The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: B.J. Finney will be the Steelers’ opening-day starting center.
Explanation: While the Steelers figure to address the center position in the upcoming NFL Draft following the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey, doing so does not guarantee that they bring in a player who is capable of starting right away. B.J. Finney has experience with the team and has started games at center—and figures at least to be ahead of the only other center-capable player on the roster, J.C. Hassenauer.
Outside of first-round picks in David DeCastro and Pouncey himself, I can’t recall the last time that a rookie draft pick profiled as an opening-day starter before, and I don’t anticipate the Steelers using a first-round pick on a center this year.
Not even Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams, second-round selections in 2011 and 2012, respectively, were expected to be starters by the season opener of their rookie years—and neither one did. Gilbert did end up starting most of the year after Willie Colon suffered a season-ending injury in the opener, of course.
Finney might not be the guy you want to have in the starting lineup for a decade, but he figures to be serviceable enough to function as at least a bridge starter, either until a rookie draft pick is ready for the role or until they acquire somebody else. You don’t want an inexperienced player under center if you can avoid it.
The Steelers haven’t had a rookie starter along the offensive line outside of first-round picks in a while because, usually, they’ve had talent in front of them, and haven’t used more than a single pick earlier than the third round since 2012. But Kevin Dotson just showed last year that a rookie is capable of coming in and starting. He did end up starting the second game of the season due to injury and played well, and figures to be a full-timer this year.
Center is not a position that always yields a first-round pick. It’s not often one that is very deep, but often enough, you can still manage to get one of the better players at the position in the draft even into the early portions of day three.
And we can’t rule out the possibility of their still signing another veteran who has more starting experience. The market has already been injected with starters who have been cut, and who may be looking for one-year deals to re-establish themselves, which would suit the front office just fine.