The selection of Maurkice Pouncey in the first round of the NFL draft last month was an excellent one for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is exactly what this offensive line needs and has true star potential.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line is often criticized, but I believe that RT Willie Colon and LG Chris Kemoeatu are up-and-coming players. In fact, I would put Colon firmly among the top six or seven right tackles in the league and I feel like the arrow is going up on his career. At left tackle, Max Starks is somewhat inconsistent, but he is serviceable and you certainly could do much worse. With these three players, the Steelers’ line is one Pro Bowl-caliber player away from being vastly improved in both the run and passing games and among the top 50 percent of lines in the NFL -- maybe better. Pouncey is that potential Pro Bowler.
Pouncey, 20, is a very young player, the rare interior offensive lineman who leaves college with eligibility remaining. He will naturally add good weight and strength as he physically matures. Pouncey already has the bulk and length to compete with the very stout interior linemen he will face in the AFC North. He moves his feet well and is an improving technician who also is quite adept at making line calls. He is beginning his career at right guard, but I see him quickly taking over as the Steelers’ starting center, where he rightfully belongs.
Incumbent center Justin Hartwig played through injury for much of the 2009 season, but to me, he was far and away the biggest liability in the starting five. Even when Hartwig is completely healthy, he isn’t nearly the physical specimen Pouncey is. While Hartwig is a liability, Pouncey could become a true asset who makes his guards and teammates around him better, much as best center in the league, Nick Mangold, does for the Jets.
When Pouncey does assert himself as the starting center, which I forecast happening sooner than later, that leaves only the right guard position in flux. Pittsburgh isn’t loaded with premier prospects at right guard, but asking Trai Essex, Kraig Urbik, Ramon Foster or Chris Scott to establish himself as a legitimate starting guard doesn’t seem too far fetched.
The Steelers surely will be transitioning to more of a running team -- and with more overall physicality on offense than in recent memory. Adding Pouncey will make that much more feasible while still improving the pass protection.