The Steelers have to contend with some turnover on the offensive line heading into the 2020 season. Something that has been a rarity in Pittsburgh over the past decade. The most significant change previously was shifting from Marcus Gilbert to Matt Feiler at the right tackle position. Now, with Ramon Foster calling it a career, the Steelers will move the 2019 starting right tackle in Feiler to left guard to fill that void. Thus, the 2020 Steelers have a void to fill at right tackle, where the competition will ensue to decide who gets the starting nod.
So, who will get the starting spot?
The participants in the battle
In terms of who is in this actual battle, it is a strictly two-person battle for the Steelers. Well-tenured players in the system, Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor, will fight for the Steelers starting right tackle spot. It is that experience within the system that may have made them lean towards moving Feiler and starting one of these guys.
Okorafor is a massive question mark. The upside is one that is alluring to the Steelers and for good reason. Okorafor has delightfully quick feet and smooth movement skills in the open field. On tape, that comes into play both in the running game and, most importantly, his pass sets. Okorafor’s excellent foot speed allows him to get to his spot quickly and compensate for some negligible technical issues against speed rushers. In the running game, he does an excellent job of at least reaching his man and engaging them.
Though, herein lies Okorafor’s issues. He does not stay on blocks consistently enough to inspire a lot of confidence. Okorafor plays with a high pad level, and as a result, gets stood up and offers only minimal movement. Still, Okorafor impresses as a pass protector. He plays with violence that defines Steelers football in the trenches.
In two starts where he faced Von Miller, Clay Matthews, and Dante Fowler, Okorafor has stood out. Okorafor is a disciplined and steady force there, even if he plays a little high at times, he has the excellent core strength required to anchor down and reset his hands.
Banner is the polar opposite of what Okorafor is as a right tackle. While Banner has done a fantastic job of changing his body and is in the best shape of his NFL career now, he also naturally has some limited movement skills. He is more of a mauler than anything. In a power heavy running scheme that the Steelers employed a lot last season, he was a perfect fit as he moved defenders with ease. For a 6’8″ guy, Banner plays with a good pad level as well.
Still, this is a guy who is, at this point, a relative unknown in pass protection. His feet are not heavy, but they are certainly not as lighting quick as Okorafor’s. Not every starting NFL tackle has elite foot speed, but it can help heighten a player’s ceiling. There is not a lot of tape out here on Banner to say for sure what he is as a pass protector, though there are encouraging signs with his polished hand usage.
Who will be the Steelers’ right tackle in 2020?
This is one prospect that is a total unknown at this point. Both players, in their own ways, are risky options to be quite honest. Okorafor has the physical traits, but the question is if he is consistent enough technically to hold up for an entire season once pass rushers get more film on how he operates. Banner, on the other hand, could be a one-dimensional road-grader that is only a strong run blocker. If he can not prove he is an adept pass protector, he has no shot of winning this job.
So, this is where schematics come in. The Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger want to throw the football a lot and run a high amount of zone concepts. Okorafor fits the mentality a lot better than Banner does just by natural athletic ability. For that reason, I will lean Okorafor ever so slightly, but Banner was quite impressive in 2019 and could just as easily win this job if he can prove to be a capable pass blocker as well.
I like both of these football players because of their different strengths. So, I am not too concerned that they are choosing to have this right tackle battle rather than sliding Stefen Wisniewski to start at left guard and keeping Feiler at right tackle. Most importantly, the Steelers should end up being fine regardless of who wins.