The biggest debate raging in Pittsburgh this week is whether the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to start veteran left tackle Dan Moore Jr. over rookie first-round pick Broderick Jones. Jones had his first start in Week Five against the Baltimore Ravens, and he played well, registering a 74.8 grade on PFF. He looked like the player the Steelers wanted to see when they selected him at No. 14 overall, but the team might turn back to Moore, who won the job out of training camp and only missed the Ravens game due to a knee sprain.
Looking back at the team’s history, they’re being more conservative with Jones than they have been with recent first-round rookies. He’s on pace to have the least number of snaps played, non-injury related, since Cameron Heyward was a rookie back in 2011. Below is the number of snaps played by Steelers rookies through the first five games of their career under Mike Tomlin.
|David DeCastro||0 (injured)|
Here’s what those numbers look like if you take that data over six games.
Players such as Ryan Shazier, T.J. Watt, and even Kenny Pickett (who suffered a concussion in the third quarter in Week Six against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year) had injuries that limited their snap counts. The Steelers were aggressive with RB Najee Harris and LB Devin Bush, in addition to S Terrell Edmunds, as those players were Day One starters for Pittsburgh and they have the snap counts to match.
Early in Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers were conservative with rookies. Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, and Ziggy Hood barely played to start their careers. Timmons took a backseat to LBs James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons and Hood sat behind a stacked Steelers’ defensive line that still featured Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel, although later in the season he took over for Travis Kirksche at defensive end. Mendenhall was still behind Willie Parker as a rookie.
Once the Steelers drafted Pouncey, he became a Day One starter. DeCastro likely would’ve been as well, had it not been for injuries. From 2013-2021, all of Pittsburgh’s first-round picks got consistent playing time early in the season. Last year, QB Kenny Pickett took over as the team’s starter in the second half of Pittsburgh’s Week Three matchup with the New York Jets. Obviously, handling a rookie quarterback is different from other positions, so it’s understandable that the Steelers were a little slower to start Pickett.
That brings us to Jones. The team clearly likes Moore, who did have a good second half of last season and deserved to win the job with his training camp and preseason performance. But he didn’t play great early in the season, routinely grading out as one of PFF’s worst offensive linemen. With Jones’ strong performance against Baltimore, it would make sense to start him and see what the team has in him.
It’s clear that the team likes Moore, however, and we’ll see who they decide to roll out as their starter on Sunday. But it’s worth noting that the Steelers have been more hesitant to play Jones than any other rookie since 2011, and Heyward’s lack of playing time was more due to the strength of Pittsburgh’s defensive line rather than his ability.
The Steelers obviously think highly of Moore and may believe he gives them a better chance to win than Jones, as they did early in the season. It’s worth noting that Moore went up against a brutal slate of pass rushers, including Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett, and Maxx Crosby through the first three games of the season, and that’s not an easy matchup for any offensive tackle.
In short, it’s not necessarily an indictment on Jones that he isn’t playing more, but it’s worth noting that the Steelers have been hesitant to play him. If Moore does in fact start on Sunday, it says more about what the Steelers think about him and less about what they think about Jones, but Jones’ lack of playing time is rather unprecedented for a Steelers’ first-round pick in the decade.