Name five centers. Ok, name five guards. Ok, ok, name a combination of five centers or guards. Most people can't because interior offensive linemen are not highlight reel material. But their role in an offense is vital. The Center is the only other player aside from the quarterback who will touch the ball on every offensive snap. He is the captain of the offensive line, the conductor of a violent orchestra. The guards are his closest comrades in arms, flanking him on either side, as between them they clog up any inside pass rush and drive back defensive tackles to create openings up the middle in the run game. In the case of the guards they also frequently have to pull and take on difficult moving blocks as part of a power running offense.
So what am I looking for in the guards and centers?
1) Pass blocking,
2) Run blocking,
Very similar to the tackles then, except that awareness leaps over versatility because stunts and twists are more common with interior defensive linemen and because most guards are already reasonably versatile, otherwise they wouldn't make it to the field in the first place. In the pass game I'm looking for these interior linemen to bend their knees, engage their defender with a good punch with the hands inside, and then the ability to hold their balance and their position without being driven back or thrown aside. Against the run I'm looking for quick movement off the snap, getting their hat between the defender and the hole, and the ability to combo block with those around them to get up to the second level and grab a linebacker. Awareness is the ability to recognise movement, blitzes and stunts, coordinating with their fellow linemen to pick up these up. And versatility is simply the ability of the player to perform a variety of blocks, to be scheme versatile as opposed to being pigeon holed into a specific offense, and bonus points if they could play tackle in an emergency.
That last point is something that is coming to the fore more and more these days as teams are struggling to find adequate tackles and frequently find themselves shifting their lines around. It's becoming far more common for tackles to have to move inside and play guard, with guards sometimes being thrown into action as emergency tackles. This I believe is a function of what I talked about in the offensive tackles post (plus the clarification) where an increasing number of college tackles are arriving in the NFL without the prerequisite skill sets needed to block the best pass rushers that the NFL has to offer. Oddly enough it's often college guards who come better equipped for this, having at least some experience of facing one-gap rushes from blitzing linebackers and defensive tackles.
And as always with these lists, they're ordered the way they are because that's how the list that I'm working from is ordered. Read the specific piece on the player to find out how I rate him. We start this list with...
Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Of course the very first player on the list of guards and centers is actually a tackle, or at least was for his final season at Iowa. So, any good? Perhaps he might make up for the dearth of good tackles this year?
Scherff is being talked about as a first round pick. Possibly a top ten pick. I would love to know why. He was awful! Against Nebraska he just about held his own for most of the game, then on the final play of regular time he finally faced a one-gap pass rush and got absolutely destroyed. Against Maryland he got destroyed for four quarters by a combination of Yannick Ngakoue, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, and Andre Monroe. Maryland, that powerhouse of NFL development. Let me say that again; MARYLAND! They ruined him. Monroe is 5'11". Jason Pierre-Paul is 6'5". 6-5! Based on the evidence presented by his senior year Scherff is going to get killed in the NFL. Honestly, it was so bad that this could get real ugly, real quick. Pass, pass, pass.
On a side note, I mentioned last year that I liked the then junior Iowa running back/fullback Mark Weisman, who was a senior for 2014. Got to see plenty more of him watching Scherff and yeah, I still like him. He is absolutely an undrafted guy, I don't think anyone expects otherwise. I don't think anyone's even paying attention to him. But I would absolutely want him in my training camp. He has decent speed for his size, finds the hole well and then powers through it. He's not an amazing running back by any means and he'd probably be at the bottom of any running back committee, but I think he has value. I can see him as a brawler, used in a rotation to take the pressure (and some of the pounding) off the other backs. I really like Weisman.
A.J. Cann, South Carolina
What to say about Cann? He was pretty solid in general. He has a nasty streak at times that offensive line coaches like, though he's not a pitbull-esque mauler by any means. Can't say as I'm overly keen on him though. He didn't dominate the line in the manner that you'd like a top guard to. At times his decision making seemed poor and you could see a number of plays and protections that broke down because of his mental errors. He struggled to cut off faster linemen because he's a little slow off the snap at times, but he dealt with power rushers pretty well. He's only 6'3" so he gets under the defensive linemen with ease. My overall thoughts on Cann? Not a bad player. I like that streak of aggression and he's a legitimately strong guy, but I'm concerned how he'd cope with the greater speed at the next level, something that will only exacerbate the mental problems he seems to have. Those errors will kill an offense at the next level just as assuredly as they did at South Carolina. On balance I have to say I'd pass on Cann.
