Richner: 2016 Top Centers

Last Updated: 5/1/2016 1:00 PM ET
This year's draft class has about a baker's dozen worth of draft eligible centers to choose from. This year's class has one prospect (Ryan Kelly, Alabama) who could jump into the first round. A couple of players who could slide on over to the center position in the NFL. Issac Seumalo (Oregon State) and Nick Martin (Notre Dame), are currently ranked in the guard section of our NFL Draft guide.

Since 2000, there have been eight centers drafted in the first round. Last year the Cleveland Browns selected Cameron Erving in the first round out of Florida State. Erving had a lackluster rookie seasons, playing in 16 games but only starting four of them. According to a couple NFL coaches, Erving was able to get by on talent and athleticism at Florida State. He needs to work on his technique and fundamentals if he wants any chance of being in the NFL for a substantial period of time.

In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys shocked almost everyone when they selected Travis Frederick from Wisconsin in the first round. A number of NFL teams had Frederick rated at best a third round talent. Only once since 2000 has more than one center been drafted in the first round. In 2009 Eric Wood (Buffalo) and Alex Mack (Cleveland). The last six NFL All-Pro centers were either selected in the first round (Nick Mangold, Maurkice Pouncey, Travis Frederick, and Alex Mack) or second round (Ryan Kalil, Max Unger).

Centers can be a position where bigger isn't always better. A bigger body can block a quarterback's sight and throwing lanes. Some scouts and coaches won't be shy in taking a center under 6'3” that weighs around 300 pounds. They have to have the athletic ability to pull and trap block. An athletic center should have enough speed and quickness to get to the second level to seal defenders to create wide running lanes.

This year's offensive linemen are ranked and evaluated using both career and single season stats, such as sacks allowed and average rushing yards to a specific gap. In addition, we also utilize a complex Combine performance formula that evaluates and compares each player's measurables with those of the top centers in the NFL.

The center and quarterback need to be linked, they are both working in unison to get the protection calls correct and everyone in the right spot. A center that can study, learn and then communicate defensive tendencies to get the right protection or shift the line in the right direction is extremely valuable. The mental makeup of the center position is one of the most important components in evaluating the position.

Most NFL teams now run a zone-blocking scheme, which relies on players acting as a unit versus taking on individual assignments. In a man-blocking scheme, each player has a specific opponent that he must block on each play. A zone blocking scheme puts emphasis on speed and quickness. In a man-blocking scheme, power and strength are usually emphasized as they must be able to move their opponent out of the gap or, in some cases, move an entire pile to pick up key yards.

The final rankings are the top-15 overall rankings for the offensive group. These rankings include both the pass blocking, run blocking and Combine measurables to determine an overall rating.

1) Ryan Kelly (C, Alabama):

There has been a lot of talk in scouting as of late that Kelly could jump into the first round. Kelly won the Rimington Award as the nation's top center in 2015. An experienced starter, he finished his 35th career start, winning the College Football Playoff as a member of the Crimson Tide.

Though he played with three different starting quarterbacks during his time as a starter, Kelly was the foundation cornerstone to the Tide's offense. A field general at the center position, he shows excellent awareness and football IQ in calling out blitz packages.

A few teams have suggested Kelly injury history as a reason why he could drop a round or two. He missed a handful of games over his college career to knee issues. No red flags have been made public, and Kelly did perform exceptional level at the 2016 NFL Combine.

A consistent performer and a student of the game make Kelly the top center prospect in this draft class. Perfectly suited for either a zone blocking or man scheme he could be a foundation type of prospect and a key addition to any offensive line.

2) Max Tuerk (C, USC):

Before he can convince teams he is worthy of a day two selection, Tuerk must convince them that he can play football in 2016. Tuerk suffered a torn ACL in early October. He is slated to perform for scouts at his Pro Day, on March 23rd.

Before his injury, Tuerk was one of the nation's brightest offensive line prospects, and one of the most sought after senior centers in the country. He played multiple positions along the Trojans offensive line, making starts at left guard and left tackle in addition to 18 career starts at center.

If he regain his old form, Tuerk displayed a quickness and agility rarely seen from the center position. He is ideally suited for a zone blocking scheme which will utilize his speed to get up into the second level and seal off a running lane.

