Surprising pre-draft moves suggest Steelers may break their own rules

The Steelers could break their own rule by taking a player in the first round they didn't meet with at their Pro Day.
Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan
Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are like every other franchise in the NFL: they have certain draft trends they live by. One of their most important trends is having their head coach and general manager on hand at the Pro Day of the player they will draft in the first round.

This is something that has been consistent since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach back in 2007. The Steelers are as active on the pre-draft scouting trail as any front office in the league. We are always looking at which Pro Days they are attending and which players they are taking out to dinner (which is a great indicator of their interests).

By doing so, we have been able to successfully narrow down Pittsburgh's top selection over the years. Last year, Broderick Jones ended up being the top name on our list because of the pre-draft interest the team showed. In the two years prior, it was clear the Steelers were taking a QB in 2022, and they were infatuated with Najee Harris in 2021.

The Pro Day visit has been a rule of thumb when it comes to determining Pittsburgh's first-round pick, and it has helped us narrow down their selection every year. But rules are made to be broken.

Steelers could ignore their Pro Day visit rule to draft a center in Round 1

Despite an overwhelming amount of evidence dating back to the beginning of Mike Tomlin's tenure, there's reason enough to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers could break their own Pro Day visit rule in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Steelers have a desperate need at center. After a bad season in 2023, former starter Mason Cole was released by the team early in the 2024 offseason. Currently, veteran Nate Herbig is penciled in as the starting center for Pittsburgh, but the offensive guard is entering his sixth NFL season and has logged just 49 snaps at center in his professional career.

It's unlikely the Steelers' starting center for the 2024 season isn't yet on the roster. Sadly, few options available at the position in free agency were quickly scooped up. Outside of Connor Williams, who is recovering from a major knee injury, every available free-agent center projects as a backup on an NFL roster.

For this reason, the Steelers could break their own first-round rule in 2024. The Steelers didn't meet with any of the top three center prospects at their Pro Days this year (you can check out our full Steelers visit tracker here). The players widely regarded as the top prospects at the position this year are Duke's Graham Barton, Oregon's Jackson Powers-Johnson, and West Virginia's Zach Frazier.

Though Frazier feels much more like a second-round center, Barton and Powers-Johnson are deserving of being drafted in the back half of the first round (which is where the Steelers will be selecting at pick 20).

When Powers-Johnson's Oregon Pro Day was going on, the rush of NFL free agency was taking place. Instead of sending the house to see JPJ perform on the other side of the country, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to prioritize making roster moves during the first wave of free agency.

It is worth noting that Pittsburgh's brass formally met with Graham Barton at the NFL Scouting Combine. It's also worth mentioning that the team has not made every Top 30 pre-draft visit public knowledge this season, and they could have met with these players without reports surfacing.

History would suggest that the player who is ultimately selected by the Steelers in Round 1 is going to check the box when it comes to getting the Pro Day visit by Pittsburgh's decision-makers. However, the surprising moves to skip meeting with the top center prospects during the pre-draft process could mean the Steelers may break their rules in the first round.