On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Steelers shifted gears by selecting offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins out of Louisiana State University in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft (123rd overall) after strengthening their defense in the first three rounds with the picks of Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave. Hawkins, a natural left guard, was a three-year starter on LSU’s offensive line, starting 37 games (25 at right tackle and 12 at left tackle).
Hawkins, at six-foot, six inches and 305 pounds started and played in all 11 games at left tackle in 2015. A key member of the offensive line that helped the SEC leading rushing offense grind out 256.8 yards per game, Hawkins was pivotal in the bowl win against Texas Tech where the Tigers generated an LSU bowl-record 638 yards of total offense and a 56-27 win.
In 2013 and 2014, Hawkins started in all 13 games (per season) and was a key component to providing blocking for 1,000-yard rusher Leonard Fournette. Hawkins ranked second among all LSU offensive linemen with 834 total snaps and had 43 knockdowns for the 2014 season.
“We see that (Hawkins) has a lot of talent,” Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak said on Saturday. “We feel (he) can come in and learn from the guys we have, push the guys that we have and now it’s just a matter of how quickly we feel he can contribute as we get him in here for OTAs.”
Securing a spot on LSU’s offensive line wasn’t an easy task with Les Miles (head coach) enjoying big talent on his offensive front, but Hawkins won the starting right tackle position as a redshirt freshman and played on the blind side for one game when La’el Collins was injured. He has good length in both arms and legs and showed the ability to slide his feet and hips into proper side-by-side positioning, especially towards the play side. With real hand power, Hawkins showed balance and good weight distribution as well as the ability to brace the edge of the block. At times he was guilty of allowing his footwork to hinder him in the second half of the snap and spent some games with too much waist-bend, but Munchak is an excellent teacher who should be able to polish his skills.
“I’m assuming left is what (Hawkins) is most comfortable at to begin with,” added Munchak at his post-selection press conference, “then we will start him there and then just go from there. But he wouldn’t be tagged as a left or right tackle. We think he has the ability to play both. That was the excitement about picking him.”
“I like that at LSU, they run the ball quite a bit. They do a lot of things that pro offenses do. They’re not just a spread offense so he’s been involved with a lot of different aspects where they’ll be in a two-back offense, two-tight-end offense, a spread offense,” Munchak explained. “So as an offensive lineman, he understands those concepts. He’s been asked to do some of the things we’ll ask him to do. He’s way ahead of a lot of the linemen that come out of college and aren’t exposed to a lot of the things.”