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Triple Take: Interior offensive line

The "Triple Take" continues its look at the 2024 NFL Draft with a breakdown of the interior offensive linemen. The Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the position.

The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

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Dale's Take …

The offensive tackles are the stars of this draft, but it's a solid group of interior offensive linemen, as well. They won't be drafted quite as high, though, with the run starting somewhere in the teens at this position. There are plenty of prospects who have plug-and-play ability, whether it be at guard or center.

Sleeper - Zak Zinter, Michigan (6-6, 309 lbs.) - To be clear, Zinter wouldn't be on the sleeper list if he were healthy. If that were the case, he might have been the first guard selected. But he suffered a broken tibia in late November, which is hindering his workouts. Zinter should be ready to go by training camp and could step right in as a starter for offensive line-starved teams. A team that takes him in the middle rounds could get a steal.

#5 - Christian Haines, Connecticut (6-3, 317 lbs.) - A four-year starter and team captain, Haines is a mauler who moves well. He worked out some at center at the Senior Bowl, but Haines is a guard, and a good one at that. Haines will need to continue to refine his blocking, especially in the run game, but that will come with good coaching.

#4 - Zach Frazier, West Virginia (6-3, 313 lbs.) - Frazier plays like the four-time high school wrestling state champion he is. A true wide body, Frazier plays the angles well and uses his power and leverage skills well. Lost just two high school wrestling matches, going 159-2. His longest bout his junior year lasted 51 seconds. Became the first true freshman center starter at WVU in 40 years. Suffered a broken leg late in West Virginia's season, but was able to do individual workouts at the NFL Combine.

#3 - Cooper Beebe, Kansas (6-3, 322 lbs.) - Beebe showed off great athleticism at the NFL Combine, something that he can continue to work on as his game progresses on the field. Beebe is very good at moving defenders from point A to point B in the power game. He lacks some overall arm length (31 ½ inches), but his movement skills help offset some of that. It doesn't hurt him when he fires out in the running game, but could cause some issues in pass pro.

#2 - Graham Barton, Duke (6-5, 313 lbs.) - A center early in his career, Barton settled in at left tackle for Duke in 2023. But he'll move back inside at the NFL level. Could play center or guard. Barton is a smart, fluid athlete who should do well in the NFL with his movement skills and consistency.

#1 - Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon (6-3, 328 lbs.) - A bulldozer at center who excels at getting to the second level, Powers-Johnson is a finisher. Powers-Johnson also is tough and smart, two things teams require from their center. He played defensive tackle as a freshman before moving to offensive line. He also has experience and the size to play guard.

Matt's Take…

Free agency spoke volumes about how the NFL is now valuing interior offensive linemen. The big guys in the middle of the line, particularly guards, got paid huge in free agency. Why is that and why the change? Defenses across the league are now more and more designed to take away the big plays. And therefore, offenses are seeing lighter boxes and a lot of nickel and dime defenses. The counter is now to mash these smaller defenses and take pressure off the quarterback position. This group of incoming rookies is quite strong-not as strong as their offensive tackle counterparts-but strong, nonetheless. It is particularly enticing at the center position.

Sleeper - Zak Zinter, Michigan (6-6, 309 lbs.) - The best offensive lineman on the maybe the best offensive line in the nation on a National Championship team isn't exactly the usual definition of a "Sleeper". However, Zinter broke both his tibia and fibula in late November. The 2024 season could be a redshirt year for Zinter as a rookie. When right, he might be the best guard in this entire class, but where will the league value him? A patient team without an immediate need at guard could really benefit from drafting Zinter at a discount price and reap the rewards for years to come.

#5 - Christian Haines, Connecticut (6-3, 317 lbs.) - Haynes is a four-year starter at right guard for the Huskies and looks like a plug and play starter at the next level. He has long arms and a very impressive thick powerful build. He has good, not great, quickness, get off, and ability to operate in space but he is better on the move in the run game than simply trying to move his opponent with pure power. Consistency and reliability are Haynes' calling cards.

#4 - Cooper Beebe, Kansas (6-3, 322 lbs.) - Beebe moves well for a 322-pound man, but he is a bit more sluggish on tape than his Combine numbers would indicate, and he could stand to get quicker off the ball. He has started 48 games at the college level and looks to be very NFL-ready with experience at guard as well as both tackle spots. He is extremely fundamentally sound and has an exceptional head for the game. Beebe is an equally effective run and pass blocker and should translate quickly to the NFL.

#3 - Zach Frazier, West Virginia (6-3, 313 lbs.) - Frazier was a fantastic wrestler in high school and those traits translate extremely well to the football field in terms of his toughness, leverage, stamina and hand usage. Frazier can set the tone for the entire offense. His body control and core strength really stand out. There is very little stiffness to his movements. Frazier does have short arms, but that doesn't hinder him as much at center and he has powerful hands. Frazier fits all run schemes at the next level but is purely a center.

#2 - Graham Barton, Duke (6-5, 313 lbs.) - An offensive tackle at Duke, Barton projects inside at the next level - likely at center. Barton is smart and very competitive, traits needed to excel at the pivot. He is very agile and shows excellent balance. Barton's testing at the Combine backed up what you see on tape. His strength and power are very average though and at his height, it is a bit of a concern in the leverage game on the interior against power players. Barton's hand usage is also an obvious strength to his game.

