First-round pick and offensive tackle Broderick Jones arrived with very high expectations for the Pittsburgh Steelers. So high, in fact, that right after the Steelers traded up to No. 14 to select Jones, the expectation became that he would supplant left tackle Dan Moore before the start of the 2023 season.
At the conclusion of Pittsburgh’s rookie minicamp, that remained the expectation. But The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly argued it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Jones didn’t start Week 1.
“The best version of Jones might just be the one who sits and watches for a couple of weeks,” Kaboly wrote on May 12. “Now, for any other position, I’d say sure, they have a chance to come in and make an immediate impact and start right away.
“Not offensive line. Not left tackle.
“The odds are stacked against him, and I’d err on the side of caution.”
Jones helped Georgia win back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022. He started all 15 games at left tackle for the Bulldogs last season.
But he made just 19 starts during his college career.
Benefits for Steelers to Wait on Starting LT Broderick Jones
By no means was Kaboly criticizing Jones or the Steelers’ first-round draft selection with his assessment that Jones may not start in Week 1. In fact, Kaboly gave the Steelers an “A-plus” grade following the draft for their selection of Jones.
The crux of Kaboly’s argument for the Steelers to not automatically start Jones in Week 1 was the challenges offensive linemen, particularly left tackles, face at the very beginning of their careers.
“With how the practice schedule is structured, it’s impossible to determine what type of player a lineman will be right away,” Kaboly wrote. “Nothing can be gleaned from rookie minicamp. There is no hitting or physical play in all of the OTAs, and the first week of training camp is much of the same.
“[Jones] has to show within 15 practices — of which many are not padded, and only a handful of periods per practice are live — and only three preseason games that he can handle the game.
“That’s a lot to ask of a lineman. For a running back or a receiver, it’s different. He can be put into positions to succeed. An offensive lineman has to play 50-70 snaps per game, and one mistake could cost the team its quarterback’s health.”
To that point, it only takes one poor play — a sack, big hit and fumble in the backfield, etc. — for a left tackle to have a bad day.
It’d be one thing if the Steelers had no other logical options at left tackle other than Jones. But they do in former fourth-round pick Dan Moore.
The 24-year-old has started every game at left tackle for the Steelers the past two years. He doesn’t have the pedigree Jones does, but his experience could be useful at the beginning of the season until Jones gets his feet wet.
September Schedule Favors Waiting to Start Jones
The Steelers schedule is another reason the team could be cautious with their first-round pick.
In their first two games of 2023, the Steelers will host the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns. That means Pittsburgh’s left tackle will largely be responsible for blocking two of the best defensive ends in the league — Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett — in Weeks 1 and 2.
At least those games are home, but Jones might be better suited to make his first start on the road against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3 or the Houston Texans during Week 4.
Pittsburgh’s third home game against the Baltimore Ravens could be another opportunity for Jones to make his first start.
Clearly, there’s little reason to rush Jones into the starting lineup.
“It’s hard to imagine Mike Tomlin will rush Jones into the starting lineup right away with Moore at his disposal,” wrote Kaboly.