Tre Jackson, Florida State
You know what's not fun? Trying to track a Florida State offensive lineman when their jerseys are white and the numbers are gold (or are they blue and black?) with no definition. You'd have thought someone would have had a quiet word with them by now to point out that it makes identifying players very difficult for the crowd. Enough of that though, what about Jackson?
Well, Jackson for the most part seemed solid. Against smaller defensive linemen he had sticky hands, in the sense that once he got his hands on them they weren't going anywhere. His run blocking was broadly ok. But the issues tended to stand out for me. At times Jackson seemed to be a little lost. The defense would be charging all over the shop and Jackson would frequently lose track of his man in the chaos. He's quite a restricted guard in terms of what you can do with in the running game, having little experience outside of zone rushing plays. On the two occasions I did see him pull on a power type run he was very slow getting to the point of the attack. He doesn't come off the snap with great speed either. Against bigger power rushers he really struggled, which is a problem when you consider where he's heading. They had a tendency to get under him and just jack him up and out of the way. For me? I think the flaws stick in my mind too much, so I'd pass.
Cameron Erving, Florida State
Beaten to the point of attack every time in the run game and couldn't handle power, speed or technique rushers in the pass game. Will get destroyed in the NFL I suspect. Suffice to say I pass.
Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Played in a gimmick offense and got bullied mercilessly. Couldn't block anyone effectively without help. If you were putting together a defensive game plan then - regardless of where he ends up - I think Grasu would be the top target to go after as the weak link in the O-line. Maybe Chip Kelly will give him a job? I wouldn't. I have to wonder how long it will take before high school kids begin to realise that very few players from these gimmicky offenses are putting together solid NFL careers and start veering towards programs that may not offer them the same short term rewards in college, but are more likely to prepare them for a longer and more profitable career in the pros?
Laken Tomlinson, Duke
Ok, it's getting a bit better. That's not saying that much but Tomlinson seemed a little more, shall we say 'robust' up the middle. He did ok. In the run game he was very strong blocking D-tackles individually and showed a degree of versatility that would make him a fit for a number of offenses. The problem was that pass protection wasn't brilliant. On the occasions that the defense pinned back their ears and went after him he was often beaten by those single gap pass rushers. He was exceptionally lucky in a few cases not to concede a holding penalty, but then guards generally seem to get away with more holding than the tackles. Again though, can't say as I walked away wowed by him. If he was available undrafted (which I doubt) then I'd be willing to offer him a camp spot to see if we couldn't work out some of the kinks in his pass protection, but I wouldn't want to use a draft pick on him I don't think. Definitely an improvement though. Fingers crossed.
Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M
Definitely starting to improve. Massive dude at 6'4", 330 pounds. Crushed people at times in the run game. Pretty versatile, though his awareness of pass rushing stunts wasn't great. His pass blocking was... meh, neither here nor there. As a left guard he faced few one gap rushes and when he did - sticking to the common theme - he looked vulnerable. Given the importance of the passing game to modern football I just wouldn't be able to justify using a pick on someone I couldn't be certain would hold in the pass game. I think Harrison probably would make a decent left guard and has a better shot than most on the list so far to be able to make the leap, it's just me personally, I wouldn't be able to get that nagging itch out of my head. The draft is a great way to build a team from the ground up, but only I think if you play it somewhat safe. Maybe as a late round pick, depending on what else was out there?
B.J. Finney, Kansas State
Bingo! We have a winner at last. It's certainly taken long enough.
Finney is a 6'4", 318 pound center who locked down pretty much everything that came at him. He really only had two major weaknesses that I could see. One was blocking in space, for example against linebackers in the screen game. He was slow to get out in the first place and then struggled to find his target. That can be more or less of an issue depending on how often you run screens and how you go about setting them up. Middle screens for example should be a little easier for him, the problems only really starting when you make him run outside into space and try to pick up linebackers on the move.
