The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of places to improve their team before the 2022 NFL season. Struggling to stop the run on defense, there are a number of positions there which could be upgraded or see improved play from those manning the position. On offense, the Steelers really need to improve in the trenches both in run blocking and pass protection for whoever will be calling the signals next season.
One position which has come under a lot of scrutiny is at center, particularly 2021 third-round draft pick Kendrick Green. Starting the first 15 games of the season, Green fell out favor with a number of Steelers fans who have already prepared to turn the page to the next player they feel could get the job done. But should Steelers fans be so quick to write off Green after just one season? Here are three reasons why Steelers’ fan should show some patience for Kendrick Green as he heads into 2022.
He was a third-round draft pick
The Steelers do not often call on third-round draft picks to come through for them in their rookie season. If these players were that NFL ready, they likely would not have lasted until the third round. The fact Kendrick Green started 15 games as a rookie says a lot. Why? Because no other third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in franchise history has started as many games as a rookie. The closest was Javon Hargrave in 2016 when he started 13 games as well as tight end John McMakin who started 13 games in 1972. The only other players who started double-digit games the rookie years as third-round draft picks were Diontae Johnson with 12 starts in 2019 and Mel Blount with 10 starts in 1970.
Many Steelers offensive lineman barely get to see the field in their rookie season when they are drafted in the third round. Chuks Okorafor technically started three games as a rookie, but only one was at tackle with the other two starts coming at jumbo tight end. Chuks didn’t become a full-time starter until his third season with the Steelers. Another example is Max Starks, drafted in the third round of 2004. Starks was not even active for the Steelers until Week 8 and did not start a game his rookie season. This is typically the path for Steelers player selected in the third round, but Green was not awarded this luxury. Instead of having time to grow before getting on the field, he ended up being the starter from day one.
He was starting to improve, until...
Kendrick Greene was also not put in the greatest position in 2021. Things started off a little bit rough when it was expected that he would be playing next to former All-Pro guard David DeCastro, but instead he ended up next to former Pro Bowler Trai Turner, who was trying to learn the Steeler system for himself as the season began. Green also had the luxury of playing with Kevin Dotson to his left side, at least until Week 10. Once Dotson was out due to a high ankle sprain, it was a number of undrafted players filling in on the left side at guard for the remainder of the season. Instead of having someone next to him who he could count on as he continued to get his feet under him, it was the “next man up“ whom the Steelers were attempting to hide any weaknesses on the line. Had Kevin Dotson been able to play the entire season, those two players may have continued to grow together as it appeared they were throughout the Steelers four-game winning streak.
Have you learned nothing?
Come on, Steelers’ fans, you are better than this. How many times have fans complained about a player not living up to expectations only for them to turn around and have anywhere from a solid to a “gold jacket“ career. There were a number of players who did not impress in their rookie seasons such as Troy Polamalu, Cameron Heyward, and Bud Dupree. Sure, these players were all first-round picks, yet they struggled at the beginning of their career to really establish themselves as the player they would become. Yet fans expect a third-round pick to come in and play like Maurkice Pouncey from the very beginning? Kendrick Greene may develop into nothing more than a backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he should at least be given the opportunity for more than one year to show what he can give. Don’t forget, Steelers fans were also ready to move on from Chris Boswell in 2018 when he had a down season. How do you think that would have worked out?
Perhaps Green could even be the next Vince Williams. Vince Williams? Yes. Remember Williams was thrust into a starting role in his rookie season in 2013. After starting 11 games, what happened to Williams? He wasn’t a full-time starter again until his fifth year in the NFL. Even if Green doesn’t get a starting job anywhere on the offensive line in 2022, it doesn’t mean that he can’t grow into an eventual starter for the Steelers.
Should the Pittsburgh Steelers move forward with the expectations in Kendrick Green is the guy at center in 2022? I’m not going that far. If the Steelers have a chance to upgrade any position on the offensive line in free agency or the draft, they should welcome the opportunity. But should Kendrick Greene simply be dismissed because he wasn’t the guy after his first season in the NFL? Absolutely not. He should be in the mix for a starting spot when the Steelers open training camp in July.
Without a doubt, I’m sure there will be plenty discussion about how Green should be moved to guard. Some people even go as far to call it his “natural position“ since he played it often in college. I also remember Antwaan Randle El being a quarterback in college, but that ended up not being his natural position. Of course, there’s a big difference between wide receiver and quarterback versus moving 3 feet to the right or left on the offensive line. But still, if Kendrick Green isn’t getting the job done at center, he’s not miraculously going to become this fantastic player by moving one spot. Additionally, Green was also quoted recently saying the Steelers expected him to stay at center for next season.
Was the play the Steelers got from Kendrick Green his rookie season what they want to be the norm moving forward? It better not be. He must get better. Does it have to be a different player at center in order for things to improve? Not necessarily. The story of Kendrick Green’s NFL career is only getting started. Steelers fans need to not jump to the conclusion before moving into chapter 2.