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Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Should and Shouldn’t Draft Versatile Lineman

Graham Barton is an exciting prospect due to his athleticism and versatility, and he could be the Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick.

The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2024 NFL Draft with several pressing needs to address. Their biggest need is an offensive line, specifically a center and a right tackle. Fortunately for them, the top of this draft class is loaded with promising offensive tackles. There are a handful of very talented centers, too. Then there’s someone who can do both. Graham Barton has become a popular name to the Steelers in mock drafts.

Barton played center in his first season at Duke before transitioning to left tackle. He is viewed as five-position versatile in the NFL, though. Due to being slightly undersized and absurdly athletic, Barton has most commonly been viewed as a guard or center ahead of the draft. Whether he is viewed as a center or tackle, Graham Barton is capable of filling a major Steelers need.

Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Should and Shouldn’t Draft Graham Barton

Should: Five-Position Versatility

Barton’s biggest selling point is the fact that he’ll be capable of playing anywhere on the offensive line. In Pittsburgh’s case, that would most likely be at the center or one of the tackle positions, at least as a rookie. That level of versatility is a major positive looking to the future, though. If one of the Steelers guards gets injured, Barton would potentially be able to fill in. Looking beyond the 2024 season, starting right guard James Daniels is set to be a free agent. Barton could play center in his rookie season and potentially be a long-term replacement if Daniels signs elsewhere.

There are endless scenarios that could play out with the Steelers offensive line over the next few years. And in any of those scenarios, Barton will fit just fine. If the Steelers draft him and use him as a center as a rookie, maybe he will shine and be their center for the next decade. On the flip side, if they find someone they feel is a better true center, they could move Barton to guard or tackle and feel comfortable with his abilities.

Shouldn’t: Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

The worry with Graham Barton is that while he might be serviceable at all five positions along the line, he could end up not being elite at any of them. A player with that level of versatility is still valuable for any team to have. It is asking a lot of young player early in their NFL career to bounce around positions, though. If Barton comes in as a center and shines, it’s a moot point. But if he doesn’t, and he ends up changing positions, it could hurt his development.

In recent years, the Steelers have been burned by playing young linemen out of their best position. 2021 third-round pick Kendrick Green was considered guard/center versatile. He was their starting center immediately, and that experiment ended disastrously. After leaving Pittsburgh, Green performed much better at guard for the Houston Texans. Kevin Dotson has a similar story. He struggled as the Steelers left guard, before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams. There, his strong performance at right guard earned him a 3-year, $48 million contract extension. While his versatility is positive, the Steelers will be concerned if they feel Graham Barton doesn’t have a true position.

Should: All-Time Great Athleticism

The biggest reason Graham Barton is considered so versatile is because of his athleticism. It is not hyperbole to say he is one of the most athletic offensive lineman prospects ever. If considered a guard, Barton’s RAS score comes in at a 9.99 out of 10, good for the third-best score of all time from a guard prospect.

If he is considered a center, Barton’s score improves from 9.99 to a perfect 10 out of 10. And if he’s considered a tackle, the score only drops to a 9.82, likely due to being a little undersized. Whatever position he is viewed as playing, Barton is truly a once-in-a-generation athlete.

Shouldn’t: Lack of Experience at Center

If the Steelers draft Graham Barton, they would almost certainly intend to play him at center. While there is no doubt he has the tools to be a successful center, he doesn’t have many reps there. He played just five games at center at Duke before switching to left tackle. It really boils down to what Pittsburgh desires more – versatility or a track record of success at center. If they strictly want to draft a center, Jackson Powers-Johnson of Oregon or Zach Frazier of West Virginia could be on their radar instead of Barton. Those are two great prospects who are instant starters at center in the NFL. They lack Barton’s versatility, but the Steelers could feel they are more likely than Graham Barton to play the pivot of their offensive line for the next decade.

Main Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports


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