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Center of Attention

by DJ Boyer on Mar. 17, 2014

Center is not a glamous position in the NFL. It's played on the offensive line which by all accounts is not glamorous. Yet, center is vitally important as it handles the exchange to the quarterback and often makes the calls and blocking assignments for fellow lineman, while calling audibles if the opposing defense is doing something concerning. Here are the top prospects in this year's 2014 NFL Draft:

 

The Top Prospects

 

Travis Swanson seems to be the very definition of a dependable lineman as he started 50 games for the Razorbacks during his college tenure. Swanson is equally gifted as a run and pass blocker and has tremendous size being in the 6’5” 310-315 range, where he played for most of his career.  His greatest asset may be his communication skills as he was in charge of making the line calls at Arkansas and all coaches rave about his work ethic. There is a very good chance that Swanson could be the first center off the board, as early as the 2nd round.

 

Weston Richburg was an integral part of the amazing season enjoyed by Kapri Bibbs who was among the NCAA rushing leaders all season long. Richburg has a chance at being the first center taken as his stock may be rising faster than any other player at the position. Richburg has also proven his durability with 49 consecutive starts and seems to excel in run blocking and moving in space, showing terrific blocking angles and leverage attained while blocking on the move. Richburg earned All Mountain West honors every year from his sophomore through senior seasons, as well as his degree at the University last summer. Even though Richburg excels on the move he has shown that he can handle bull rushers as well as speed rushers when asked to be more stationary.

 

Bryan Stork was the Rimington Trophy winner as the top center at the NCAA level for 2013. Stork may not be as athletically gifted as some of the other top centers available but he is a great communicator and seems to have the best footwork of the top prospects at the position. Stork has struggled at times in the shotgun and with the height on his snap, so he would benefit from going to a team with a quarterback that spends more time directly under center.  Florida State boasted what many considered the best offensive line in the nation for 2013 so his leadership skills will not be questioned.

 

Tyler Larsen started all 51 games of his career at Utah State and earned all-conference honors in the each of the last three seasons.  He graded out at 90% or above in half of Utah State’s contests this season and finished with a team high 88% overall.  Larsen’s backpedal can be a little short and choppy allowing more powerful bull rushers to obtain leverage if not careful though. Yet Larsen has seen his stock increase as a senior as he has made noticeable strides in his pass protection technique, specifically with hand placement. 

 

 

Second Tier

 

Russell Bodine surprised many when he declared for the NFL Draft this season but his strength numbers at the Combine raised some eyebrows and his stock is moving in the right direction. Bodine spent his first two seasons at North Carolina primarily at center while he played this past season mostly at left guard. Versatility is not an issue and Bodine could easily play either position at the next level, but he has more experience at center. Not only is Bodine strong but he had one of the quickest 40 times for a lineman at the combine and shows a nice burst off the snap. He needs to show better control with his base as he will not be able to utilize the element of surprise at the NFL level the way he did off the snap at the NCAA level.

 

Gabe Ikard was a perfect fit at Oklahoma where the tackles seem to be large bodies and the interior line relies on quickness and speed. This describes Ikard. Ikard is fast off the snap but seems to lack the dominating power and upper body strength of a true run-blocking center. Ikard may excel more as a pass protector but in the running games he is better in the open field. A zone blocking scheme team will take a look at Ikard as he can be used at any of the three interior positions.

 

Marcus Martin seems to be showing NFL teams that the weight he has added in the offseason will only enhance his play and not detract from it. Martin played much of the season around 305 and is currently tipping the scales at around 320 while still displaying excellent quickness off the ball. He is not as adept or as natural of a run blocking, but Martin would benefit going to a pass-first team that utilizes a lot of three step drops or plays in a West Coast offense type system.  Martin started his career as a guard but he also shows versatility and the ability to play multiple positions along the line, which will ensure he doesn’t last beyond the 4th round.

 

 

Lurking

 

Matt Armstrong also won the Rimington Award, except he won the award for the top center at the DII level at Grand Valley State.  Armstrong is coming off a shoulder injury but looks like he will be fine by training camp and the injury should not be a long-term concern for his play at the next level. He has put on some weight after playing in the 285-290 pound range at the DII level. He's a tremendous athlete who came to Grand Valley State as a defensive tackle and throws shotput on the track team.  Armstrong plays stiff and needs to get a bit lower to the ground and show more flexibility in his lower body, but his technique is sound and his leadership skills shine through.  Armstrong looks like a safe pick for a team to groom for a year or two and will likely be a 7th round choice or a highly sought after free agent.

 

Jonotthan Harrison is another center prospect that has extensive experience playing the guard position, although his play was due more to injury for Florida versus just being a natural guard.  Harrison will be sought after by a team that values a center that is a natural pass protector as opposed to one who just holds up as a run blocker. Harrison does not possess the amazing upper body strength that you look for in an interior lineman but he has sound footwork and his lower body serves him well allowing him to get leverage on nearly every opposing rusher.  He may not be selected in the draft but he will get plenty of offers as a camp invite.

 

Matt Paradis is an example of a limited athlete that seems to make the most of his opportunities and hard work. Paradis is not particularly fast, strong, nor possesses superior technique, but he is a tireless worker who seems to get the best of opposing pass rushers. Paradis does just enough to chip rushers or use leverage to gain momentum when run blocking. Paradis is not assured he will be drafted but he looks like the type of player who could be a niche fit in the right zone-blocking scheme.

 

Zac Kerin is a rare find in that he has played all five offensive line positions and he blocks for Toledo, a team that allowed the fewest sacks at the FBS level in 2013. Kerin has one of the better pure exchanges in football when the quarterback is under center and operates hiking in the shotgun with ease. He helped the Toledo's transition from being a pass-oriented team to one that has been run based for the last couple of years. He has a frame that could add a little more weight and has been used in the backfield as a short yardage blocker in the past. Yet Kerin’s versatility should ensure he is drafted, albeit in the later rounds.

 

James Stone saw major action at Tennessee from the moment he walked on the campus. He is one of the most talented linemen available at the position but like many Volunteers has shown lapses with consistency. Stone was a highly ranked recruit who started five games as a left guard at Tennessee and 30 as a center. He is unique to watch on film as he snaps the ball with his right hand when the quarterback is under center and uses his left hand when hiking out of the shotgun formation. He needs to play lower to the ground, he loses his balance easily when bull-rushed, and he will have problems looking upright. Yet he is very mobile in the open field and takes good angles in space.