Offensive tackle is one of the top needs of the Pittsburgh Steelers, right up there with quarterback, running back, and the interior of the offensive line. In fact, Pittsburgh has only one ‘experienced’ tackle under contract for 2021, that being Chukwuma Okorafor, the former third-round pick who is entering the last year of the rookie deal he signed in 2018.
But even if the Steelers use a premium draft pick on an offensive tackle (more on that below), they may still be in the market for relatively inexpensive insurance at the position. That’s one reason Pro Football Focus predicts that Pittsburgh will bring back one of its former draft picks via free agency, namely Kelvin Beachum, 31, who PFF rates as No. 75 on its list of the Top 150 Free Agents.
PFF notes that “Beachum signed for a veteran minimum contract in 2020 and provided one of the best values in the NFL, starting all 16 games at right tackle for the Arizona Cardinals.”
The site’s analysts also remind us that Beachum has remained a consistent performer in recent years, even as he has moved into the twilight of his career, always providing above-average pass blocking, if not average run blocking.
Kelvin Beachum: ‘I wouldn’t be in the NFL if not for Adrian Klemm’
But need and value are just two reasons why Beachum (6-foot-3, 308 pounds) could end up back in Pittsburgh. He also has a strong, longstanding relationship with Adrian Klemm, who spent the past two seasons as Pittsburgh’s assistant offensive line coach and has since been promoted to offensive line coach.
Klemm was Beachum’s offensive line coach in college at SMU, and during Beachum’s last year with the Mustangs he showed enough promise for Pittsburgh to make him the fourth of its four seventh-round draft picks in 2012, not to mention the last of the 20 offensive tackles who were drafted that year.
Beachum went on to play for the Steelers for four years, highlighted by a 16-start season in 2014, before spending one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, three years with the New York Jets and then one season with the Cardinals.
Beachum has since gone out of his way to credit Klemm for his NFL success.
“I wouldn’t be in the NFL if it wasn’t for Adrian Klemm,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I still call him to get tidbits, just tips on how to be a pro. That’s the same for all the guys who played for him.”
Owing to their relationship, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Beachum returns to Pittsburgh to serve as an inexpensive stopgap option at tackle, even as Klemm helps to find and develop a new crop of young offensive linemen.
“Adrian’s a great evaluator,” offers Beachum. “He was one of the top college recruiters, so he knows talent, and he knows how to develop talent.”
The Current State of Pittsburgh’s Offensive Line
Identifying and developing offensive line talent is going to be especially important to the Steelers in the next few years, thanks to the expected departure of UFA left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 32, and the possible retirement of longtime Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. Meawnhile, veteran Pro Bowl right guard David DeCastro, 31, has one year remaining on his contract, just like Pouncey.
As for the rest of Pittsburgh’s veteran offensive tackles:
– Starting right tackle Zach Banner—still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in the 2020 season opener—is an unrestricted free agent, though it’s likely he will return to the Steelers on another one-year ‘prove it’ deal.
– Matt Feiler, 28, who can play guard or tackle, is an unrestricted free agent.
– Reserve tackle Jerald Hawkins, 27, a former Steelers fourth-round draft pick who was signed off the practice squad of the Houston Texans in September, is also an unrestricted free agent.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have five—five!—offensive tackles signed to Reserve/Future contracts, as the team hopes against hope that it can develop another undrafted free agent into a starter, as it did with Villanueva.
The five projects in question include: Former Minnesota Vikings tackle Aviante Collins, who is best-known for running one of the fastest 40-yard dash times ever recorded by an offensive lineman at the Combine; Brandon Walton, who spent most of last season on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, having played both left and right tackle at Florida Atlantic University; John Leglue, who has spent significant time on the practice squads of the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers; and Anthony Coyle, a former All-Patriot League lineman (Fordham University) who was originally signed by the Steelers in April 2020 after playing for the New York Guardians of the XFL.
Finally, there’s Jarron Jones, who spent the 2020 season on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, but faces legal charges stemming from his arrest in October that could jeopardize his Steelers career.
Offensive Tackles the Steelers Might Consider Drafting
Despite the glaring need at the position, it would be a mild surprise if Pittsburgh drafted an offensive tackle with its first-round pick, as the Steelers haven’t used a first-rounder at that position since 1996, when they selected Jamain Stephens (North Carolina A&T).
But some of the players who could be candidates late in the first round include Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State), who has been described as “a bully in the run game,” not to mention a potentially good fit for the more physical approach that Klemm has espoused. Another name to remember is Samuel Cosmi (Texas), who is prized for his movement skills and proven ability to pass protect at both left and right tackle.
A possible candidate for the Steelers in round two is Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), whose struggles against speedy edge rushers—both in games and at the recent Senior Bowl—will likely keep him from being a first-round pick.
In addition to Leatherwood, another player highlighted by Jared Hammond of The 33rd Team (a new football think tank created by former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum) is Dillon Radunz of North Dakota State, a teammate of elite quarterback prospect Trey Lance.
“Radunz shined at the Senior Bowl, earning the overall practice player of the week award,” notes Hammond, which helps explain why he is rising on mock draft boards as the 2021 NFL Draft approaches.
“Radunz showed good technique and athleticism in Mobile [and] his lean and athletic build leaves room for him to gain weight at the NFL level,” adds Hammond. [Plus] his outstanding size [6-foot-5, 304 pounds] and great length only add to his draft stock. Radunz would fill a huge need for the Steelers pending 2021 free agency.”
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