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Dan Moore's Development Matters More Than You Think to Steelers Future

The Pittsburgh Steelers third-year tackle could be a much larger piece to the future than it appears on paper.

Even after starting every game in each of his first two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it seems like everyone has completely forgotten about Dan Moore Jr. 

Maybe that’s what happens when the organization trades up to take another left tackle with the 14th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Instead of treating the incumbent starter as an irrelevant castoff, it’s likely time to revisit expectations, for the present and the future. In the case of Dan Moore Jr., his development matters more than you think.

What if Broderick Jones Isn’t Ready Week 1?

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has publicly declared the left tackle battle a competition. Even with Moore getting the first crack at things with the starters, Jones will be given every possible chance to win the job outright. Even then, it’s highly likely that it won’t be long until they hand the reigns over to him. Having said that, it’s not 100% written into stone that Jones must be the week one starter and blindside protector of Kenny Pickett.

Jones is incredibly talented with an undeniably high ceiling, one much higher than Moore possesses, but he’s not a perfect prospect. Most notably, he still needs to work on refining his hand placement and timing, as he’ll often allow rushers to get into his chest unabated. This was something that some of the better power rushers that he faced in college took advantage of at times. More often than not, rookies tend to struggle early on because of the learning curve associated with the job.

Like every rookie, Jones has plenty to work on after skating by in college off of pure strength, insane athleticism and more talent than his opponents. It’s easy to forget that Jones only started 15 games for Georgia, so he’s still pretty early in his developmental track. He’s going to play at some point, likely early on, but if he struggles in the summer during training camp or preseason, that could be delayed past Week 1. The Steelers are heavily invested in Pickett’s success, and with that in mind, they have to think about which tackle is better suited to keep him upright in the fall. 

Lightning Won't Strike Twice

Of all of the bizarre Steelers facts from last season, perhaps the most obscure one is that they were somehow able to complete the entire season with the same starting five offensive linemen. 

When you think about the position and how physically demanding it is due to the amount of punishment that these guys take, remaining completely healthy is insanely lucky. Injuries are the worst part of the game, but they are indeed inevitable. Maybe it comes at the tackle position, maybe it doesn’t, but the odds of Pittsburgh going back-to-back seasons without deploying a backup lineman for at least one game are slim to none.

There are several offensive coordinators out there that are less than confident in their starting tackle duo. There’s probably only a handful of them that would say they are even remotely at ease with starting their third tackle for any significant amount of time. While Moore isn’t the ideal franchise left tackle, he’s already gained a ton of experience through his first two seasons after being thrown right into the fire as a rookie.

Having someone out there that you trust enough to avoid completely redoing your offensive game plan from scratch is an improvement over several situations around the league. Just ask the 2022 Tennessee Titans, for example. 

It’s also worth noting that while the vast majority of Moore’s experience has come at left tackle, he did work some at right tackle prior to the 2021 regular season and performed well during the summer, albeit against lesser competition. He’s going to continue getting experience on both sides with the goal in mind of becoming ambidextrous, and if that does indeed come to fruition, his value grows even larger.

Who’s The Future at Right Tackle?

Last spring, the Steelers gave Chukwuma Okorafor a three-year contract to retain his services, but at this point in his career, he’s likely close to a finished product. Okorafor is a solid pass protector who’s light on his feet and can hold his own on the edge, but he’s a net negative in the run game, offering little value in that regard. 

Right now, Okorafor is a more reliable pass blocker, while Moore is the more impactful run blocker. When comparing the two players, it’s probably already closer than many will admit, and that’s before considering the chance that Moore continues to get even marginally better with time.

The question is, how much more can the third-year pro from Texas A&M improve? With a shaky anchor and less-than-ideal recovery ability, his ceiling is limited in some ways. This means he’ll need to become a masterful technician with his hands and feet while also continuing to make significant lanes as a run blocker. There were stretches last season where he flashed improvement in different areas, but he’ll need to show more consistency on a down-to-down basis if he wants to be viewed as a potential long-term starting option for this offense.

Subjectively, the difference in play between Okorafor and Moore isn’t that vast, but the difference in cost certainly is. According to Overthecap, Okorafor has an $11.83 million dollar cap charge for next season, while Moore will be heading into the final season of his cheap rookie-scaled contract. Due to some hefty extensions handed out in consecutive offseasons, Pittsburgh’s roster is about to get more expensive. If you check out the overthecap salary cap space breakdown, you’ll notice that the Steelers are one of eight teams already over the projected 2024 salary cap. 

Swapping these two players out may be a cost-cutting move that makes sense for the organization if Moore can take a leap forward.

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