The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t address their needs along their offensive line until their third pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, and while first- and second-rounders Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth should provide immediate help at the running back position, it’s unclear if the Steelers will get that level of help on the line from their 2021 draft class.
Looking for a Day One starter in third round, as the Steelers did by drafting Illinois center Kendrick Green, is a risky proposition.
Of the 41 players selected in the third round in 2020, only nine even played in all 16 games as rookies last season. Only three players selected in the third round started all 16 games last season, providing somewhat long odds that the Steelers found a Day One starter with pick No. 87.
But if there’s one thing that should give the Steelers hope that they might have, it’s that all three 2020 third-rounders to start 16 games were interior offensive linemen.
Denver Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry, Detroit Lions guard Jonah Jackson and Seattle Seahawks guard Damien Lewis were all 16-game starters in 2020 coming out of the third round.
While that’s cause for hope, 12 of the 41 players have yet to start a single game, including offensive linemen Josh Jones (Arizona Cardinals) and Lucas Niang (Kansas City Chiefs).
In addition to the three full-time starters, four more third-rounders started more than half of their team’s games last year, while 21, including Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, were able to crack a starting lineup, but in a part-time role.
If Green is unable to secure the starting job, the Steelers do not have much depth to turn to. B.J. Finney has the most experience of the team’s other centers, but didn’t play there at all in 2020 after recording 318 snaps in 2019 with the Steelers. J.C. Hassenauer played 235 snaps in place of Maurkice Pouncey in 2020 for the Steelers.
“[Green] is coming in and competing with some other guys who are trying to do the same thing,” offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said. “Hopefully, iron sharpens iron, and everybody gets better from it.”
Turning to a third-round rookie with limited other options was something of a risky move, and one of the reasons that the Steelers’ 2021 NFL Draft class go so-so grades from evaluators. But if they hit with Green the way the Broncos hit with Cushenberry at the same position last year, they could end up with a great result.
“I think hopefully, I kind of fit right in,” Green said. “Just looking to come in, be a sponge, soak up whatever from the older guys, and I just want to be a workhorse and be ready to get to work.”