/First Call: ESPNs Mel Kiper Jr. gives Steelers lowest NFL draft grade; Kendrick Greens focus already on starting center job – TribLIVE

First Call: ESPNs Mel Kiper Jr. gives Steelers lowest NFL draft grade; Kendrick Greens focus already on starting center job – TribLIVE

Monday’s “First Call” has a negative review of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ performance during NFL Draft weekend.

One Steelers pick already has big goals. The Penguins have a chance to pour some salt in the wounds of a hated rival.

And we check in on an ex-Pirate as the Bucs get ready to head west.

Tough grader

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Steelers a “C+” grade for 2021. No team received a lower grade from Kiper than them.

Here is Kiper’s rationale.

“I’m a big fan of Najee Harris (24) but am almost always against taking a running back in the first round,” Kiper said. “Round 1 is too valuable, and we’ve seen over the past decade that good running backs can be found in any round — or even as undrafted free agents. And when I look at this Pittsburgh roster, I see bigger holes. Offensive line, corner, edge rusher — could the team have gotten better value at another position?”

Kiper went on to say that he thought the Steelers got little help for the upcoming year or the future.

“I just don’t see much value in Pittsburgh’s class, and the offensive linemen they did take were picked too high. I haven’t even mentioned that the Steelers still don’t have a plan for life after Ben Roethlisberger.”

Look, if you are of the fundamental belief that no team should ever pick a running back in the first round, obviously you are going to hate the Steelers’ draft because of the Harris selection.

And if you happen to think the Steelers needed to start a succession plan for Roethlisberger beyond Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins this year, then you are also going to hate it.

I disagree with both beliefs, so obviously I disagree with Kiper’s analysis.

The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts also got a “C+” grade.

Big faux pas to Big Ben?

New Steelers offensive lineman Kendrick Green may have gotten off on the wrong foot with his new quarterback.

The rookie center from Illinois got a call from Ben Roethlisberger in the wake of being drafted by the Steelers on Sunday. And according to the News-Gazette, Green committed a mortal sin while speaking with Big Ben.

Green reminded him of his age.

“I answer the phone and he’s like, ‘Hey, it’s Ben Roethlisberger,’ and I’m just talking it up to him,” Green told the News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. “I told him, ‘As long as I can remember, you’ve been the quarterback for the Steelers.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, way to make me feel old.’”

We all know Roethlisberger loves those references, right? But that aside, Green made it sound like the conversation went well. And winning over Roethlisberger could go a long way toward getting more playing time. After all, Roethlisberger was really tight with former center Maurkice Pouncey and has some familiarity with recently re-signed B.J. Finney.

Regardless, Green says he has the starter’s job in mind.

“I plan on trying to take the job right away,” Green said. “I’m going to go in and compete. They’ve got some older guys that have been in the league for a little bit there at that position. Kind of surreal, to be honest, but I’m ready to do it.”

The other player in the mix is J.C. Hassenauer who replaced Pouncey for three starts last year. Green started 29 games at guard and four at center while at Illinois.

Kick ‘em while they are down

It’s a great time for the East Division-leading Penguins to get back-to-back games against the hated Philadelphia Flyers.

First of all, the Penguins are hot, having won seven of their last eight.

Secondly, the Flyers are stumbling toward the end of what started as a promising season. But Philly was eliminated from playoff contention last week. And they’ve been bad after the stakes disappeared, too.

The sixth-place Flyers just lost the last three contests of a four-game series to the New Jersey Devils, currently the seventh-place team in the East. And they have lost six of eight overall, allowing 3.87 goals against along the way.

At 3.37 goals per game, the Penguins have the third-best scoring average in hockey.

The Flyers and Buffalo Sabres have allowed 3.50 goals per game this season. That’s the worst in the NHL. Philadelphia’s 87.9 save percentage is also at the bottom of the league.

Oh no, Joe!

The Pirates are heading out to San Diego for a three-game set against the Padres starting Monday night.

They will not face former teammate Joe Musgrove. He started Sunday and got knocked around. Musgrove took the loss as the Padres suffered a 7-1 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco Giants.

He allowed six runs in five innings, throwing 83 pitches along the way. The Pirates also beat Musgrove 5-1 when they faced him earlier this season.

The Pirates will face Miguel Diaz Monday, Ryan Weathers Tuesday and Yu Darvish Wednesday. They will counter with Tyler Anderson, Mitch Keller and J.T. Brubaker.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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