The Steelers need a center, there is no question about that.
Following the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers have two on their roster in B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer. Finney couldn’t crack the starting lineup in either Seattle or Cincinnati last season and Hassenauer played just 303 career snaps in place of Pouncey.
The obvious need has many thinking center when looking at the Steelers’ 2021 NFL Draft class, but the class isn’t a deep one, and it’s not entirely clear if there’s a player that’s deserving of their No. 24 overall pick.
That has most draft experts looking at some of the team’s other primary needs with that first-round pick, but the Steelers have been linked to two centers at that spot in mock drafts: Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey and Alabama’s Landon Dickerson.
Humphrey is generally seen as a solid center, but a bit of a reach at No. 24. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin did not attend his pro day, something they’ve done with the vast majority of the Steelers’ first-round picks during their tenure.
The Pittsburgh brass was in Tuscaloosa for Dickerson’s Alabama pro day, though running back Najee Harris, quarterback Mac Jones, guard/tackle Alex Leatherwood, linebacker Dylan Moses and others provide plenty of reason to attend.
The knock on Dickerson, and primary the reason he might not be the Steelers’ pick at No. 24, is injuries. Dickerson tore his ACL in SEC Championship game last fall and has not performed in any off-season workouts for teams.
“It’s going well, and I’m right where I want to be,” Dickerson said at his pro day. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
That alone is enough to make any player’s draft stock fall, but the fact that it was Dickerson’s second ACL surgery, along with multiple other injuries over his college career, may have some backing down from the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s best center as first-round pick.
In Steelers Now’s analysis of the top mock draft expert picks, just one had Dickerson going to the center-needy Steelers in the first round. But that one expert has about as much gravitas as the rest of the field combined: ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Kiper is one of the longest-tenured and most well-respected of the draftniks, and when speaking with the media earlier this offseason, he defended his choice of Dickerson to the Steelers.
“He’s just a great teammate,” said Kiper. “Great in the locker room, practice field, great leader, great anchor. Just a great player to have on your football team. He plays like a Steeler.
“Even though he’s going to be banged up or still working through the injury when the season begins, you put him on PUP [physically unable to perform list], he comes back the fourth or fifth week of the season, then you get a great player anchoring your line. …
“The whole injury thing — we’ve had guys come into the league with injury concerns. I go back to Anthony Munoz, when he had all those injuries, and he never had an injury in the NFL. Some guys come in injury-free, and they get hurt right away. So, he’ll be OK. Medical technology will allow him to come back fine from this injury, and hopefully it’s the last injury he has. But on ability, on effort, on intensity and just attitude and approach and the way he played, it all adds up to a first-round pick on Landon Dickerson.”