The most important portion of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, other than obviously the name of Illinois’ Kendrick Green, was the position at which he was announced. After spending the majority of his Illinois career (29 of 33 starts) as the Illini’s left guard, the Steelers announced Green at the podium as a center.
That change immediately indicated the plan Pittsburgh has for Green. The Illinois product is being brought in and converted to a full-time center, to compete with incumbents B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer for the starting job in the middle of the team’s line. Green was asked about changing positions at the NFL level, during an interview with Steeler Nation Radio on ESPN Pittsburgh after being selected.
“I feel like I’m more of a center at the next level,” Green said during the interview. “I’m excited for the new challenge and I’m ready to exceed those expectations with flying colors.”
Green began his Illinois career as a two-year starter at left guard, making one spot start at center during his 2019 sophomore season. He reverted back to left guard for five games of his 2020 season, before sliding in to start three games at center for the Illini after starter Doug Kramer suffered an injury.
Green was honored as an All-Big Ten first teamer along the line after that final season. He was the first Illinois lineman to receive such an honor since 2007. He was also named an All-American by USA Today, the first such honor for an Illini offensive lineman. Despite his primary position being guard, Green said he always prepared for the likelihood he would move in to center both for Illinois, and as a likely fit at the NFL level.
“I prepared every weekend at Illinois like I was playing center,” Green said during the interview. “My coach did a really good job of that. Made sure I got reps at playing center. So it’s something I’m comfortable doing. And honestly, I like center a little bit more than guard, it we’re being honest. So I’m excited.”
A position change for Green won’t even be the first time he has underwent it during his career. Green was recruited to Illinois as a defensive tackle. But after redshirting a year at that position, the team flipped him to the other side of the trenches prior to taking the field for his redshirt freshman season.
This is a much bigger change for Green, even moreso than shifting from defense to offense. Green is not only converting to a full-time center while jumping from college to the NFL. He is also being moved to a legacy position for a historical franchise. One that has seen Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, and Maurkice Pouncey become names synonymous with the Steeler name, despite playing an often overlooked position on the field.
“It’s just kind of something that’s been mentioned to me a little bit with these last 12 hours,” Green said. “Coming in right behind Maurkice Pouncey, thats a guy I’ve always watched on film. I like the way he plays ball, really football savvy, you can tell. So I’m excited, and hopefully I’ll be here for a long time.”