This year’s NFL Draft is loaded with top tackle prospects, and Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan is no exception. A three-year starter for the Wolverines, Lewan was projected to be a first-round pick in last year’s draft before he announced he was coming back for his senior season. Now, with another year of experience under his belt, Lewan is shaping up to be one of the first players off the board come May 8.
The Pittsburgh Steelers rarely trade up in the draft. In fact, they are well known for moving down and stockpiling picks. When they do move up, however, they know who they want and they’re positive he’ll be a superstar. This could be one of those years, as Lewan is perfect for them.
Art Rooney II has reiterated in recent years that he wants to go back to the more physical ground and pound running game of the Steelers’ past. This has been partially fulfilled with first-round picks Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro along with second-round pick and bruising runner Le’Veon Bell. To further portray the direction of the club’s offensive tendencies, they hired HOF offensive lineman Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line.
Lewan’s top characteristics are his leadership, toughness and run-blocking ability. The top three things the Steelers look for in offensive lineman are leadership, toughness and run-blocking ability. Huh, well that seems like a pretty good match. These same traits apply to DeCastro, drafted just two years ago.
With Lewan, the Steelers would be looking at a young and talented group of players with the potential to create a dominant rushing attack. With Munchak coaching them up there is a better chance of achieving that potential. Having a superb rushing game will serve three other looming concerns as well such as Lack of depth at wide receiver, Ben Roethlisberger’s injury factor and the transitional period.
With the ability to play in run-heavy sets the Steelers don’t have to worry as much about not having great receivers. They obviously have one in Antonio Brown, but after that it’s slim pickings. With a great ground game Todd Haley can utilize play action more often, which maximizes what they’re receivers can do in terms of making big plays.
Roethlisberger’s injury history is not pretty. He nearly died after being sacked in a Monday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The first game I ever saw him in person he was taken out on a stretcher. With the ability to run the football effectively, Roethlisberger won’t have to run around like a madman as he’s famous for.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the transitional period. Big Ben is not spry anymore. He’s a 32-year-old man on pace to become the most sacked QB in NFL history. In four to five years he’ll probably retire and the Steelers will need a new QB. The one thing that is most important to a young QB’s success in the NFL is the offensive line. If you give a young QB time to learn in a new offense where he does not have to be the focus and does not have to worry about getting sacked all the time he will achieve his potential. Careers are derailed all the time by injuries and “seeing ghosts.” Blaine Gabbert was never going to succeed in Jacksonville because he didn’t have the personnel. An experienced and talented offensive line featuring Lewan would pave the way for a new era of greatness in Steelers football.