With the 87th selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected IOL Kendrick Green out of the University of Illinois. While Primarily playing OG for the Illini, Green has had experience at center where he is projected to land in the Steelers system, starting four games at the pivot during his three years with the program and also moving in-game to the position in several others due to injury. While Green is mostly knowing for his impressive athleticism and ability to get out in space in the run game, this film session will be dedicated to Green’s abilities as a pass protector, highlighting his strengths and areas he will need to clean up to potentially take other the starting center position for Pittsburgh early in his NFL career.
While Green is a superb athlete for the position, he plays with a lot of effort both in the run and in the pass game and it would be hard to question the man’s motor. He is constantly looking for work with his head on a swivel to contribute and a get a body on a man. Here he shows in pass protection him helping out the left tackle initially, then shifts over to the center after the tackle handles his assignment, going for the big blow up block.
He has the wherewithal to recognize blitzers coming to his gap and will go for the light up shot if he gets the chance. On this play, we see Green initially uncovered, but he picks up the defender lopping for the left edge and knocks him off his feet, proceeding to go get him and knock him out of the play entirely. It would be nice to see more hand placement and punch rather than throwing the shoulder, but Green takes care of his man regardless.
Green does a great job on double teams with the guard beside him when asked to play center, having the low center of gravity and density to be difficult to move off of his spot. Renowned for his 700lb squat in the weight room, Green as a strong, powerful man in the middle that can sit in an neutralize the rush when he gets his hands-on interior pass rushers. We see that here against Cal where Green picks up the defensive lineman with the RG and gets good hand placement on the defender’s torso, locking on with a good base and completely stopping the man in his tracks.
On this play, we see Green pick up the defensive tackle stunting down into him on his right shoulder in hopes of freeing the other defender to loop around. While Green does initially cede some ground, his strength and low center of gravity allow him to gather himself and reset against the rush, preventing him from being driven back into the pocket and stalemate the defender at the line. You may want to see Green play with more consistent knee bend, but his strength and ability to recover against the power rush is great to see for an undersized blocker.
For little experience at the center position, Green has displayed good awareness in terms of passing off defenders on twists and stunts from the inside with the guard beside him. Here against the Nittany Lions, we see Green quickly recognize the twist and pick up the man coming into him, getting a good punch inside and moving with him laterally to keep the pocket clean.
Green approaches the position more like a bouncer in a night club than a finesse protector. This insinuates that he would rather like to throw you out of the club than merely cause a stalemate at the LOS. We see a get sequence here in pass protection where Green recognizes the twists and blows up #74 Austin Schulte, tossing him to the turf while being able to still pick up #94 A.J. Epenesa coming inside, knocking him back than slamming him to the ground as the QB decides to keep it and scramble for first down yardage.
Green likes to treat pass protection much like his run blocking, playing mean and nasty any chance he gets. Illinois liked to run a lot of RPO concepts where the offensive line would fire out into their guys like a run play while the QB would fake the hand off and hit his receiver on the route. We see that here versus Wisconsin where Green fires out of his stance into his man, uprooting him and planting him into the ground on the pancake block while the passer takes a shot to the sideline. The pass falls incomplete, but Green adds another highlight block to his resume.
While this aggressiveness is good to have in some cases, it can lead to potential issues going to the next level, especially in pass protection. When I did my scouting report on Green during the pre-draft process, I noted that there were a lot of balance issues on tape where he would overextend and end up on the ground far too often. This often occurred in the run game, but it also takes place in pass protection. Here on this RPO to the right side, Green drives out into his man as he normally does, but leans too far forward and loses his footing, slipping and falling as he knocks his man back to the ground. Sure, he finishes the block and the receiver catches the ball and takes it to the house, but Green may need to tone it back a little bit to avoid more skilled interior defenders recognizing this and him with the arm over or swim move to use his momentum against him in the pros.
Green also loves to get downfield and into his blocks on RPO/quick passes near the LOS. While this is to be expected, he allows himself to be overly aggressive pursuing the block, often pushing the distance he can go legally without being called for illegal man downfield. In the case of college, the offensive line is allowed three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. However, at the NFL level, offensive linemen are allowed one yard off the LOS during initial charge forward according to the rules. On this play Green is pushing it by college rules, but would be deliberately committing a penalty at the NFL level, meaning he will need the Mike Tomlin “ Woah rather than sick ’em” speech to avoid getting the yellow hankies.
Now I initially compared Green’s game to that of David Andrews of the New England Patriots as an undersized, yet athletic player on the interior. However, after watching more film on the two, I recognized that Green is far stronger and has a higher athletic upside than Andrews possesses. A guy from a size/athleticism combo that you here often is Jason Kelce of the Eagles who is regarded as one of the best centers in the league despite being undersized. He is a phenomenal mover in space, but he holds his own in pass protection as well, being able to play with good base leverage, and use his initial punch to neutralize pass rushers in front of him that outweigh him by over 30lb.
However, it would likely be unfair to compare Green’s game to that of Kelce’s initially, so another similar player that stuck out to me was another Patriot: Shaq Mason. Mason is an undersized blocker out of Georgia Tech who too has great athletic traits and play strength to be a great piece in the run game. He has nearly identical size (6’1, 300lb) and testing numbers to that of Green and their film in pass protection shares some similarities as well as you can see Mason’s ability to help in pass protection at the guard spot on edge rushers or defensive tackles like he does here against the Jets.
However, Mason shares similar balance issues to Green due to a tendency to lean and also lacks ideal size to anchor in against sheer mass on the power rush as we see on this play where John Jenkins who tops the scales at over 350lb bulldozes Mason into the lap of the QB.
Now Green’s tape didn’t show a lot of this issues of getting driven back by larger defenders thanks to his strength but given the increase in competition at the next level and need to play with more consistent anchor and knee bend, this could be an issue Green could expect to deal with as well.
Overall, after watching more of Green, I came away more impressed after my initial film study and first reaction after the pick was made. He is a gifted player that has the versatility to play both guard and center and the movement skills you’d be hard pressed to find. His play strength and nasty demeanor are things you can’t teach and embody what the team is trying to bring back to the Steel City this offseason. While he needs to refine his technique and reel in some of that wild play from time to time, there is a lot to work with in terms of Green in pass protection who has the mental processing that we have seen on tape and is still developing at the position after starting out as a defensive tackle. Should OC Matt Canada implement a fair amount of RPO concepts into his system going forward, we could see Green get some highlight blocks to come in pass protection as well as what he does in the run game as a hopeful starter for Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.