The other issue is that sometimes he gives up too much ground against one gap rushing tackles which will hamper the quarterbacks movement in the pocket sometimes, but a good quarterback should be able to shift around this without too much trouble. It's just a slight weak point that coaches would need to be aware of. And yes, you heard that right, he actually had to block some one gap rushers! And he didn't get beaten senseless by them! It's a miracle people! I cannot describe how happy I am to actually see an offensive linemen that I'm interested in.
All in all, I thought Finney was pretty good. He wasn't outstanding, but he was solid. I'd want a risk premium to cover those weak points because they might be a little restricting on the offense, but Finney is a powerful center who held his own individually against some good D-tackle play. I'd say probably from the third round down you're in good shape. If things keep up the way they've been in terms of offensive linemen you'd possibly put an asterix next to his name to remind you that "hey, there's good depth at a number of other positions but not this one, so if he's there in the third then take him". It would depend on what the board looks like and how the rest of these guards and centers pan out, but Finney is definitely a player that has caught my eye. Let's hope that some of these other guys I'm about to watch reach this same bar that he's set.
Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Actually played as a right tackle but projected to kick inside to guard at the next level. Which is probably for the best because Williams couldn't handle speed on the outside and would probably get creamed as a right tackle. As a guard? Not sure I can comment because that's a difficult thing to do, projecting how someone will play in a completely new position. I don't think he did anything particularly exceptional to suggest he'd make a great guard. As a right guard I'd be extremely worried about his vulnerability to 3 technique defensive tackles rushing him one on one through his B gap (the gap between the guard and the offensive tackle). On the move he seemed surprisingly good for a guy with such a slow 40 time (even by O-line standards). He seems every bit as strong as you'd expect a 6'5", 327 pound guy to be. I just get the feeling that his technique and balance lets him down at times. Personally I'd pass.
Josue Matias, Florida State
Not a great O-line and Matias has to accept his share of the blame for that. His run blocking was ok, but several times he would fall off his blocks which had a big impact on the running game. His pass protection was ok, but nothing special. Again I couldn't see anything that would make me part ways with a pick for him. Maybe B.J. Finney really will just be an island in the middle of an otherwise drab drizzle of an offensive line class.
Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
Actually played as a left tackle for Utah but projected to come inside as a guard. How would I sum Poutasi up in one word? Awful. Utterly and chronically awful. Horribly bad. Pass.
John Miller, Louisville
Hahahahaha! Laughably poor. Got jacked up repeatedly and driven off the line. Most of the time he looked like he was thankful just to be in the game, let alone do anything productive. Supposedly scouts are excited by his upper body strength and believe that he will perform better in the NFL than he did in college. To call that assessment 'wildly optimistic' would be an understatement. And people wonder why coaches look at scouts and personnel guys sceptically. Pass.
Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech
Bit shorter than some of these other guys at 6'1" (300 pounds) but tremendously quick. Ran a sub 5 second 40 yard time at the Georgia Tech pro day and it shows on the field. And here we get into the dilemma of Shaquille Mason. Georgia Tech was a massively run heavy offense and so Mason has very limited experience of pass blocking. Very limited. However he was very good on the limited snaps where he was asked to pass protect. He showed good balance, technique and used his hands really well. In the running game his speed and agility offered him a unique ability to cut off linebackers, even when they (and he) were on the front side of a play. He has varied experience of different run plays and coupled with his athleticism he should be able to fit any run scheme.
He did have his problems in the run game as well though. He has a tendency sometimes to cut block at the defenders feet when he could take them on head to head. Then on some plays where he was sent upfield he would try and use his shoulder to deliver a big hit to knock a defender out of the play instead of engaging them properly. You have to wonder how much of that is him naturally and how much of that is his coaches? And because of those weak points and because of his very, very limited experience in the passing game I'd have to say I'm not sure whether I would be able to justify the use of a draft pick on him as a right guard.
But hang on just a moment.
While teams aren't allowed to work players out during pre-draft visits to their facility, they are allowed to arrange private workouts at the players college. I'd be willing to go visit Shaq Mason for three reasons. Firstly, to get a general look at his pass blocking skills and movement. Secondly, to assess his potential for a shift to the right tackle spot. Even though he's a bit short for a tackle, he's strong, quick and technically very skilled. I'd be intrigued as to whether that could be tapped for use on the outside against speed rushers. Thirdly, I'd be interested in assessing his potential as a defensive lineman.