At 6'5” and 298 pounds, Tuerk has a tendency to get high which allows smaller defensive tackles to get underneath him and drive him back into the pocket. He struggled against Kenny Clark in 2014, and had his hands full against the interior pass rush versus Stanford in 2015.

A couple of teams have opted to select an offensive lineman in the first couple of rounds, and have them redshirt. Tuerk could be a candidate to rest and develop. Tuerk is most likely a third or fourth round selection.

3) Joey Hunt (C, TCU):

An undersized center, Hunt was a key linchpin in the third ranked overall offense in college football. At 6'3” and 295 pounds, Hunt lacks the ideal height and weight measurements most scouts use to grade centers. Hunt had little trouble with bigger defensive tackles throughout his career.

Hunt more than held his own against the likes of likely first rounder's Andrew Billings (Baylor) and Charles Tapper (Oklahoma). Both Billings and Tapper were dominant interior presences in the Big 12 Conference. Against Hunt, both Billings and Tapper were almost non-existent as Hunt was able to suppress their strength, stayed stout and never gave up his ground.

With quick feet, Hunt is able to get set and he possesses the strength to drive his man into the ground. Possessing the aggressive attitude most team covet from a starting center, he looks to finish off his blocks and will play to the end of the whistle.

It remains to be seen if Hunt is even drafted, but according to our metrics he should be considered a fourth round selection.

4) Jack Allen (C, Michigan State):

One of the best pure run blocking centers in this draft class. Allen was an experienced starter for the Spartans, starting 47 games, 42 of them at the center position. While Connor Cook excelled at quarterback, Allen was the leader of the offensive line.

At 6'1” and 294 pounds, Allen is a stout, power run blocker who will overtake his opponent with solid technique and strength. Not the quickest lineman out of his stance, Allen will have to improve his mobility at getting into the second level and taking the right angles to seal off a linebacker or safety.

Few defenders were able to get past Allen in pass protection. Quick to recognize blitzes, he adapts to different schemes and challenges. One he is able to get his hands inside, defenders might as well give up.

Allen is likely a fourth round selection due to his size limitations and is best suited to play in a man blocking scheme. He will excel going to an NFL team with an experienced quarterback. Allen is a smart, instinctive center who could be a long term starter in the NFL.

5) Jake Brendel (C, UCLA):

One of the stars of the NFL Combine at the center position, Brendel was one of the quickest and fastest offensive lineman. Now that is not to say his talent is limited to the combine drills, Brendel was a four year starter and second team all-conference in both 2014 and 2015.

At 6'3” and 286 pounds, Brendel will be asked to put on some weight to combat the bigger, bulkier defensive tackles in the NFL. He showed he can handle guys who outweigh him by a considerable margin. In 2014, he was able to shut down future first round pick Danny Shelton. In 2015, he dominated against Utah's star defensive tackle Lowell Lotuleli.

Because of his speed and quickness, Brendel is best suited for a zone blocking scheme. He is able to get up the field, and can be a key weapon on screen or short area passes. He took on a lot of responsibility this past season working with a freshman quarterback.

In pass protection he has a few weakness, mostly not giving up ground. Also, can be pushed and a few times even was thrown to the ground. While he does a good job at sustaining his blocks, he gives up to much ground to a defender. He will need to work on his consistency and not lunging at a defenders. He had a tendency to lung at interior speed rushers.

Overall, Brendel looks to be a possible fifth round selection.

Ranking Player School Draftable Round
1 Ryan Kelly Alabama 1
2 Max Tuerk USC 3-4
3 Joey Hunt TCU 4
4 Jack Allen Michigan State 4
5 Jake Brendel UCLA 5
6 Austin Blythe Iowa 5
7 Evan Boehm Missouri 6
8 Graham Glasgow Michigan 6
9 Marcus Henry Boise State 6
10 Mike Mathews Texas A&M 7
11 Robert Kugler Purdue 7
12 Matt Skura Duke 7-FA
13 Andrew Ness Northern Illinois 7-FA
14 Ty Darlington Oklahoma FA
15 Kyle Friend Temple FA