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Mock Draft Monday: The Steelers look to add a multiple position offensive lineman

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into the 2024 offseason. With free agency as the next big event to shape next season’s roster, it will be followed by the NFL draft in April. The Steelers will have a number of decisions with players who were on the 2023 roster and will have the opportunity to add some free agent acquisitions before making their first draft selection. The NFL combine and player pro days will also shape the team’s big boards before the draft.

When talking about mock drafts or NFL free agency, one first has to first identify the team’s main needs for the offseason. Before any gains or losses in free agency, there are some who would like to see the Steelers go with either offensive line or defensive line with their first-round pick. Others feel inside linebacker or cornerback could be on top of the list. With plenty of chances for the Steelers to shape their roster prior to April, their goal is usually to get into position to draft the best player available rather than target a specific position. When it comes to what position the team will select with their first pick, it is certainly up for debate.

In the latest one-round mock draft by nfl.com, they have the Steelers addressing the offensive line position again this season before anything else. With this particular player, it is someone who could play any position, but is projected by many to play on the interior. Since the Steelers could go in any number of directions with their first selection, it is important to look at all the possibilities presented by various mock draft outlets.

Check out the Steelers 20th pick:

20. Pittsburgh Steelers | Graham Barton | OL | Duke | SR |

Being early in the draft process, there may be some players most fans are not familiar with. If this is the case, here is a breakdown of Barton according to thedraftnetwork.com:

Graham Barton, OT, Duke

Size:

  • Height: 6’4”
  • Weight: 315 lbs

Accomplishments:

  • First Team All-ACC (2022) 
  • Academic All-ACC (2021)

Strengths:

  • Big-time finisher
  • Exceptional physical ability
  • Dominant run blocker
  • Positionally and schematically versatile
  • Wins pass reps with conviction

Concerns:

  • Primarily gets beaten inside in both run and pass
  • Occasionally drifts in his pass protection on vertical sets
  • Outside hand placement is occasionally late
  • Overall consistency in pass pro 

Film Analysis:

Graham Barton was a really easy prospect to fall in love with. From the very beginning of my exposure to his film, I found myself deeply appreciating his identity as a finisher. In whatever circumstances, he has a knack for overpowering opponents and displacing defenders with the help of some impressive physical traits.

Barton possesses elite physical ability in both his speed/agility and strength. What immediately stands out is his core strength. This allows him to stay coiled throughout his progression as a blocker and greatly contributes to his ability to brace against defenders. Quickly following that, Barton’s hip incorporation into his blocks is textbook. After making contact at the point of attack, he flawlessly brings his hips and gets under defenders to re-leverage himself and neutralize the defender. These qualities are what allow Barton to be so dominant in the run game. 

One of the things he does that separates him is his ability to manufacture power within different facets of the game. The way you create power as a playside blocker versus a backside blocker is different; when tasked to be a lane opener on the play side in inside zone for example, Barton uses a coiled demeanor and calculated attack to neutralize his defender and create space for his back. As a backside blocker, he plays much more downhill, using a low center of gravity and forward drive to re-establish ground on the defensive side of the ball. At the second level, Barton displays rare anticipation for defenders’ pursuit angles and does a fantastic job of not whiffing or overreaching on linebackers. 

In the passing game, Barton shows a lot of flashes. One of my favorite things he does is he uses a ton of variation in his set throughout a game, whereas primarily a vertical setter, he will often use a jump set or diagonal set to take the air out of the rush and will even parlay multiple sets into the same play. He plays with good foot repetition/reactivity and shows a good foundation of hand usage and strike confidence, but both are in need of improvement for the next level. The passing game is where Barton can make the most improvements in his game. For Barton to maintain or grow his draft stock, he’ll need to cut down the inside pressures. Oftentimes these pressures come as a byproduct of the vertical set, as well as poor anticipation of an inside move. 

I mentioned earlier how it was easy to fall in love with Graham’s game and for me, it may be even easier to visualize his success at the next level. When I watch him play, I leave with no questions in regard to his demeanor, attitude, and football character. What makes him even more exciting is the prospect of moving him around to different spots. He has experience starting at center which opens up the conversation for him being a five-position player. 

Prospect Projection: Day 1 — Pro Bowl Caliber

For all you who are preparing yourself for the draft, what do you think of the selection? Would you be on board with the Steelers taking Barton with their first pick? Or do you feel there is a better player at this position, a different one who may still be available, or that Barton will not make it to the 20th pick? Personally, this would be a strange pick for the Steelers in my eyes. Although he has the versatility play anywhere, I would think the Steelers would only make this pick if they envision Barton as their future at center. I don’t think he has the length to play tackle, and the Steelers guards are currently the strength of their offensive line. While Barton could be a guard to help them down the road, that doesn’t seem like the type of pick they would make here. If Barton is who the Steelers thought was their best option at center, even more so than the players that were still remaining in this particular mock draft, then it would make sense. But the last time the Steelers drafted a center who didn’t play that position very much in college it did not turn out very well.

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