Zach Banner: Reporting in the Starting Lineup?

Zach Banner became a fan favorite last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whenever it was announced that “number 72 has reported as eligible,” fans would erupt. The offensive tackle seemed to blossom as a player and a person in his third NFL season. But, Zach Banner might be more than just an eligible receiver in 2020. Following the retirement of Ramon Foster, the Steelers have some changes to make on their offensive line. One option is having right tackle Matt Feiler replace Foster at left guard. This would leave Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor to battle it out for the right tackle spot. Banner hasn’t been shy in sharing that his goal is to be a starter this year, and now he finds himself a real opportunity to accomplish that goal.

Zach Banner Looking to Become a Starter

Last Year’s Performance

Though he only played just north of 200 snaps last season, Banner played very well when his number was called (no pun intended). Because he was only really used as a sixth offensive lineman in jump packages, the Steelers mostly ran the ball when Banner was on the field. Despite that element of predictability, Pittsburgh still found some success running the ball in their jumbo package. Though their offensive as a unit is solid, some of that success can definitely be attributed to Banner.

With his 6’8″, 36o pound frame, Banner is sneakily athletic and is good at keeping his pads low for such a big man. When Banner can get to the second level, linebackers just have such a hard time getting around his massive body. Unfortunately due to the role Banner played on the Steelers, there’s not much regular-season pass blocking tape of his to evaluate. His run blocking skills and pure strength are definitely promising if he is ultimately named the starting right tackle.

There is one negative from last season for Banner, though. When Foster missed a game to injury, Feiler was kicked into left guard. It was Okorafor, not Banner, who started that game at right tackle. Banner remained in his swing tackle, jumbo tight end role for that game against the Los Angeles Rams. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the team trusts Okorafor more than Banner as a full-time starter. They could have just wanted to keep Banner’s role consistent, as he played his fourth-most snaps of the season in that game. Nonetheless, it was probably a bit upsetting for Banner when he wasn’t named the starting right tackle for that game.

Moving Forward

Looking ahead, it is hard to predict what the Steelers offensive line will look like in 2020. If Feiler doesn’t get comfortable at guard or neither Banner nor Okorafor prove they can be a starter, then Feiler could stay at tackle and new Steeler Stefen Wisniewski could start at left guard. That seems unlikely at this time but it is definitely a possibility.

Zach Banner will need to have an impressive training camp this year. Especially if the off-season is shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic, Banner might have limited time to make his case. If the team currently views Okorafor as the likely starter instead of Banner, then the latter will have to come to camp in great shape and show that he is capable of being a full-time starter. Pittsburgh invested a third-round pick in Okorafor, while no draft pick was used to acquire Banner. That shouldn’t play a role in the team’s decision regarding the starting right tackle, but it could.

There’s no denying that Zach Banner at least has the potential to be the Steelers starting right tackle next year. He has the size, strength, and experience. For all but one game last season, Banner was without a doubt the number three tackle on the team. He played well, too; it’s not like he became a fan favorite just by reporting as eligible. Some would argue that the starting job is Banner’s to lose, and that’s the mindset he will have coming into training camp.

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