In parts one and two of this series, we looked at some of the tight ends and quarterbacks available in the upcoming draft and how they might fit in Pittsburgh. In this article, we examine the draft’s top centers.
Kevin: Ok, so Maurkice Pouncey is gone and the current candidates to replace him are B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer (I’m guessing M.C. Hammer wasn’t available). The Steelers badly need a long-term replacement at the position. The question is, will they invest a first-round pick on a center or will they wait to grab one later in the draft? Geoffrey, to begin, is there a center worthy of being selected in the first round, and if so, who is it?
Geoffrey: There’s two centers that fall in the Round 1 or Round 2 range in this draft. First off is Landon Dickerson, whose talent is undeniable. He’s got the mobility, strength, technique and most of all, attitude to be one of the best centers in the NFL. He also has a rough injury history to go with it. He had 2 season ending injuries at Florida State, and after transferring to Alabama, played the entire 2019 season and in 2020 was injured in the SEC title game. I know that you are a big fan of his tape, Kevin, is there enough there to offset the injury concerns?
Kevin: We haven’t been running GIFs with this series for the sake of brevity but I felt compelled to include this one. This is Landon Dickerson. This is how he plays:
And like this:
I love Dickerson because he is the most physical center in this draft. He is a relentless blocker who punishes defenders. He’s also a great leader. This Steelers’ line needs an identity and Dickerson is a player around which it can be forged. Dickerson, Kevin Dotson and Zach Banner would give the Steelers three butt-kickers up front. I would be thrilled if they drafted him.
That said, you can’t deny the injury concerns. To take Dickerson in round one, I’d have to be completely confident in his medical reports and even then I’d worry about his long-term health. If they could find a way to get him in round two I’d feel better about the risk.
Geoff: The second center that could go in the first round is Creed Humphrey. Humphrey stands out for his athleticism, both his ridiculous testing numbers and on film. Humphrey is a fantastic pulling center, something the Steelers value a lot, and he’s also really good on outside zone runs. Humphrey isn’t the people mover Landon Dickerson is, and I don’t like how he lets attackers come to him, but he has fantastic footwork, a great anchor and can do things the Steelers typically want to see from their centers. Lastly, if Matt Canada is looking to run more outside zone this season, Creed Humphrey would be a great fit because of how good he is in that scheme. Do you think he’s worth a first round pick Kevin? If both these centers and the top tier running backs are available in the first round, (and you couldn’t get any of them in the second) who would you take?
Kevin: Humphrey is an excellent player and a good fit for the offense. He’s a better athlete than Dickerson and I’d be happy landing him as well. That said, I’m taking one of the running backs in round one because I think the drop-off after the Big Three (Harris, Etienne, Williams) is bigger than the drop-off at center. Plus, the Steelers depth chart at running back right now is really bad and they can’t miss out on an impact back in this draft. I think you can get some pretty good centers in round two and three whereas the running back talent takes a hit after that top tier.
Kevin: Speaking of that next group of centers, an interesting prospect is the young man from Wisconsin-Whitewater, Quinn Meinerz. He’s got a late-second to mid-third round grade from most scouts. The Steelers should have a shot at him when they pick at 2:55 but it seems unlikely he’ll last until their pick at 3:87. So, he’s probably a second-round guy if they want him.
Meinerz was a wrestler in high school and took fifth in the state in Wisconsin. So, we know he’s strong, physical and, if he was a good wrestler, plays with great leverage. He was also barely recruited. He received exactly one offer, from Division II St. Cloud State, and landed at Whitewater, a perennial Division III power. Whitewater didn’t play in 2020 due to Covid but Meinerz got an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he stood out and was named the top offensive lineman for the National Team.
The fact Meinerz has been slighted gives him that chip on the shoulder I love to see. He’s a hungry kid out to prove people wrong. On the other hand, he started for two years at a D-III school and had his 2020 season canceled. Does that resume, coupled with one strong week at the Senior Bowl, give you enough confidence to say he’s worth a second-round pick and could be Pittsburgh’s starting center for the next decade?
Geoffrey: I was not impressed with most of Meinerz work at the Senior Bowl. I think he has some bad habits from playing lesser athletes in division III and I don’t think he’s a year one starter at all.
You can see the wrestler in him when he gets an advantage and uses it to bury someone, but you also see it when he tries to wrap up and grapple someone when they are attacking his shoulder and he ends up trying to stop their body with one arm. That will really cost him against NFL veterans. As a more developmental prospect I would really like him, but I’d have a hard time taking him in the second round and having him sit while B.J. Finney starts all year.
Kevin: I’m with you. He’s a nice story but the resume is too thin for me.
Two centers who are comparable to Meinerz and can probably be taken later are Ohio State’s Josh Myers and Georgia’s Trey Hill. Myers is projected as a third round pick while Hill would likely go in the fourth.
Myers has good size (6’5-310), is a powerful blocker at the point of attack and was a team captain. His scouting report per The Athletic describes him as a “mean, consistent block finisher.” That’s music to my ears. The fact he was a team captain is a big plus as well. The negatives on Myers are that his lateral agility is described as “average,” which could make it tough on him if Canada runs a lot of outside zone. He can also play high at times, which can be fatal for a center if an NFL one-tech gets his hands under their pads. These are technique issues, though, which can be remedied with good coaching.
Geoff: Myers is a nice blocker, but his lateral agility is a real issue. The Steelers are going to have to work around Dotson’s limited lateral ability and Myers might be even more limited. For a team that runs inside zone and gap Myers could be a starter as a rookie, but the Steelers ask a lot more from their centers and I don’t know if Myers can do the job.
Kevin: Good points. What about Hill, then? He’s 6’3-320 and built like a fire-plug. He is extremely thick in the legs and uses his lower body strength effectively in the run game. The Athletic described him as “not a slug,” which I suppose is a compliment. Hill did start a few games at guard at Georgia, which suggests he has decent movement. He doesn’t have great balance though, which means he will have to be an excellent technician with his hands or he’ll wind up on the ground a lot.
Geoff: Trey Hill is my favorite developmental center. Like you say there are some technique problems there to work on, but I like his fight in traffic, and he’s strong in short yardage situations. If he can get his hips lower and in balance I think he’ll be a really good center, but he’d need some time to get there.
Kevin: So, let’s get to the million-dollar question. Everything depends on how the chips fall on draft night, but what do you think the Steelers will do? Personally, I think they’re going running back in the first round and will hope to land either Humphrey or Dickerson in round two. Maybe they’d even trade up to get one or the other. If not, I think they’ll take one of the developmental centers in round three or four.
Geoffrey, what do you think?
Geoff: For me, I think Creed Humphrey is the pick, either at 24 or with a rare trade down. Center in round 1 and a running back later. The offensive line is just more important.