With the 87th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Illinois guard Kendrick Green. Green and the Steelers’ other eight picks could be packaged up into one quick, overall grade. But why not take a detailed look at each individual pick from a number of different viewpoints, before determining a final grade for the player, and later on the entire class?
I designed this exercise to look at and give letter grades based on six specific ways to view the pick (listed below), before taking all that analysis and combining it into a final letter grade. Those five viewpoints comprise much of what goes into the draft grades consumed by so many every year after the draft.
Team Need: Does the player fill a weaker spot on the roster?
Team Fit: Does this player and his skillset fit what the team likes to do offensively and defensively?
Immediate Contributor: Will the player be able to play a big role as a rookie?
Long-Term Contributor: Will the player be a significant part of the team’s future in some capacity?
Pick Value: Did the team reach on this player? Did they pick up a steal who should have gone earlier?
Other Options: Who were the other players still on the board at that selection, both overall and at that specific position?
Overall Grade: A final mark to denote whether the selection was an overall positive one, or one that could’ve been better spent elsewhere.
Each factor doesn’t apply evenly to every pick made. For example, a first round selection is expected to be an immediate contributor to the team, while a seventh-rounder is fortunate to just make the roster.
Some factors do, though. Whether picked first overall or 259th, there will always be other options on the board to compare the player to, and steals and reaches can come from any place in the draft.
Round 3, Pick 24: Kendrick Green, G/C, Illinois
TEAM NEED: A
If Green was drafted purely as a guard, where he played at Illinois, this would drop lower. But Green was announced as a center, one of the most well-known needs of the Steelers entering the draft. Drafting somebody with this high a pick means they’re envisioned as the future starter at the position, even if it isn’t immediate given Green’s learning curve. Whether he is on the sidelines or snapping the ball Week 1, drafting a potential starter at center gets no less than an A for filling one of the most glaring needs on the roster.
TEAM FIT: B
Incomplete might be a better overall grade here, because if you look at the Pittsburgh offenses of the past, Green isn’t the best projection to a starting role. For a center he is a little undersized compared to the team’s past starters, and his game is much, much more about athleticism than it is about mauling defensive linemen.
But the selections of Green and Dan Moore Jr. in the fourth round indicate a shift to the Steelers’ offense may be coming this season under new OC Matt Canada. That shift will go from a people-moving, powerful running game to one based on zone blocking and overall athleticism. In that kind of offense, Green is much more at home, where his upside as one of the draft’s most athletic linemen will be used to its fullest.
Whether its all-in on zone or a combination of old and new offensive ideas, Green’s mean-spirited mindset is an evergreen fit for a team who likes nasty linemen. Size will also be an evergreen issue (he stands 6’2”, down from Maurkice Pouncey’s 6’4”), but the rest of his make-up and game are enough to project him to overcome that specific measurement and fit what the team wants at the position.
IMMEDIATE CONTRIBUTOR: B-
Once again, a grade that could change significantly based on how Green performs adjusting to center, and whether he wins a starting job or not. Green could beat out B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer to win the starting center job, or the two Steeler veterans could kick him to the sideline for part of or all of Green’s rookie season.
Adjusting to a new position, Green was definitely drafted to be the starter of the future in Matt Canada’s offense. As for the immediate, it may be a little much to assume he is going to master the center position enough to outpace primarily Finney, who brings more experience in his return to the team. There is significant room for Green’s grade to improve, and I’m not ruling out him being a quick study and starting Week 1 with aplomb. Even if he doesn’t break the lineup until mid-season or 2022, Green will be the team’s primary backup at both guard spots and center, which is invaluable given the likelihood one of the team’s linemen will go down during the season.
LONG-TERM CONTRIBUTOR: A
If a team drafts a lineman in the third round, either they are so spoiled with depth that they can afford to pick a backup high, or they’re taking someone who is expected to contribute as a starter in the short-term future. Pittsburgh is not the former, so Green is absolutely part of the latter argument.
If Pittsburgh goes all-in on zone blocking, Green is the player they want touching the ball every play. His athleticism fits that type of offense, and as mentioned above, the team and its fan are going to love him as a player if he displays that killer instinct and nasty demeanor he has mentioned since being selected. There is no reason to believe Green won’t handle the transition to center sometime in his first two seasons, and as long as he holds his own, will be a keystone of the team’s line for at least the next few seasons, as the team makes its first switch at QB in well over a decade.
PICK VALUE: B+
As Matthew Marczi mentioned in a recent article, the selection of Green definitely prompted some reactions of “Who?” from Pittsburgh fans, and draft writers like myself. While familiar with him in the draft lead-up, it required some additional film study to figure out exactly who was being tabbed as the next starter at center.
In terms of value, even as a lesser-known name, Pittsburgh did well with the selection. The NFL seems very high on him as a prospect, and it is highly doubtful Green falls to the Steelers in the fourth round. Like yesterday’s grading subject, Pat Freiermuth, it is hard to call Green either a steal or a bust. He went right around where he was projected to go. His floor isn’t much lower, and it’s unlikely he does anything to be called a bust at the end of his career. His ceiling is well high enough that he could be called a steal at the end of things, though. Especially if he gets the starting job to start his second season, and holds it long-term.
OTHER OPTIONS: B+
At this point in the draft, Pittsburgh had not addressed the offensive line, which contained two of its four biggest weaknesses. So the pick absolutely had to go there, and fortunately it aligned that at 87th overall, the best players left for the team were linemen. All the cornerbacks worth a third-round pick and starting job were gone, no other needs compared to the line and center specifically, and no one at another position (linebacker Jabril Cox the closest) was such a steal that it was worth pushing offensive line back another round.
The only omission that bears absolute mention here is Quinn Meinerz of Wisconsin-Whitewater. A definite favorite of fans nation-wide and of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who led his Pro Day workout and were connected to him the entirety of the draft process, Meinerz was viewed as a likely second-round pick for the team, and falling to the third was a steal for them. Personal opinion strongly favors Meinerz, and led to an initial reaction that this was a missed pick. But further examining Green and what he brings to the team has tempered my opinion significantly. Is it enough to keep this from being a sure-fire A+? Yes. Enough to give a less-than-outright-positive grade? No. And if Pittsburgh is going zone-heavy starting this year, Green is the better option to Meinerz’ power-heavy game.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
Pittsburgh needed an immediate starter at center this draft, and didn’t get one. But what they got is a player who is incredibly likely to become that in short order, with the athletic skillset to lead the offense into a new scheme if he can convert from guard to center while jumping from the Big Ten to the NFL.
I expect Green to be a capable starter for the Steelers beginning his second season, or even late this year if Finney or Hassanauer struggle in the role. His versatility also gives Pittsburgh the option to go guard or center in the future depending on draft value in 2022 or later classes, and his athleticism and demeanor have similar fan favorite potential to Meinerz. Overall, a much more positive pick than I initially thought when announced.