Mike Tomlin Reveals Who the Steelers Have ‘Penciled In’ at Key Positions

Chukwuma Okorafor

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers greets Chukwuma Okorafor before playing against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020.

On Monday morning Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert held their annual pre-draft press conference in which they talked about the relative strengths of the talent pool and how the Steelers plan to approach this year’s draft.

Along the way, Tomlin was asked who he has at the top of the depth chart at two key positions entering the 2021 season. The question caused Tomlin to chuckle. The he said: “Depth charts this time of year are funny. They don’t mean anything; they aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Chuks [Okorafor] will be the guy that is probably penciled in at left tackle and Cam Sutton will get first opportunity at right corner. But it means absolutely nothing … and quote me on that.”

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It may mean “nothing,” but it does provide insight into who Tomlin regards as the leading candidates at positions where the Steelers are largely bereft of experience. It also tacitly confirms that former fourth-round pick Zach Banner remains the leading contender for the right tackle job, which he held for three-quarters of a game in 2020 before tearing his ACL.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that the Steelers will use a first- or second-day pick on an offensive tackle in this week’s draft, a player who could inject significant new competition into the equation. But it’s probably even more likely that the Steelers spend their top draft capital at running back, at center, and on defense, while hoping they can develop a low-round draft pick or undrafted free agent into a roster-worthy tackle.

The Steelers Have Developmental Prospects Galore at Offensive Tackle

One indication that the Steelers are hoping to hit on this approach is the fact that they have five undrafted free agent offensive tackles currently under contract, many of whom have spent time on the team’s practice squad (and/or the practice squads of other NFL teams).

It’s a list that includes former Minnesota Vikings tackle Aviante Collins, as well as John Leglue, who has spent significant time on the practice squads of the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.

Other names to remember are: Brandon Walton, who spent most of 2020 on Pittsburgh’s practice squad after playing both left and right tackle at Florida Atlantic; Anthony Coyle, who was elevated from Pittsburgh’s practice squad to the active roster at the end of the season as a COVID-19 replacement; and Jarron Jones, who finished the 2020 season on practice squad injured reserve.

Steelers Expect to Sign Relatively Few UFA’s After the Draft

One other interesting bit of information that came out of Monday’s pre-draft press conference is that the Steelers plan to sign a fewer-than-normal number of undrafted free agents after the draft concludes.

After noting that the Steelers have more players signed to the offseason roster (75) than they typically would at this point in the year, Colbert advised that because of the pandemic and the reduced number of individuals who played college football last year, he expects there will be a smaller pool of undrafted free agents to pick from.

That explains why the Steelers recently signed a handful of free agents from the Class of 2020 who worked out at this year’s Pro Days, a list that includes former Notre Dame linebacker Jamir Jones, the brother of aforementioned offensive tackle Jarron Jones.

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