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Steelers Add Pair Of Offensive Building Blocks In Field Yates’ Latest ESPN Mock Draft

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As the 2024 NFL Draft in Detroit draws closer and closer, the biggest needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers are becoming much clearer, as are the positions and players that they seem set to target, especially early on in the draft.

Offensive tackle, center, and wide receiver are seemingly at the top of the list, making things a bit easier and more common for draft analysts to try and peg players for the Black and Gold.

For ESPN’s Field Yates, who dropped his latest mock draft Wednesday morning, the two needs he addressed first were center and wide receiver in his two-round mock draft. At No. 20 overall for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Yates paired Pittsburgh with Duke offensive lineman Graham Barton, who is expected to kick inside to center for good in the NFL, and then circled back at No. 51 overall in the second round by pairing the Steelers with Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson.

Barton is becoming a popular name for the Steelers at this point in the pre-draft process, especially after new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith was in attendance at the Duke Pro Day to watch the athletic lineman.

“Barton is among the most versatile linemen available, having played left tackle his final three seasons at Duke after playing center as a true freshman,” Yates writes regarding Barton to the Steelers in his latest mock draft. “I view him as an interior player in the NFL and a center for the Steelers, as he is arguably the most impressive run-blocker in the class. His versatility, core power and handwork all stood out to me when watching tape.”

Though he hasn’t played center since his freshman season, the move to center is a logical one for Barton. So far in the pre-draft process, it is where he has primarily worked, knowing that a move to center in the NFL is his best bet. It helps that he tested as an elite athlete at the position, too, which was rather eye-opening.

Barton checks in at 6053, 313 pounds. At his Pro Day he ran a 4.97 40-yard dash with a 4.55 short shuttle and 7.31 3-cone, showing off his impressive testing numbers. Even if he weren’t projected to play center, his testing numbers would have been elite at guard, too, where he scored the third-highest Relative Athletic Score (RAS) since 1987. He was tied for the top center RAS of all-time with Creed Humphrey.

That’s certainly enticing, especially for a team needing a top-tier center again like the Steelers. But there’s a lot of projecting with Barton, who again hasn’t played the position since his freshman season, and is only kicking back inside due to arm length concerns.

But the tape is strong with Barton. In his scouting report for Steelers Depot, Jim Hester had this to say about Barton:

“I came away highly impressed with Barton’s dedication to his craft, his passion for football, the effort he plays with, and the desire to continually improve. His consistency is what sets him apart from his peers, and he shows exceptional athleticism and physicality that will translate to the pro game. Barton can be overwhelming for opponents more often than not. He is a positionally versatile player who has significant experience playing as a left tackle, but his lack of length will most likely kick him inside to guard or center at the NFL level.”

As for the Wilson selection at No. 51 overall in the second round, it makes a great deal of sense, filling a position of need while pairing the Steelers with a player they’ve scouted heavily in the pre-draft process from the Senior Bowl through his Pro Day.

“The Steelers will likely target a wide receiver early in the draft, and Wilson has excellent route running skills, extremely reliable hands and elite speed (4.39 in the 40),” Yates writes regarding the Wilson selection for the Steelers. “Be it Russell Wilson or Justin Fields under center, pairing Wilson — who had 12 touchdowns in 2023 — with George Pickens would help this offense.”

With a major need at the position following the trade of Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers and then only bringing in veterans Van Jefferson and Quez Watkins to add some experienced depth, the Steelers need that high-end talent opposite Pickens. Wilson could be that guy.

Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin attended the Senior Bowl and spoke with Wilson multiple times. In fact, Tomlin even reportedly challenged Wilson to match up one-on-one on every single rep possible against Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell to get best on best as much as possible, pitting two players the Steelers like against each other in the competitive environment.

It created quite a few “wow” moments at the Senior Bowl. After the trip to Mobile to get a good look at Wilson, among others, Tomlin, GM Omar Khan, offensive coordinator Arthur Smith and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and other front office personnel, attended Michigan’s Pro Day on March 22, getting a good look at Wilson again.

In his scouting report of Wilson for the site, Steelers Depot’s Jonathan Heitritter compared Wilson favorably to Seattle wide receiver Tyler Lockett:

“Roman Wilson is a well-rounded receiver who brings the skill set of a nuanced route runner to the table as well as the athleticism to win vertically down the field and after the catch. He displays competitive toughness as both a receiver and a blocker, playing bigger than his listed size. He does lack ideal height and weight, making his projection as an outside receiver at the next level a little tricky. However, Wilson would be best utilized in a slot receiver role while having the release package to see some action on the outside. He would do his best work as an inside receiver matched up against slot corners, linebackers and safeties.”

Wilson broke out in a major way in 2023 for the Wolverines, elevating his draft stock. He hauled in 48 passes for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns, putting up numbers he didn’t have in his first three seasons combined. In his career at Michigan, Wilson finished with 107 receptions  for 1,707 yards and 20 touchdowns.

The Michigan product checked in at 5106, 185 pounds, but had a 6.76 3-cone drill and clocked a 4.39 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.



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