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If the Steelers are still unsure at center, Tyler Linderbaum may just be the pick

What if Tyler Linderbaum is still sitting there when it’s the Steelers turn to pick at 20? Given the drop off in talent after Linderbaum, he may just be too hard to pass on.

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Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Iowa v Kentucky Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

I am uneasy with the fact that I used a word like “actually” in my headline about the Steelers potentially selecting Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

It’s no disrespect to Linderbaum and his abilities; it’s just that I kind of thought center was a position that seemed to have enough young bodies—J.C. Hassenauer, Kendrick Green and Mason Cole—that addressing it further with someone as well thought of as Linderbaum, a Steelers’ fan draft crush as soon as the clock hit zero in the wildcard playoff loss to the Chiefs, didn’t seem all that necessary.

It especially didn’t seem necessary after Pittsburgh inked Cole, a 2018 third-round pick out of Michigan and a player with 39 career starts at both center and guard, to a three-year contract at the onset of free agency.

Plus, the team still has plans for Green, even though he struggled mightily during his rookie year, right? And Hassenauer seemed to improve quite a bit in 2021, especially after he took over starting duties for Green at center at the end of the season.

But what if Linderbaum is still there when the Steelers pick in the first round?

I ask that question because of the apparent disparity in pedigree between Linderbaum and the second-best center on just about every draft board.

For example, the site, Drafttek, has Linderbaum listed as the top center on its big board (naturally), but it also has him ranked as the 20th overall prospect. The second-ranked center on Drafttek’s board is Alex Lindstrom from Boston College, and while it’s not a sin to draft the second-best player from a particular position in the first round, it might be a bit of a stretch to take the 103rd ranked prospect, which Lindstrom is, according to Drafttek.

What about grades? Take this with a grain of salt, but gives Linderbaum a grade of 90.5, while the second-highest graded center on that site—Arizona State’s Dohnovan West—grades out at 83.5.

What does the polarizing site, Pro Football Focus, have to say about Linderbaum, the 19th ranked prospect on its latest big board?

“The best center prospect we’ve seen in the PFF College era. He was already the highest-graded center in the country in 2020, but he took his game to new heights in 2021, earning a 95.4 overall grade.”

No matter how you slice it, Linderbaum is head and shoulders above every center prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. That’s a stark contrast to the 2021 NFL Draft when the center position had more pedigree and was considered to be much deeper.

What’s my point? What if the Steelers are facing a scenario similar to 2012 when David DeCastro, the cream of that draft’s crop of guards, was sitting there for the picking at 24?

Again, I realize the Steelers appear to be in decent shape at center at the moment, but decent isn’t great, now, is it?

What was it I said in a recent article about not letting free agency influence what the Steelers do at the top of their draft board?

Yeah, that.

I’m not necessarily advocating for the Steelers to select Lindenbaum at 20—I’m still trying to process these feelings I have for a possible first-round quarterback—but if they want to get the most bang for their buck, the big guy from Iowa just might be their man.