As mad as that sounds, I saw him do a really good swim move as he was trying to work his way through to a linebacker and it got me thinking. With his combination of size and speed he might have a shot as a 3 technique tackle in a 4-3, or as a 5 technique defensive end in a 3-4. It's a long shot and probably something he hasn't done since high school, presuming of course he played both ways, but it has me rubbing my chin in deep thought. When you consider how few seventh round picks ever pan out - with less than half even making their teams roster in their second year - then I have to wonder whether it might be worth a cheeky gamble to use a seventh rounder on Mason, depending on the outcome of the facility visit, and perhaps convert him to a right tackle or even D-lineman. If it works, hurray! If it fails, ah well, another of the many, many seventh rounders that didn't amount to anything in the league.
Andy Gallik, Boston College
Like Finney he's a guy that actually has plentiful experience against one gapping pass rushers. And you know what, he handled it really well. But not only is Gallik strong, he's also pretty athletic. He has quick feet and can pull from the center position and get around the end of the line before the running back catches up, giving coaches more variety in their options for the run game. He's also proven that he can climb to the second level and pick up linebackers on the move, so Gallik is definitely scheme diverse. In terms of his awareness Gallik did a superb job of switching blocks and finding work for himself, his head constantly on a swivel and his heart eager to get stuck in. All in all a very likeable center whose projection is somewhere in the third to fifth round. For that price I think you get good value.
Trenton Brown, Florida
6'8", 355 pound man mountain. Moved reasonably quick for a guy of that size and could probably afford to shave off a few pounds (or twenty. Or thirty) and still have the strength and weight to move people around. The problem is that once again we get back into the realms of another guy who did very little pass blocking at all, let alone any against a one gapping lineman. He was ok in general, not brilliant, not bad. Bit limited. I think teams will be attracted by what they could do with a guy of his size and sure, that would warrant maybe a seventh round pick/undrafted look as a project, but that's the price I would want for someone who has no proven record of pass blocking.
Tayo Fabuluje, TCU
Another man mountain at 6'6" and 353 pounds. Played left tackle for TCU but scouts are talking about him moving inside to guard. Part of the reason for that is because he can't handle the sort of speed rushers he'd face in the NFL. Playing inside he might be ok simply because of how large he is, but he does have a tendency to turn his hips and open the door for one gap rushers which is quite alarming. For me he has project written all over him and as such, much like Brown, if you wanted to bet a seventh rounder on the potential of what he might become then ok, but nothing more than that.
Reese Dismukes, Auburn
Having read quite a glowing review of Dismukes I was surprised to then see this under his list of weaknesses; "Has difficulty with a zero nose or shade techniques". Which is basically one way of saying that as a center in the NFL he will have difficulty with... every defense in the NFL. In fact, the only time he's unlikely to have either a zero/nose or a 1 technique shade over him would be on long third downs when defenses tend to widen their alignments because they're going all out against the pass and not worried about the run. Which poses a significant problem then because what do you do with Dismukes if he can't handle the sort of techniques he'll face 90% or so of the time in the NFL?
Well in fairness I didn't actually think he was that bad. I guess "has difficulty" is quite a broad statement with plenty of wiggle room. Then again, Dismukes didn't exactly shine either. Another one of these players from a very run heavy offense, one that involves a lot of misdirection, and with a passing game that's heavily reliant on play-action passing. As a result he didn't really do that much classic pass protecting and I think he could struggle having to read a defense and make line calls in a more conventional setup. In summary, not terrible, but not worth a pick either.
Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
Just as a side note, it's a miracle watching Alabama that they even made it to the Sugar Bowl. Some of their O-line play was horrible, as was most of their quarterback play. It's a testimony to just how much of an advantage it is in college ball to have four and five star athletes like Amari Cooper on your team. And speaking of bad O-line play, Kouandjio was a big part of that. He was ok as long as you didn't ask him to move more than about three or four yards from his starting spot. His movement is limited by a shortage of athletic ability and he really struggles to pick up blitzes and stunts. I wouldn't trust him as part of my O-line.