#1 - Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon (6-3, 328 lbs.) - There are few prospects at any position in which the negative column to their evaluation is nearly barren, but Powers-Johnson is one of those prospects. On tape, he moves like a much smaller man with the ability to get downfield with ease. Powers-Johnson doesn't have particularly long arms, but he has a large wingspan due to his girth and width. He's built like a Coke machine. This is a rare center that can do battle equally well against hulking power nose tackles as well as quickness based defensive tackles. As impressive as Powers-Johnson is athletically and physically, his mentality and exuberance for the game might be even more extraordinary.


Mike's Take …

Everyone, it seems, is raving about the quality and quantity of offensive tackles available in the upcoming NFL Draft. But even teams with the best of tackle tandems are still potentially three-fifths shy of a complete offensive line. And it's those interior guys who do a lot of the heavy lifting. "If you want to run the football in the NFL, you better have some ass-kicking guards," NFL Network analyst Shawn O'Hara maintained during coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine. "Those are the guys that really drive the ship when it comes to running the football. You get some power at the guard position, that's how you make your hay." Great centers are adept at that, as well.

Sleeper - Christian Mahogany, Boston College (6-33/8, 314 lbs.) - Mahogany's roommate at BC was Dino Tomlin, son of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Mahogany spoke to the NFL Network about being coached up already by Dino's dad. "I called him 'Big Mike,'" Mahogany said. "Just getting to meet him and know him as a person, not as a coach, in that regard he's a great guy. He's told me a lot, what to do, what not to do, things of that nature. It's a very humbling experience, knowing that he's so humble and he's that type of person and he's just a parent and a football coach. He's a great guy." Tomlin's specific advice included "loose some weight, always be on your p's & q's, always stay ready." So Mahogany has that going for him already.

#5 - Zak Zinter, Michigan (6-6, 309 lbs.) - His season ended in the Ohio State game thanks to a broken tibia and broken fibula. But Zinter was so highly thought of by his teammates that they sent him out to accept the Big Ten Championship Trophy from Commissioner Tony Petitti after Michigan beat Iowa for the conference championship. Zinter gave a promising prognosis to prior to the college football playoff regarding his recovery. "I think I might be ready to go for rookie minicamp," he said. "I'll be ready to roll. It's really not going to affect me too, too much, honestly. It's a rod in my leg now and it's just a broken bone. No ligaments or anything, which is a blessing." When healthy Zinter was a key cog from his guard spot in what was the nation's most dominating offensive line over the last two seasons.

#4 - Sedrick Van Pran-Granger, Georgia (6-41/8, 298 lbs.) - His endorsements included a First-Team All-SEC designation and being named a 2nd-Team Associated Press All-American in 2023. There was also this from O'Hara at the Combine: "He's a stud center." Brief, and to the point. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah is also a fan of a player he assesses as a "big, powerful center," with "some nasty, too." The Georgia pedigree doesn't hurt, either. Van Pran-Granger will be one of the latest on UGA's NFL assembly line.

#3 - Graham Barton, Duke (6-5, 313 lbs.) - Primarily a left tackle for the Blue Devils, many suspect Barton's NFL future will include a move to an interior position. (he played center as a freshman at Duke). Barton plays with tenacity and toughness wherever he plays. He's been compared to Peter Skoronski, who played tackle at Northwestern and was drafted 11th overall last year by Tennessee to play guard, and justifiably so. Barton said at the Combine teams meeting with him in Indianapolis talked about him playing all of the offensive line positions and that he doesn't have a preference. But he does enjoy run blocking. "It's fun to go at defenders instead of retreating," he has said. "It's about violence and about intensity. Run blocking is also an art form. You've got to have sound technique, you've got to have your hat in the right place. So you know, to be able to do that, combine it with violence and create some space for our backs to get through, it's fun."

#2 - Zach Frazier, West Virginia (6-3, 313 lbs.) - Jeremiah appreciates not only what Frazier does but how he goes about accomplishing his blocks. "He's a bulldog, collecting one knockdown after another to finish plays," Jeremiah said. "Frazier was a four-time state wrestling champion in high school and he carries that tenacity over to the football field. He will be a Day One starter and tempo-setter for the team that drafts him." Frazier suffered a broken leg in the 2023 regular-season finale but he recovered quickly and sufficiently enough to put his agility and athleticism on display at the Combine. He also won three Iron Mountaineer awards at West Virginia, an honor bestowed upon the player in each position group who distinguishes himself in the weight room. "It's (about) being accountable," Frazier told The Athletic. "Never being late, and just being like the hardest, toughest worker in the weight room. It means a lot to me. It means a lot to our team."

#1 - Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon (6-3, 328 lbs.) - A former wrestler with a mean streak and as ready as they come, which explains the comparisons to a couple of high-profile centers who have burst onto the NFL scene in recent seasons. "He's just like Creed Humphrey and Tyler Linderbaum," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis assessed of Powers-Johnson. "You draft them and start them. We've gotten a lot of centers in recent years that have just come into the league, started from Day One. He will be the next." Jeremiah is, likewise, impressed. "He just drops his weight, sinks his weight, squats on them," he said of Powers-Johnson's blocking prowess. "That's what you want when you're thinking about a center and you're gonna take one in the first round, potentially. You want to be able to stop power immediately."