No matter how you spin it, the Pittsburgh Steelers were banking on the depth of the offensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft. They passed up the position group in the first two rounds, taking skill position players instead in running back Najee Harris in the first round and tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second, doing so knowing that players like Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. were still out there.
Green would end up as their third round pick, an interior offensive lineman out of Illinois. While he primarily played guard there, he also started a handful of games at center, and it’s been made rather clear that he is going to be competing to take over the position now vacated by Maurkice Pouncey in his retirement.
The Steelers could have taken Creed Humphrey in the second round, who was pretty much regarded as the number two center in the class behind Landon Dickerson. They passed on him, having done a lot of work on Green. “I was in contact with them a lot,” he would say with Illinois media after the draft. “Coach [Adrian] Klemm was at my Pro Day as well, and he said that there was a real good potential that I land there as well. It worked out.”
After Pouncey retired, the Steelers brought back B.J. Finney, who spent his first five seasons in the league with the team. He had signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 2020 before Seattle traded him to the Cincinnati Bengals, and released him earlier this year.
J.C. Hassenauer served as the team’s backup center last season in all but the first game of the season before Stefen Wisniewski was still healthy and on the roster. He was a first-year player in 2020, but would ultimately start four games, two at guard and two at center. These two players will be Green’s competition.
“I want to go in there — I plan on trying to take the job right away,” he said. “But you want to go in there and compete. They’ve got some older guys that have been in the league a little bit there at that position. It’s kind of surreal, to be honest, but I’m ready to do it.”
One advantage that he clearly has over his competition is his athleticism, probably one of the most athletic offensive lineman to come out of the draft this year, or even in recent years. That’s a skill set the Steelers obviously covet with a history of decades to reference in that regard — including the last decade with Pouncey.
It would be a major boon for the team if Green could immediately step in at center and play above the line, particularly if he can make a difference in the run blocking department. His ability to move out from under center and get to the perimeter or the second level is surely something they are excited to exploit.