Conventional wisdom says the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to target a cornerback, an offensive tackle and a defensive lineman in the first two rounds of the 2023 draft. But in his most recent chat for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, longtime Steelers insider Gerry Dulac hinted that the team really likes Minnesota Gophers center John Michael Schmitz, and could look to draft him with the first selection in the second round (No. 32 overall).
Schmitz’s name came up when Dulac was asked whether the Steelers hope to replace left tackle Dan Moore Jr. or right tackle Chuks Okorafor.
“There seems to be sentiment in the local media that Moore is the weak link, but Chuks is set to make $17 million more than Moore over the next two years. Do you see much difference in play between the two?” asked one Post-Gazette reader.
“I don’t think they are interested in replacing Okorafor and I don’t have a problem with him at right tackle. And, if they are going to use their top pick on an offensive lineman, I would suspect it would be a LT, only because LT is the most important position on the line and they are usually the ones that go high,” answered Dulac.
John Michael Schmitz ‘Could Be There at 32’
Then — without being prompted — Dulac dropped a new name into the conversation.
“That being said, I will tell you to keep your eye on Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz, easily the best center in the draft and maybe the best lineman in the draft,” wrote Dulac.
“He could be there at 32, at which point I’d jump all over him,” added Dulac, near the end of the chat.
Of course, the Steelers don’t have an immediate need at center, not with Mason Cole entering the second year of a three-year contract signed in March 2022. But the team certainly needs to upgrade its talent and depth at offensive guard, and Schmitz could start his career there before switching back to center, the path taken by Pro Football Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson, after the Steelers drafted him in the 2nd round in 1988.
Schmitz Has Been Likened to Titans Center Ben Jones
What might the Steelers be getting in Schmitz? For one, the 6-foot-4, 320 pounder is commonly described as a “plug-and-play” prospect, with NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein calling him a “highly consistent zone-scheme center with decent size,” comparing him to Ben Jones of the Tennessee Titans, who has started a minimum of 12 games for the past nine years.
“He is well-schooled in all phases of the run game. He consistently uses the proper footwork and angles to find early positioning and has the tenacity to finish blocks at a high rate. He has plus football intelligence and makes the calls for his offense…. Schmitz lacks length and his edges will get a little leaky in pass protection from time to time, but his overall technique and teamwork in the run game should create a plug-and-play opportunity in the pros,” concludes Zierlein.
NFLDraftBuzz.com likes Schmitz even more, calling him an “outstanding pro prospect” and predicting that he will be selected in the 1st round — as the first or second center off the board.
Meanwhile, the Draft Network (TDN) describes Schmitz as being scheme transcendent and a player who projects as a starter on the interior of the offensive line sooner rather than later.
“He has the capabilities to step in and process NFL information and has the physical profile to handle A-gap defenders and maintain push or a clean pocket,” offers TDN.
Last but not least, Connor Rogers of NBC Sports reiterates the “plug-and-play” tag, with Pro Football Focus giving him a 92.3 overall grade in his final collegiate season, predicting that Schmitz will go off the board sometime on Day 2.
That might serve the Steelers just fine, as Pittsburgh owns the No. 32 and No. 49 picks in the second round, not to mention the No. 17 pick in round one.