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Mock Draft Monday: The Steelers look to add a powerful offensive tackle

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into the 2024 offseason. With free agency as the next big event to shape next season’s roster, it will be followed by the NFL draft in April. The Steelers will have a number of decisions with players who were on the 2023 roster and will have the opportunity to add some free agent acquisitions before making their first draft selection. The NFL combine and player pro days will also shape the team’s big boards before the draft.

When talking about mock drafts or NFL free agency, one first has to first identify the team’s main needs for the offseason. Before any gains or losses in free agency, there are some who would like to see the Steelers go with either offensive line or defensive line with their first-round pick. Others feel inside linebacker or cornerback could be on top of the list. With plenty of chances for the Steelers to shape their roster prior to April, their goal is usually to get into position to draft the best player available rather than target a specific position. When it comes to what position the team will select with their first pick, it is certainly up for debate.

In the latest one-round mock draft by profootballnetwork.com, they have the Steelers addressing the offensive tackle position again this season before anything else. Although the Steelers went with tackle with the first pick last season in Broderick Jones, it does not take it off the table to be a place to look for someone else to eventually fill out both tackle positions. Since the Steelers could go in any number of directions with their first selection, it is important to look at all the possibilities presented by various mock draft outlets.

Check out the Steelers 20th pick:

20. Pittsburgh Steelers | JC Latham | OT | Alabama | JR |

Being early in the draft process, there may be some players most fans are not familiar with. If this is the case, here is a breakdown of Latham according to thedraftnetwork.com:

JC Latham, OT, Alabama  

Size:

  • Height: 6’6” | Weight: 335 lbs

Accomplishments:

  • Started all 13 games in 2022
  • Former 5-star recruit 

Strengths:

  • Quickness/lateral agility 
  • Strength to anchor 
  • Natural athleticism 
  • High-IQ player 
  • Strong/powerful hands 

Concerns:

  • Sustaining blocks in the run game 
  • Bending at the waist to engage with defenders 
  • Inside counter pass-rush moves 

Film Analysis:

JC Latham is an offensive tackle who checks all of the boxes when it comes to overall body mass, length, and strength. Latham has used this combination to be a consistently dominant offensive tackle for the Crimson Tide, providing great value in both pass protection and as a run blocker. 

In pass protection, Latham shows great quickness and athleticism in how quickly he can get depth in his pass set. He’s able to beat defenders to the top of the arc and is ready to engage with them. Latham has great tempo and cadence to his pass set, being able to keep leverage on defenders and preventing them from taking an inside rush track. When Latham engages, he has great punch timing and power in his hands. When he latches on, he usually controls the defender’s rush. Latham shows the ability to anchor on defenders when they go to convert speed to power and also shows the ability to retrace his steps laterally to react to counter moves, being able to move his feet while engaged. 

In the run game, Latham showcases good athletic ability in how he can effectively block defenders in the zone run game. Latham consistently showcases the ability to reach-block defenders and also seal off the backside of runs. On inside zone runs, Latham can effectively work double teams and climb to the second level, controlling and placing an effective block. 

There are two areas of improvement for Latham the first is in the power run game. On gap/power run plays, Latham does a good job of making initial contact and getting movement but he needs to improve on sustaining blocks. This issue comes from Latham dropping his hand and playing too far out over his toes. This prevents him from keeping his balance and maintaining a good base for power.

The other area for improvement for Latham would be his ability to handle the inside counter move. Latham needs to work on remaining balanced to be able to consistently close the distance on the outside to inside counter move. On occasion, defenders can sell outside pass rushes and cross Latham’s face, inside resulting in penetration. 

Overall, Latham is an offensive prospect who flashes elite-level play and is working on the details of his game to become more consistent and sustain that level of play. 

Prospect Projection: Day 1 — Pro Bowl Caliber

For all you who are preparing yourself for the draft, what do you think of the selection? Would you be on board with the Steelers taking Latham with their first pick? Or do you feel there is a better player at this position, a different one who may still be available, or that Latham will not make it to the 20th pick? Personally, I like the idea of drafting specifically a right tackle if the Steelers are going to go the tackle route in the first round. It would bring clarity to what the Steelers will ultimately want down the road with both their first-round draft picks as starters. The injury on the final play of the Rose Bowl seems to be insignificant, so I’m not worried about that. Although listed above at 335 lbs, the Alabama team site had him at 360 lbs. the last two seasons. My biggest thing with Latham is in most mock drafts he does not make it past pick 18 and the Cincinnati Bengals. Whether or not this will be the case come April remains to be seen, but there is the possibility he will not be a realistic option by then.

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