way teams have done this is by avoiding small-school players early.

While I’m generally a fan of this line of thinking, I really believe the Steelers should make an exception this year for a remarkable offensive tackle prospect with immense upside.

At 6’7” and 321 pounds, Trevor Penning has prototype size and length to man either offensive tackle position in the NFL, and it’s easy to see on film that he won’t be limited to being a right tackle only in the NFL. In addition to his size, Penning is a remarkable athlete who can mirror pass rushers.

Penning also has a nasty streak to him and he prefers to finish the play by driving defenders into the turf. Last year, Penning’s college teammate from Northern Iowa, Spencer Brown, was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and is already their starting right tackle. Penning is easily the better prospect of these two players and he has the makings of a 10-12 year starter at offensive tackle in the NFL.

On a small offensive line, Penning would easily be the strongest lineman on the team and the Steelers would still be able to run any type of offense with him. Chukwuma Okorafor is a free agent who can sign elsewhere, and he’s not worth giving a big contract to, while Dan Moore still has a very long way to go.

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At most, the Steelers have one quality option at offensive tackle on the team, but Trevor Penning would instantly be their best offensive lineman. I know he’s from a smaller school at Northern Iowa, but Pittsburgh needs to make an exception for him if he’s available in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.