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Steelers Analysis

Dried-Up Center Market Gives Steelers Urgency at Position

Who could the Pittsburgh Steelers target in the free agent center market after the well dried up so quickly?



Pittsburgh Steelers Connor Williams
Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Connor Williams (58) runs onto the field as he is introduced to the fans before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)

The Pittsburgh Steelers still need a center, but the run on centers on the first day of the legal tampering period was fierce, with most starters coming off the board. With that in mind, where does that leave Pittsburgh, who is searching for, at the very least, a stopgap to fill the position this upcoming season?

Connor Williams, Miami Dolphins

Quickly the top center left on the market, Connor Williams has to be considered the favorite for the Steelers if they want to land a player who will slot right in and start. Of course, there are significant questions about Williams’ availability to start training camp and potentially even the season. He tore his ACL in Week 14, significantly impacting his market. It’s certainly possible he waits it out until he gets the prognosis on his knee.

But if he is willing to sign early, the Steelers should be all over it. He would be a plug-and-play center and a guy they could trust to man the position, especially in the wide zone scheme that Arthur Smith runs. I am unsure if they will make this big of a splash, but if they do, Williams will easily be the best player remaining.

Brian Allen, Los Angeles Rams

Allen, 28, has spent all five of his NFL seasons with the Rams, three of them as a starter at center, though he has struggled with injuries throughout his career. A fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Michigan State, Allen was named a starter in his second season in 2019, but he was lost to a brutal injury after just nine games. He also dealt with a crippling case of COVID-19 the following year, and ended up missing the entire 2020 season.

In 2021, he had his best year, starting 16 games and being selected as a Pro Bowl alternate, though he did not play due to the Rams playing in the Super Bowl. He spent the last season as an interior backup, but his injury history is what has caught up with him. Allen has some juice left in his game and is a solid scheme fit. It’s just about whether you can trust him to stay on the field.

Coleman Shelton, Los Angeles Rams

Coleman Shelton replaced Allen. Shelton is a smaller center with a significant lack of length, weighing only 299 pounds. That leads to some trouble for Shelton in pass protection against power rushers, though he has improved that over the last few seasons. Shelton can really move in space, which is one of his game’s hallmarks. Smith needs someone who can move out in space at the center position, and Shelton checks that box.

However, his struggles against stunts and with power rushers make his pass protection shaky despite considerable upside in the run game. But he figures to be affordable and still leave the door open for an early center in the draft without making it a catastrophic need.

Bradley Bozeman, Carolina Panthers

Originally a sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens out of Alabama in 2018, Bozeman is familiar with the AFC North. He started one game as a rookie left guard for the Ravens in 2018 before assuming the starting mantle in 2019. He played every game but one over the next three seasons in Baltimore, moving from left guard to center in 2021.

Bozeman is firmly in the tier of a guy who could be a transitional addition, but his lack of functional movement in space in the run game is a massive hurdle for this to happen. Unless the Steelers change the scheme significantly, this is not a scheme fit and makes little sense. Nate Herbig would likely be a better fit.

Matt Hennessy, Atlanta Falcons

Arthur Smith connections are doing a lot of heavy lifting here.

Hennessy was a third-round pick of the Falcons in 2020 before Smith and was named a starter at center in 2021, despite a catastrophically bad offensive line in Smith’s first season. He remained there until he lost his job after an injury in 2022. Hennessy then missed all of 2023 with a knee injury in training camp.

If the Steelers want to draft a center and cut Mason Cole, Hennessy could be a cheaper option to hold the door for the draft pick than Cole. Hennessy can move and handles power well. While he is not the perfect center, his game has an upside, and he could fill in the void well. It’s just how well he has recovered from his injury.

Evan Brown, Seattle Seahawks

An often banged-up player in 2023, Brown has lots of experience over his career and can move guys in the run game. The wide zone run game fit is perfect. He is solid and would give them a significant upgrade over Cole. While Brown is by no means perfect, he possesses the upside to fit into the offensive line plan beyond this season if things work out. The tape will not wow you, but it is quite solid, and he will not break the bank.

Brown is the type of signing that, like Shelton, breaks the bank and leaves the door open for Jackson Powers-Johnson and Zach Frazier but would make the need not nearly as catastrophic as otherwise. The team can trust him to play at a solid level.

Other Names

Those are just some of the names they could target. Others like Nick Harris, Michael Dieter, Connor McGovern, Will Clapp, and others are out there. But those I listed above feel like the names that stick out above the rest to me. Pittsburgh feels likely to target center in the NFL Draft. Unless they land Williams, that feels like it is coming, but how urgent it is will depend on who they can land in free agency.