T-Bob: Draft preview - centers turn five fingers into a fist
by T-Bob Hebert,posted Apr 23 2014 5:49PM
This is the first of a 3-part NFL draft series previewing the top two prospects at each position along the offensive line.
Today, we’ll look at the position most near and dear to my heart... center. While center may not be the most physically demanding spot on the line, it is without a doubt the most cerebral. An NFL center must get to the line call out the defensive alignment, identify the “Mike,” and make calls to the rest of the O-line about what their blocking scheme will be. For example, the center runs up to the ball, “four down…four down…over over…Mike 55…Mike 55…B block…B block.” This all must happen within a couple seconds so everyone else can get set and the QB can get his read of the defense. These are just your base calls. In addition, the center still must adjust for anything the defense changes pre-snap, or the QB could change the play entirely.
Having a talented center is essential to your O-line’s success as a group. You can have great individual players, but the center is what changes five fingers into a fist. Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns just signed a 5-year $42 million contract, so it would appear the NFL recognizes the importance of the center position. With that said, let us take a look at who from the 2014 NFL draft class has a chance to be the next Alex Mack.
Centers are generally the smallest people on the line as evidenced by the consensus number one C prospect in this year’s draft, former Colorado State standout Weston Richburg. Richburg is just 6’3 298 lbs. It may seem crazy to play in the NFL while not even weighing 300 lbs, but center is a leverage and technique heavy position. If you have great footwork and excel in body weight manipulation, you can be successful against guys that have 20 or 30+ pounds on you. Richburg excels in both of these fields. He is quick off the line and operates well in space, which is key for screens, sweeps, etc... Weston Richburg is an excellent pass blocker, who proved his ability to shut down the bull rush against top level competition during this year’s Senior Bowl. This was a key factor in raising his draft stock, because interior penetration is the quickest way to make a defensive end’s sack numbers go up. If the QB can’t step up in the pocket…game over.
Perhaps most importantly Richburg is also extremely durable. He started an incredible 49 games in college! Not saying he wasn’t ever hurt during that time, but Weston Richburg was always available and fought through it. NFL teams love this. One of the knocks on Richburg is that he didn’t play top level competition all the time at Colorado State. However, he combated some of these doubts with good performances against Alabama and by playing well in Mobile at this year’s Senior Bowl. Richburg isn’t a dominating run blocker, but he can get the job done. One other thing teams would be interested in is Richburg’s ability to play offensive Guard. While not necessarily essential, it definitely will be taken into account when deciding whether or not to draft him. At the end of the day Weston Richburg is an excellent technician who seems to have the strength, quickness, and durability to excel on the NFL level.
The other Center I believe worthy of note is USC underclassmen Marcus Martin. Much like Richburg Martin is only 6’3, however, he has a bit more weight, tipping the scales at a robust 320 lbs. Martin only played 3 years of college, but his frame is excellently suited for the NFL. Scouts love his ability to get to the second level (which is key for centers), and Martin is just flat out a naturally athletic. You always hear about how ideally you want a guy to bend at the waist and not at the knees, well, Martin is that guy. He also possesses great natural flexibility, which can help to increase speed, prevent injuries, and fast-track a player to becoming a better pass blocker.
One of my favorite aspects about Martin--he plays mean. Nothing makes me more fired up than a guy who is willing to block to the whistle and then some. The extra shoves, pushes, and punches are an excellent way to get inside the head of your opponent and establish dominance both physically and mentally. Another attribute in Martin’s favor--he has proven he can play guard as well as center. In fact, it is a credit to his ability that Marcus Martin is ranked so highly on the center list, as he has only one full year starting with a hand on his butt. During his time at USC, Martin started 20 games at guard and 13 games at center. This is great to have on your resume when going to the next level. The more you can do, the better chance you have at a successful NFL career. One negative about Martin’s game, because he plays so low, Marcus sometimes has a tendency to get over extended when punching defenders, which makes him vulnerable to swim moves and push pull moves. However, he is an incredibly young athlete and won’t even be 21 years old until November, so I have no doubt these problems can be corrected.
I look forward to watching both of these guys playing on the next level. As someone who tried to make it at the center position in the NFL and knows what it takes, I enjoy watching players who truly excel. I think both Marcus Martin and Weston Richburg have the potential to be long term veterans in the league. That said, I don’t see either one getting drafted first round, but probably early to mid-second.
If you’re interested in center play and want to watch one of the best gladiators on the offensive line, I recommend watching the guy I mentioned earlier, Alex Mack, when the Browns are on TV. He is incredible.