Bobby Hart, Florida State
I'm frankly surprised that Jameis Winston survived the season without taking a career ending hit given the play of Bobby Hart, who actually played at right tackle but is projected to play inside at guard. If you're bored one day and you want to conduct a little experiment for yourself then go and find a video of Bobby Hart somewhere and just watch. What you're looking for and should pay particular attention to is how an offense can be severely limited, both in terms of play calling and play execution, by poor offensive line play. It restricts how long you can allow the quarterback to hold the ball for, which often rules out any kind of seven step drop, as well as limiting how and where the offense can attack the defensive front in the run game.
Because Hart was awful. And I do mean awful. His feet are incredibly slow even by college standards and he just couldn't cope. Whether it was outside rushers, inside rushers, straight ahead blocking, pulling, climbing to the second level, the whole shebang. He literally could not do a single thing right. So I have a question; who in their right mind thinks he could play guard in the NFL? I've seen one comment from a draft expert that basically said "oh it's ok, the sort of problems he faced as a tackle won't be a problem at guard, they're different positions". Really? Pass blocking (something he had a massive problem with at tackle) isn't something he'll have to do as a guard? Pulling? That's sort of a bread and butter part of being a guard in a power running offense. Climbing to the second level to pick off a moving linebacker? That's a major part of playing guard in a zone offense. I would say this to you reader, keep an eye out for Bobby Hart on the third day of the draft. As in, hope on all you hold dear that your team doesn't draft him and laugh at your friends when their team does. Pass.
Quinton Spain, West Virginia
Wasn't horrible, which is a start. But at 6'4" and 332 pounds I think alarm bells have to start going off when you see him get bull rushed back into the quarterbacks lap like he was a mere training sled. He looked determined, I'll give him that. He never gave up and kept fighting right to the whistle. But nothing I saw filled me with any confidence to put him in front of a multi-million dollar quarterback. I'd pass.
Max Garcia, Florida
Pretty strong center and moved well onto the second level I thought. Showed great ability to turn people out of the hole and create space for the running back. Again though, back to that same old, same old problem. Did very little pass blocking full stop and faced almost no single gap rushers. And once again that means that he might yet be a great pass blocker in the NFL but nobody will know until they throw him in at the deep end and he either sinks or swims. Would you use a precious draft pick on that, on what is basically guesswork? I wouldn't. If he was still around after the draft I'd be interested to see what he was capable of, but not for a pick.
Sean Hickey, Syracuse
Actually played as a left tackle, but another one of these guys projected to move inside to guard. But you know what, I'd want to keep him at tackle because he was actually pretty decent. Let's put it this way, do you remember Brandon Scherff from Iowa who I talked about first in this post? Scherff is projected as a first round talent but got utterly destroyed against Maryland. Well guess who else played Maryland last year? That would be Syracuse and in that game Hickey didn't give up a single sack or pressure that I could see. So you tell me then, how is Scherff considered a first rounder while Hickey is described as the following; "As an NFL prospect, he won't check off many of the boxes teams are looking for in terms of his natural talent"? Someone please explain that to me. Two players, same defence, one got mauled and the other stood up well. The guy that got mauled is a first rounder and the guy that held up well doesn't "check off many of the boxes teams are looking for in terms of his natural talent"? Because... scouting.
Now, just because I think Hickey is better than Scherff that doesn't make Hickey a first rounder. Just because Scherff is massively over valued that doesn't mean Hickey should be. I think Hickey is probably a fourth or fifth round pick, maybe a bit lower. He has his own flaws that will cause him problems in the NFL. His technique is a little wanting in some places and he's not the most athletic player in the world just for a start. I think there are limits on what you could ask him to do in the run game and although he didn't get beaten against Maryland he did come close several times. Maybe then you go lower and say rounds six or seven, another gamble pick where you see the small nugget of something good and wonder what could be made of it.
Adam Shead, Oklahoma
Guess what I'm about to say?
If you guessed something along the lines of "not enough pass blocking experience to justify drafting" then good for you, at least you've been paying attention. If you didn't then seriously? Go back and have another read through because you've been skimming. So yeah, not a bad run blocker really but not enough pass blocking experience to justify drafting.
Jake Smith, Louisville
The other guard in the Louisville starting O-line alongside John Miller. And just as bad. Got bullied all over the place, struggled horribly to pick up rushers and just generally looked like a disaster waiting to happen.
