Few teams have changed as much over the last decade as the Pittsburgh Steelers. The dominant defenses and middling offensive lines of the mid 2000’s are a thing of the past. Instead, the 2015 Steelers became one of the league’s best offenses and saw Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, and Le’Veon Bell each have a career year.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line took another step forward, finishing up at No. 8 in our 2014 offensive line rankings. As a unit, they finished seventh in Pass Rushing Productivity and eight in total pressures allowed even though Roethlisberger was fifth in the league in total dropbacks. And while it takes a village to protect a quarterback, left tackle Kelvin Beachum was the best of the group and one of the best in the league in that regard.
Taken in the final round of the 2012 draft out of Southern Methodist, Beachum ended up starting at right tackle in the final five games of that season. He earned a -2.8 grade for his 314 snaps in Year 1, and to his credit, that’s markedly better than some veterans perform and certainly above expectations for a rookie seventh-round pick. That grade came almost exclusively from his pass blocking (-2.9) as he allowed 18 pressures on 205 pass-blocking snaps.
During Beachum’s sophomore season he saw his play time increase dramatically, locking down the starting job at left tackle in Week 6 and racking up 840 snaps on the year. The young tackle’s pass blocking improved, coming in at roughly average (-0.4 grade) and finishing 31st of 58 in our Pass Blocking Productivity metric. He dipped a bit in the run game (-6.8) but was still a sizable upgrade over their previous left tackle, Mike Adams, who had been selected five rounds earlier in that same draft.
A Step Forward
With the starting job firmly in hand, Beachum put together a fine 2014 season, playing every single snap en route to our fifth-highest tackle grade on the season at +21.7. The bulk of that came from his +19.2 pass blocking grade (fourth best) while his run blocking improved to +2.0 on the year. His PBE jumped to 97.5, behind only Andrew Whitworth and Joe Thomas. He was perfect in pass protection in five games this season, and allowed just one pressure in six more.
Beachum’s consistency was remarkable in 2014. His lowest grade was -1.0 in the playoffs against Baltimore’s formidable edge rushers and he was negatively graded in only two other games. On six occasions he surpassed a +2.0 grade. Despite just an average run blocking grade on the year, he came out in the red (below -1.0) for his work there only once.
Looking to the Future
It seems silly to think that our fifth ranked tackle in 2014 could stand to improve, but the young lineman does have a couple areas he could work on. His run blocking grade was last among our Top 10 tackles so, while he’s not a liability, his performance in that department could be better. He committed seven penalties during the regular season, and though that’s about average for a top tackle, better discipline could help improve that figure. He allowed seven sacks in 2014 and while that’s often an indication of a poor pass protector (only three of the 14 tackles to allow seven or more sacks graded positively), Beachum allowed very few hits and hurries, and with any luck that figure will drop next year even if his total pressure count does not.
Going into the final year of his rookie deal, Beachum has without question outplayed his draft selection and become one of the best young tackles in the league. The Steelers were fortunate enough to find this diamond in the rough and though they’ve been up against the cap in recent seasons, extending Beachum either this offseason or next should be a top priority.