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Top Five 2016 NFL Draft Prospects- Center
These guys will be drafted in order to anchor the center of the offensive line. Today I rank the top five center prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Ryan Kelly, Alabama
Bio: After Rimington Award winner Barrett Jones left for the NFL in 2013, he left big shoes to fill. Ryan Kelly has handled the pressure of being Alabama's center fairly easily. As a senior, he led the way for Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and protected quarterback Jake Coker on the way to the national title game.
Strengths: Smart player with tons of grit and fight. Shows the toughness to scrap it out against nose guards. Fluid mover in space with knee bend and athletic hips. Explodes into downfield blocks with low pad level. Looks to latch and lift at the snap. Rarely penalized over the last two seasons. Diligent off the snap in race to the spot before engaging. Will keep feet moving in order to maintain position. Uses good hand placement and strength. Battles to stay locked onto his block. Finisher who looks to dish out punishment on double team blocks. Helped to blow holes open for the Crimson Tide rush game. Handles twists well in pass rush and able to maintain pocket depth against bull rushers. Comes with a pedigree of success and mental toughness. Undisputed leader of a physical Alabama offensive line.
Weaknesses: Could afford to add more mass. Can get overly committed to his securing block and fails to see a linebacker running past him. Needs to work on timing of combo blocks. Occasionally drops head into run block and loses sight of defender. Won using toughness over talent.. Much better drive blocker on an angle. Doesn’t generate nearly as much push when looking up. Could have some issues matching up against larger nose tackles. Shows tendency on zone plays to use wide angles allowing blitzers to sneak past. Plays a little upright on second level, causing some balance issues.
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible landing spot: Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Jack Allen, Michigan State
Bio: A four year starter for the Spartans, Jack Allen brought the toughness and aggression to the Michigan State offense. As a senior, the two time All-American helped Michigan State to two Big Ten titles.
Strengths: Has a compact build with above average core strength. Was a standout wrestler in high school and uses that background to generate quick torques and turns on defensive tackles. Understands his strengths and limitations. Possesses great hand strength and can snatch onto defenders until the whistle blows. Rarely has his hands outside defender’s body. Combines arm extension and good feet to redirect nose tackles away from the quarterback. Tough guy willing to give extra force when he finishes a block. On the move, can adjust tempo to land a squared block. Despite a lack of athleticism, still has plus body control. Hits accurately. Flat footed in pass pro.
Weaknesses: Average athleticism and poor flexibility. Can be a little bit stiff in space. Inconsistent in his attempts to climb up to second level off of combo blocks. Will struggle to get cutoff blocks against instinctive middle linebackers who will beat him to the spot. Able to get away with holding more often in college than he will be able to in the NFL. At times, will rely on brute force over physicality. When he has to anchor up against bull rushers, he looses balance. Doesn’t have the mass or length for some NFL systems.
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible landing spot: Atlanta Falcons
3. Max Tuerk, USC
Bio: In his four years with the Trojans, Max Tuerk played at nearly every spot on the offensive line. As a junior, he was named the All-PAC 12 center.
Strengths: Exceptional athleticism with elite movement skills on the move. Asked to pull for wide sweeps and was frequently downfield leading the charge on screen passes. Natural bender with the ability to play with leverage. Won't over commit to secure blocks in running game which allows him to climb to his target consistently. Able to adjust to moving targets. Patient as the play develops. Will allow defender to get to the gap before latching on with a well timed punch and snapping hips under him. Refuses to quit on a play. Huge, strong hands that snatch target and allow him to hang against aggressive power players looking to shed. Maintains proper base and can drop down against bull rushers. Has played at four of the five spots along the offensive line.
Weaknesses: Thin build that looks more like a freshman tackle than a senior center. Has played at a weight well below the norm for an NFL center. Keeping mass on his frame will be an issue. When interior players get on his edge, redirecting with the necessary power will be an issue. Will need to compensate for a lack of power by adjusting his footwork in order to secure his blocks. Must hit the weight room as much as he can. Opens himself to swim moves by leaning into blocks. Must finish more of his second level blocks. Suffered a season ending knee injury in October is likely to alter his combine workouts.
Projected Round: 3-4
Possible landing spot: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Austin Blythe, Iowa
Bio: In his four years at Iowa, Austin Blythe used his skills as a wrestler to be a dominant center. As a senior, he was a finalist for the Rimington award as the nation's top interior lineman.
Strengths: Durable four year starter. Has played center and both guard spots which gives him a mental headstart. Controlled strider up to inside linebackers and plays with good body control. Patient run blocker who consistently lands his blocks. Keeps his feet moving after contact to generate movement and prolonged engagement. Sticks to opponents like glue and is always bodied up near his man. Excellent zone blocker. Uses feet and upper body strength to run gap shooters up the field past the quarterback. Iowa loves pulling him and using him as lead blocker in space. Technician able to quickly on reach blocks. Sinks hips and can anchor up against bull rushers. Good functional strength for his size. Played in over 96 percent of team’s snaps over last three seasons.
Weaknesses: Undersized by every offensive system for centers. Lack of length and mass is a legitimate concern moving forward. Has played both guard spots and center, but size likely limits him to center only in the league. Only a fit for zone specific teams which could limit his draft stock. Catches pass rushers rather than punching. Will have to adjust to defensive tackles using length to disrupt the play. Tape shows several mental errors.
Projected Round: 4-5
Possible landing spot: Seattle Seahawks
5. Evan Boehm, Missouri
Bio: One of the top offensive line recruits, Evan Boehm has been a fixture on the Tiger's offensive line. In his four years at Missouri, he has started 52 straight games at either left guard or center.
Strengths: Missouri's "Iron Man." Holds school record for consecutive starts. Suffered high ankle sprain in his first game as a freshman, but was right back on the field the next week. Rare power from a center. Able to consistently generate push at initial point of attack and takes control of the neutral zone. Runs his feet under him at contact and drives the defender while staying glued to his man. Tough and smart. Quickly processes double gap looks and responds successfully. Has power to redirect when beaten on the edge. Keeps head from ducking in on pass sets and will punch and reset hands to maintain positioning. Comes from a football family and father was a highly successful high school coach. Was rarely bull rushed. Looks for work when he’s uncovered against pass rushers.
Weaknesses: Small frame with short legs. Doesn't have the height or arm length that many teams require from draftable centers inside the first half rounds. Much better straight line mover than laterally. Gets straight legged on second level and when engaging laterally causing inconsistent balance. Reliant on upper body strength over lower body movement which could make securing reach blocks a challenge at he pro level. Has physical limitations outside his compact frame. While he has some athleticism in short spaces, his restricted stride length slows him when asked to get out on screens.
Projected Round: 5
Possible landing spot: Philadelphia Eagles