Malcolm Bunche, UCLA
Started 2014 at left tackle but later moved to guard. And I have to question why. Is Bunche a brilliant tackle? No. But he was pretty effective. Has been marked down almost across the board for "mental errors leading to sacks", but I call bullsh*t on that right away. Offensive linemen work within a scheme. That scheme tells them who to block. In some cases the scheme will acknowledge that it's not possible to block every rusher and so sometimes the quarterback has to account for the free rusher using a "hot" pattern (a quick throw to a receiver), while the blockers pick up the most dangerous threats.
That's what seemed to be happening with Bunche. One of the ways you can tell is because I never once saw him doubling up on a defender with his left guard while a rusher came free outside, nor did I ever see him standing around looking lost as a free rusher came through. In each case of what I'm guessing other people are recording as "mental errors" I came away with the impression that the protection was either not set correctly (which is normally the centers fault) or that the scheme simply called for the quarterback to throw hot off the unblocked rusher and didn't. If anything the running backs were commonly at fault, something which Bunche has taken it in the neck for.
As such I think he's been treated unfairly. Now like I said, he's not a brilliant tackle. He still needs some work and there may be a finite cap on his ability which falls short of being a top caliber left tackle, partly because of his limited run blocking when picking up second level targets like linebackers in space. But overall I think Bunche is worth a pick, if only a low round one. Probably somewhere in that fifth to sixth round region, Bunche would be a guy that you draft with the intention of developing into a starting tackle over time, as opposed to a plug and play guy. If you're someone like the Jets and you have a superb starting left tackle but one who is getting a bit long in the tooth (and bloody expensive) then drafting Bunche in the later rounds to mould as a low cost, low risk, long term replacement makes a lot of sense. Or at least to me it does.
Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern
Personally I didn't feel like Vitabile could stand up to NFL defensive tackles without help. He struggled mightily one on one at the college level, so I fail to see how it's going to get any better at the next step up. Pass.
David Andrews, Georgia
Like Vitabil Andrews struggled to hold his ground one on one, and this was against smaller college defensive tackles. Imagine him trying to solo block someone like Haloti Ngata. Or don't, because you don't want to have nightmares. Did a lot pulling on wide runs which was odd because he almost always lacked the requisite athletic ability to get out in time and actually make blocks in open space. I'd pass.
Christian Lombard, Notre Dame
So Lombard played a bit of right tackle and a bit of right guard, but for some reason he's listed as a center. I really hate it when people put together lists of players and instead of listing them at their proper positions instead presume to put them in a different category based on their opinion. Imagine if I had put tight end Ben Koyack in the offensive tackles post because I felt like he could be converted to that position. But it is what it is and watching Lombard I thought he actually did an ok job at right tackle. He wasn't stunning and he got a reasonable amount of help from team mate Koyack when he lined up next to him, but by and large Lombard looked solid.
Would I draft him? That I'm not so sure about. The problem is I didn't see him take on too many pure edge rushers (that's partly where Koyack came in). I just can't say as I would be confident enough to take that step and part with a draft pick for him, especially as I suspect there would be other players on the board even down at the bottom who I would feel more confident in. Would I offer him a camp spot as an undrafted free agent? 100%.
Ian Silberman, Boston College
Let's put it this way; Leonard Williams is considered a top 5 pick in this years draft, possibly going number 2 overall, and represents the sort of talent that Silberman will have to face regularly in the NFL. Williams absolutely destroyed Silberman. If it was a boxing match it would have been stopped in the first round as a no contest. Still want Silberman on your team? I wouldn't.
And on that damp squib we finally reach the end of the centers and guards post, 29 players later. That was the most painful draft post I have ever had the misfortune to have to produce. I cannot even muster the energy to proof read it. I'm just glad that it's done now, over with, and I can move on to the defensive lineman, which is another of my favourite groups to watch. In my estimation this is not a good year for drafting offensive linemen. Not at all.
Thanks for stopping bye and reading this. Sorry I had to put you through all that. Trust me though, it was a lot worse to watch than it is to read about. But I guess it's all in the name of the draft, so worth the pain. Just about. If you liked this post or indeed one of my past posts then feel free to share the address about on twitter, facebook etc. Every share really does make a difference.