Steelers interest in Graham Barton muddies the waters ahead of the NFL Draft

Pittsburgh appeared to be headed toward an offensive tackle in Round 1; Now their top pick will be much harder to predict.
NFL Combine
NFL Combine / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

No matter how confident we feel when it comes to who the Steelers' first-round pick is going to be, there is always a sense of mystery in the backs of our minds. But this hasn't been enough to prevent us from predicting that Pittsburgh would take a quarterback in 2022 (practically the only position they looked at), Devin Bush in 2019, or Najee Harris in 2021.

Even last year, Broderick Jones was one of two players who checked every visit box we look for to be the first-round draft choice by the Steelers (the other was Ohio State OT Paris Johnson Jr.). Broderick is who I predicted Pittsburgh would select in my final 2023 Steelers mock draft.

This year, it was getting increasingly easier to follow the trail of breadcrumbs.

Following the Senior Bowl, our data collection began with whom the Steelers formally met with at the NFL Combine. From there, we tracked where Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan were on the Pro Day trail and which players Pittsburgh brought to the facility for Top 30 pre-draft visits (you can check out our updated visit tracker here).

The pre-draft scouting trail led us to the offensive tackle position -- more specifically to Georgia's Amarius Mims. The polarizing OT prospect checked every box to be Pittsburgh's selection in the first round.

Then something happened that muddied the waters.

Just hours before the clock ticked down on the deadline to meet with prospects for pre-draft visits, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted Graham Barton for a Top 30 visit. Now it feels like the Steelers will be torn in which direction to go with the 20th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Steelers now have a choice between offensive tackle and center

While NFL Draft analysts are still mocking wide receivers to Pittsburgh in the first round of the draft, I feel confident that this is a position the Steelers are planning to target on Day 2. With less than two weeks until the draft, I was confident that Omar Khan was heading toward taking an offensive tackle. Now I'm not so sure.

Though the Steelers brought in Jackson Powers-Johnson and Zach Frazier for pre-draft visits, neither of these players left like the pick at 20 overall. Powers-Johnson isn't an ideal scheme fit and he has some medical issues that could cause him to slip, while pick 20 seems too rich for a player like Frazier.

Graham Barton was the one center prospect who could pursue the Steelers, but up until recently, the team had not brought him in for a pre-draft visit. At the time, it looked like Barton wasn't a player they had enough interest in to take in Round 1. Now he might be the top prospect on their radar.

Barton was a center as a freshman, but he started at left tackle the past three years at Duke (which shows just what type of athlete he is). His athletic traits and position flexibility to play anywhere on the offensive line make him one of the safest prospects set to enter the NFL Draft.

Because the Steelers have major needs at both center and offensive tackle, they could prefer the player who can do both. Amarius Mims, on the other hand, is a tackle-only prospect thanks to his nearly 6'8'' frame.

If one more day had passed and the sun had set on the pre-draft visit deadline, we wouldn't be having this conversation. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers are clearly interested in Graham Barton, and a predictable first-round situation just got a whole lot murkier with a new candidate emerging to be the 20th overall pick.