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2024 NFL Draft

Center in First Round? Why the Steelers Might Not Do That

The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately need a center, but if history tells you one thing, they might not do that.



Steelers GM Andy Weidl
Pittsburgh Steelers Assistant General Manager Andy Weill speaks at a press conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex following the NFL Draft, Friday, May 5, 2023 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Karl Roser / Pittsburgh Steelers)

When you look at the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, the center position is the first position you think of, mainly because no one has any significant experience there. Nate Herbig is often mentioned, but he has just 49 career snaps at center. Is that really enough?

The answer is of course, no. This team needs to either sign, trade, or draft someone that can comfortably play at center. Mike Tomlin acknowledged the fact that something had to happen, and well, it will. It’s just a matter of time before a solution is found at center, and obviously, the NFL Draft is the first place to look for this with the free agent market as bare as it is currently.

“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.”

It’s a uniquely deep center class. But it’s not deep in guys who will play right away. That is reserved for a few guys, namely Jackson Powers-Johnson, Zach Frazier, and Graham Barton. If you want to extend it a bit, you can get to some guys like Sedrick Van-Pran Granger.

But history should tell us there might be some signs that the Steelers will not make this move. In a key spot, one of the architects of the draft board and strategy is assistant general manager Andy Weidl. Under his tutelage with Howie Roseman, they did not take a center in the first round. In fact, the interior offensive line was a day-two deal for that team. Cam Jurgens, Landon Dickerson, and Isaac Seumalo were all day two picks.

Then, there comes the pro-day tracking from this season. Listen, I’m not as beholden to the pro day rules this year, either, but you have to put stock into them. It’s quite clear that while the Steelers are doing their work on centers, offensive tackle seems like a higher priority, at least right now. Omar Khan’s draft strategy last year was entirely based on draft value at premium positions. It’s just one draft, but Khan is a more analytically inclined general manager, and him emphasizing premium positions would not be much of a surprise. Nor would it be with Weidl, who, under Roseman, made a living of doing that.

The argument for bucking some of this information would be two-fold. For one, Weidl was never faced with a huge need at center in Philadelphia because Jason Kelce was there the entire time. Second, Khan has adopted a philosophy on caring about premium players. For example, while he invests in premium positions, he has also extended Minkah Fitzpatrick and signed Patrick Queen. Even though linebacker and safety are important, they are not some of those premium spots.

So, if the team believes there is someone they dub a premium player, it would not be shocking to see them make a move to draft someone. However, some data is working against the idea of a center in the first round, and so far, the history of Steelers tracking data does not scream a center in the first round. It is screaming a center in the middle rounds, specifically on day two. But I don’t necessarily believe that Pittsburgh will jump at center in the first round because of a gaping need.

What I do think is possible is that they jump up in the second round to go grab someone like Frazier, Barton, or Powers-Johnson. Khan looked to move up and down the board in 2023, and this year, that should be the expectation, too. Expecting them to move up from 51 to land someone, especially if the rumors about Powers-Johnson’s stock being lower in the league than the media believes are true, seems like a natural thought.