Matt Williamson is co-host of SNR Drive on Steelers Nation Radio. You can subscribe to the podcast here. Williamson's opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the Steelers organization.
To me, what the Steelers have done with their offensive line in week one of free agency is extremely impressive. Pittsburgh now has upgraded the position group - and still might continue to do so before the season starts. But here is the key: the Steelers now have a young offensive line, but one that can now boast quite a bit of experience. That is a very rare combination as you can imagine. Also of note: Pittsburgh has their top six offensive linemen under contract for the foreseeable future.
Newly signed Mason Cole turns 26 years old at the end of this month. Cole played 471 snaps last year, but only appeared in eight games. But over his four years in the league, Cole has logged over 2,500 snaps.
Steelers agreed to terms with OL Mason Cole on a two-year contract
James Daniels was one of the youngest free agents on the market this year. He has four years of service in the league under his belt, but Daniels is only 24 years old. That is rare. Last year, no one on the Bears offense played more than Daniels' 1,121 snaps played. That was 100% of Chicago's offensive plays. Injuries were an issue for Daniels in 2020, but he has still been on the field for over 3,300 snaps for his career. It also should be noted that Daniels is clearly an ascending player that is coming off his best year as a pro in 2021.
Steelers agreed to terms with G James Daniels on a three-year contract
Pittsburgh brought back Chukwuma Okorafor, who is also 24 years old and has four years of experience on his resume. Again, that is unusual. Kendrick Green turned 23 a few months ago while fellow rookie from a year ago, Dan Moore Jr., will not be 24 years old until September. Moore played 1,147 snaps in his rookie season at left tackle. Kevin Dotson has been in the NFL a year longer than Green or Moore, but he is still just 25 years old. Dotson dealt with injuries in 2021, but still saw the field for 565 plays at left guard after asserting himself as Pittsburgh's starter at this position late in his rookie season.
Take a look at photographs of Steelers OL Chukwuma Okorafor from the 2021 season
Last year, only Trai Turner played more offensive snaps than Moore. And only Turner, Moore, and Ben Roethlisberger played more snaps than Okorafor, who has now logged over 1,100 snaps two years in a row. Green was on the field for 975 snaps last year.
Pittsburgh has a rare opportunity to create long term stability and continuity with their front five with a fantastic blend of youth and experience. They could conceivably get even younger with a draft pick added to the mix as well.
While the draft could alter this possibly, as we sit here in March, I'm penciling in Moore at left tackle and Okorafor on the right side, with Dotson at left guard. To me, Daniels plugs in at right guard and Green at center with Cole as the swing interior player at guard and center. But Pittsburgh does have some flexibility at right guard and center and could conceivably mix and match Daniels, Green, and Cole at these two spots as all three have that positional flexibility.
While Zach Banner was released on Wednesday, Pittsburgh is still in really good shape at the offensive line position in terms of depth, as well.
The NFL has an offensive line shortage. Now in this league, it is better to have an offensive line that doesn't have gaping holes rather than having one elite linemen. And elite linemen are few and far between right now on the offensive line. While you might look at the names above and not see players on par with Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Dermontti Dawson or Mike Webster, the organization has done an excellent job of putting this group into a great situation to succeed in 2022 as well as for years to come.