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Do Steelers Have Internal Options at Center?

Do the Steelers have adequate internal options at the center position if they don’t get a top guy in the draft?



Pittsburgh Steelers Guard Nate Herbig
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Nate Herbig before a game against the Green Bay Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers have to do something at center, right? Earlier this week, it was revealed that they are open to trading for a center, according to general manager Omar Khan. While most assumed they would either sign or draft a center, there is that third avenue to trade for someone, though no obvious candidates are on the market. Mike Tomlin acknowledged they had to add someone to that room.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, we’ve still got Herbig on our roster, but we’ve got some work to do there, whether it’s continued in free agency and/or the draft. We’ll get something done, obviously at that position, but you can say the same thing about some other obvious positions where we might be short on the depth chart from a number standpoint.”

However, Khan’s proposition on potentially trading for someone is new, mainly because the candidates on the market are invisible to the public eye. It’s not a league with lush center talent, and most teams that filled voids at center did so out of necessity. Meanwhile, this draft has multiple players that could fit with the Steelers’ offense. However, the trade route has to be considered, given how Khan has dealt over his first year and a half as general manager.

“All options there are still on the the table,” Khan said. “There are still some players out there that are free agents. You know, there might be some trade opportunities and there’s the draft. But, we have Herbig around as I mentioned to you guys in Indy and we have some offensive lineman that have some versatility and I didn’t see how Coach T described it but there’s still a lot of time between now and Latrobe.”

Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson, Duke’s Graham Barton, West Virginia’s Zach Frazier and Georgia’s Sedrick Van Pran are all considered first or second-day draft picks. In free agency, guys like Brian Allen and Nick Gates lead the way.

Tomlin made it clear that the leadership responsibilities of the center position won’t hold him back from starting a youngster at that spot, if that’s the way the Steelers end up leaning.

“I think it can be (a leadership position),” Tomlin said. “But it’s not as much of a requirement as you can say the quarterback discussion.”

Tomlin has already started a rookie at center during his tenure, drafting Maurkice Pouncey in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft and Kendrick Green in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s safe to say that one of those acquisitions worked out better than the other. But could they end up standing pat with Nate Herbig or moving James Daniels over? Is that a viable option?

Herbig has played only 49 snaps at center in his entire career. That leaves them in a tough spot. Either they must get a center, or try to ride an inexperienced player like Herbig at that spot. But Herbig has earned support from Tomlin and Khan throughout the offseason. Like this quote from Khan at the NFL Combine.

“Right now, we have Nate Herbig,” Khan said. “I always talk about offensive linemen that have position flexibility. That’s always been important to me. We have offensive linemen that are center-capable. But that’s not to say that we’re not going to take a look in free agency and the trade market and the draft process. There’s some good players at every one of those. We feel good about the center draft. We feel good about the center free agents.”

This feels like something where it’s a believe-it-when-you-see-it type of deal. Herbig is not a proper fit for Arthur Smith’s offense at center, for one, and then on top of that, he has not played there much. I guess there will be urgency from the Steelers to fill the void in the draft or, at the very latest, in the latter portions of free agency.

Outside of him, it seems like they want to keep Daniels at guard. Ryan McCollum and Spencer Anderson are further down the depth chart. But really, there are not many options on the roster as it stands to fill in at center. Don’t expect the Steelers to be a team that views their starting center as being on the roster right now. It doesn’t make much sense.