Mike Tomlin's context clues give away Steelers' favorite for first-round pick

Mike Tomlin leaves us some breadcrumbs as to who the Pittsburgh Steelers could be drafting.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to get better on offense. It is why they moved on from Matt Canada as offensive coordinator mid-season last year. They hired former Atlanta Falcons head coach and Tennesese Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to be the play-caller next year. Pittsburgh also signed Russell Wilson after he was released and then traded for Justin Fields to go play quarterback.

But none of that will matter if they don't have big uglies they can trust up front. All signs point to the Steelers using their No. 20 overall pick in Thursday night's NFL Draft on an offensive linemen. While they have been tied to several linemen over the last few weeks, Tomlin's description of what he looks for in an offensive tackle prospect sounds a lot like Graham Barton coming out of Duke this spring.

Tomlin wants a guy who can direct traffic and has played multiple positions along the offensive line.

“You know, usually there are some intellect things in terms of front identification, and so forth, communication-oriented things, and they have to show an aptitude for that," said Tomlin, h/t Steelers Now.

Barton initially played center at Duke before kicking out to tackle. He projects as a center in the NFL.

"And preferably, they have something in their background. Whether they were a backup guy that did it in practice, so you didn’t see him do it in the game, or maybe a guy that maybe did it as a young guy and evolved to other positions as they’ve gotten older. Usually, there’s a history of some kind there, and an aptitude there that allows you to make those assumptions.”

Given that Smith was a former offensive guard at North Carolina, you can connect the dots to Barton.

Mike Tomlin may have tipped his hand for Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 20 pick

Center has been an issue for Pittsburgh ever since Maurkice Pouncey retired after the 2020 COVID season. It is a position that often gets overlooked on the football field. When you have a competent center, the world is your oyster offensively with him directing traffic. But when you don't, well, balls are sliding around the turf like a loose puck at a Penguins game. You do not want to give up a breakaway...

Since Barton's inherent versatility will get him drafted high, I suspect that Pittsburgh will look long and hard at him. They could also be in on someone like Oregon center star Jackson Powers-Johnson or Zach Frazier out of nearby West Virginia. However, the last time the Steelers went with a local product in the first round, they got burned horrifically, thanks to "The Fake Slide Diva" Kenny Pickett himself...

Pittsburgh may also go with a prototypical offensive tackle in someone like Amarius Mims out of Georgia. He did not play a ton in Athens, but he was a difference maker whenever he was out there. All the while, I think Tomlin, Smith and the rest of the Steelers coaching staff will be looking for a proven starter, someone with an ability to play multiple spots. It seems like Pittsburgh may be leaning Barton.

The good news is we all will know one way or another deep into the night this Thursday evening.

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