Ryan Kelly leads PFF's ranking of the NFL draft's best centers
Our offensive line rankings shift to center today. All too often the center position seems to be the forgotten man in the NFL. It isn’t rare to see none drafted in the first round and only a few usually go prior to the fifth round each year. This year, two players have all the tools necessary to step in and start from day one, while there are a few undersized late-round projects that we are higher on than most. Let’s take a day-by-day look:
Ryan Kelly, Alabama
Every run block with Kelly in the trenches is a brawl. He has some of the most active hands and feet, and he combines it with NFL-level power. He’s not a freakish athlete or extremely smooth mover, but he plays with great leverage and is not going to give an inch off of the line of scrimmage. At Alabama he ran a ton of pro concepts that make you feel comfortable about his translation to the NFL. The biggest knocks on him come in pass pro where he struggled reacting to stunts at times and even then the concerns are fairly minor.
Nick Martin, Notre Dame
Martin played guard at Notre Dame as a junior before switching to center as a senior. He has the traits and production to play both at the next level, but his sizes (6-4, 299 pounds) profiles better to center position. Martin isn’t quite the people move of Kelly, though he plays a tad better in space. The senior was fantastic at locating and sealing off linebackers at the second level. He’s also arguably the best pass protecting center in this class with only five hurries allowed last year and no sacks/hits.
Matt Skura, Duke
There might not be a center in this class that can match Skura’s raw strength. When he got locked in on a double team he was walking the defensive tackle into the linebackers. In Duke’s offense though almost all he did was block straight ahead as it did not have a ton of varied concepts. In that respect he’ll be a project, but there are a good number of gap schemes in the league that wouldn’t ask him to do much more.
Jack Allen, Michigan State
Allen was one of the most consistent centers in all of college football the previous two seasons and actually graded out better as a junior than a senior. He plays with some of the best leverage you’ll see in the draft class and standing at 6-1 that shouldn’t be surprising. At that height it also shouldn’t be surprising that longer defensive tackles gave him fits and he had far more clean beats than you’d like out of a center. It’s noteworthy that while Allen played in Michigan State’s gap-heavy scheme, the majority of his positive run-blocking grade came on their 154 inside/outside zones a season ago.
Max Tuerk, USC
It’s truly a shame that Tuerk suffered an ACL injury against Washington and only managed 257 snaps as a senior. Through the first few weeks of the season, the USC center looked vastly improved from his 2014 form. Tuerk is the best center in this class at locating linebackers on the move, whether it be pulling or at the second level. Any team that utilizes the center pulling to the edge heavily should be pushing Tuerk above Allen and Skura simply because he’s so adept at it. Unfortunately the ACL injury makes his evaluation a tad difficult, as he wasn’t near the same player his junior year.
Joey Hunt, TCU
Hunt is very undersized at 6-2, 295 pounds and he’ll certainly be scheme-limited. That being said, Hunt is arguably the best pass protector in this class, adeptly mirroring inside rushers and having just enough to hold up versus bull rushes. He yielded 10 total pressures over the last two seasons. In the run game though he’s much more of a controller than anything else. Some of that was TCU’s scheme and some of that is Hunt not having the brute strength to move defensive tackles. If he can go to an outside zone heavy team, Hunt can be effective.
Austin Blythe, Iowa
Blythe versus Hunt is a very interesting comparison because while they are similar in size, they are on the complete opposite ends of the run/pass spectrums. Blythe is a mess in pass protection, finishing the Senior Bowl week with the second-lowest success rate in one-on-ones of any player in attendance. On the other hand, he generates some of the most movement in the entire class when he locks into his block — his performance against Wisconsin was one of the most impressive of the entire season. Blythe’s same pass pro issues will sometimes show up in the run game, though as he’ll struggle with length at the next level.
Jesse Chapman, Appalachian State
One of the most athletic centers in the class, no one graded out higher on outside zone runs that Chapman. His spring off the snap is unparalleled in this class, and he accompanies it with a top-notch ability to reset his hands and regain control of blocks on the move. Chapman is far too small at 6-1, 280 pounds to hold up in most NFL schemes though and he was basically untested in pass protection in Appalachian State’s scheme.