Jackson Powers-Johnson draft projections: Will the top center fall to Steelers?

Where is the top center prospect expected to land, and will he be an option for the Steelers in Round 1?

2023 Pac-12 Championship - Oregon v Washington
2023 Pac-12 Championship - Oregon v Washington / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

Center is a position that isn't often selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. While positions like wide receiver and offensive tackle can sometimes see as many as a half-dozen players go in the first 32 picks, most drafts are fortunate to have one center off the board in Round 1.

Like most years, the 2024 draft class only includes a few center prospects who project as plug-and-play starters in the NFL. Duke's Graham Barton, a left tackle in college, projects as one of the top centers, while West Virginia's Zach Frazier is solid but unspectacular. Most analysts believe that the top center prospect this year is Oregon's Jackson Powers-Johnson.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a glaring need at the center position that only increased when they decided to release former starter Mason Cole early in the 2024 offseason. As it stands, Nate Herbig -- a guard by trade -- is the only player expected to be a somewhat viable option in this role. However, a full-time switch to center in his sixth NFL season seems very unlikely.

Because of this, Steelers fans are banging the table for a center early in the 2024 NFL Draft. But will Jackson Powers-Johnson be available when they are on the clock?

According to NFL Mock Draft Database, Jackson Powers-Johnson is the 24th-ranked player in the 2024 NFL Draft and is projected to land with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the 20th overall pick this year. They have a first-round grade on Powers-Johnson and the highest he has been ranked is 23rd overall.

Interestingly, NFL Mock Draft Database gives Powers-Johnson just a 43.9 percent chance of being selected in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. It's worth noting that, back in early December, the Oregon center wasn't even ranked inside the top 150 players. However, over the past two months, he has leveled out between the 20th and 25th overall player in the draft.

Will Jackson Powers-Johnson be an option for the Steelers in Round 1?

It's a safe bet in most drafts to assume that the first center off the board does not get drafted inside the first 20 picks. The same can be said when it comes to Jackson Powers-Johnson's availability this year for the Steelers.

While there is an outside chance a center-needy team like the Seahawks could take JPJ before Pittsburgh's pick, most teams in need of a center -- like the Dolphins, Cowboys, and 49ers -- are picking after the Steelers. Jackson Powers-Johnson is very likely to be available when Pittsburgh makes their selection with the 20th overall pick.

Is Jackson Powers-Johnson a fit with the Steelers?

It's hard to gauge exactly how much interest the Steelers have in selecting a player like Jackson Powers-Johnson in the first round. JPJ lacked Pittsburgh representation at his Oregon Pro Day, as only OL coach Pat Meyer was on hand. History shows that having the Steelers head coach and GM at the Pro Day is very important, but it's worth considering that Oregon's Pro Day occurred in the early rush of free agency.

Powers-Johnson is a big, square-bodied center who might not be as nimble-footed as the Steelers would prefer in their wide zone scheme under Arthur Smith. This could play a big factor in whether or not Omar Khan considers drafting a player like JPJ in Round 1.

The Steelers did get to see him at both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, so we can't rule him out as a possibility. There are other centers who are better scheme fits, but Jackson Powers-Johnson is the best of the group this year, and Pittsburgh could ignore scheme fit to take the most physically imposing center in the draft.