NFL Draft 2018: Top 10 Centers

Despite an injury setback, Ohio State's Billy Price remains top of RealSport's rankings. See our notes and grades on the center prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft.

(Photo credit: Sam Howzit)

One thing is for sure, there are certainly more options at the center position for teams in need than there were in the 2017 class. There are several talents who could start from day one, and a number of depth and developmental prospects to work with in the later rounds.

To view all the articles in this Top 10 series, click here.

1. Billy Price, Ohio State. Grade: 1st Round

6’4”, 305lbs. Redshirt Senior.

Price’s physicality and overall toughness are staples of his play as a four-year starter, initially at guard before switching to center to replace Vikings third-rounder Pat Elflein. His physicality and run blocking continually stands out as pluses in his game. A real fighter post-contact, Price grapples and scraps once engaged, a real battler in the trenches.

While there are better athletes at the position than Price, the 6’3”, 312lb lineman pulls well from his center position to get in front as a lead blocker and working his way upfield in general, playing with good vision and effort to make plays in space and beyond the line of scrimmage.

Price’s aggressive play and battling qualities epitomize his style, and while his enthusiasm can occasionally get the better of him, he tends to stay in control, anchoring well to absorb pressure at the point of attack and to deliver an animated punch himself on contact. He plays smart, efficient football with a well-rounded skill set in both the pass and run game.

While he excels when he gets established into the chest of an opposing defender, his hand placement can be inconsistent and when he fails to get good contact, it can lead to some of his beats. Clean that up though, and there’s little else to fault. Price has the makings of a long-time starter in the NFL who can be a standout center, but offer some flexibility at guard as well.

Price suffered a frustrating setback at the Combine during the bench press with a partially torn pectoral. It reportedly will take around four months before he is fully recovered, but could have been worse, and shouldn’t hurt his draft stock. He’ll be ready to go for training camp and to compete for a starting job immediately.

2. James Daniels, Iowa. Grade: 1st-2nd Round

6’3”, 306lbs. Junior.

The weigh-in numbers were very favorable for Daniels this draft season, with more bulk, and good arm length. However, one of the first things that stands out on film is what appears to be a rather slight build for an interior offensive lineman. Hopefully the heavier listing at the Combine can be maintained and continue to work on developing his frame once drafted. There’s certainly no issue in terms of core strength within his build, holding up well at the point of attack.

Daniels cemented his status as at least a high second round pick, and potentially first rounder, at the Combine by excelling through his positional workout, looking clean and polished through every drill, with composure and form, practically no wasted movement, and showing his plus athleticism for an O-lineman. He didn’t run the dash due to a strained hamstring.

The other way in which Daniels instantly stands out on film is with his impressive athletic ability. As quick as anyone from snap to block out of his stance and instantly setting his feet ready to anchor that will bode well when facing explosive interior pass rushing defensive linemen. He backs that up with quick extension and punch into the chest of his opponent.

With impressive footwork and burst, Daniels accelerates well up to the second level, and is outstanding with his movement in space, finding and executing blocks on linebackers. His plus movement traits continue with his lead run blocking, pulling from center out in front effectively, a difficult task to perform for many centers.

As expected of most Iowa offensive line prospects under Kirk Ferentz, Daniels shows excellent form, coordination, balance and footwork to aid him in all aspects but particularly in consistent, replicable pass protection. He can occasionally be forced back a step or two, but generally manages to reset his feet, and he handled top opposition faced, including Ohio State’s Dre’Mont Jones, comfortably. Hopefully added bulk assists with that at the next level. Although only a two-year starter, Daniels is clearly NFL-ready now.

3. Frank Ragnow, Arkansas. Grade: 2nd Round

6’5”, 312lbs. Senior.

Ragnow has good size and length for the position while also having starting experience at guard for added versatility. Sacks and penalties against are both rare. A high ankle sprain caused him to miss a large part of his senior season, but it shouldn’t cost him a spot in the early rounds of the draft. The Razorbacks’ run game and offensive line as a whole were not up to the usual expected standard this past season, but when healthy, Ragnow was a one-man wrecking crew in his efforts to make things happen, particularly in the ground game.

He can dominate at the line of scrimmage, getting impressive push forward after establishing contact at the point of attack. Ragnow pulls effectively from center to get out in front in the run game, gets on the second level impressively and works well in space, finds blocks and takes out linebackers upfield. He really drives his legs and moves defenders out of the path of the play, often with ruthless efficiency and in eye-catching manner.

There have been times when he can play with poor pad level, getting a bit high out of his stance and conceding leverage. There are also occasions where he can misplace his hands on contact. When his technique is right, he can be devastatingly effective; doing so more consistently will up his value considerably. Ragnow isn’t the most notable athlete, but has power and aggression, and as previously stated, looks the part on the move, regardless.

Ragnow is a dependable pass protector, using his length and punch to his advantage off the snap. His digs in his feet and anchors well, matches up well against the bull rush. He plays with good awareness, reacting well to late blitzes and secondary blocking requirements. On the occasions he is unbalanced and forced back a few steps, his pad level can again be the cause. Ragnow is a three-year starter with the build and toughness desired, and has a good chance to step in as a starter early.

4. Mason Cole, Michigan. Grade: 3rd-4th Round

6’4”, 307lbs. Senior.

Cole certainly ticks the box when it comes to experience, well known by now for his standing as the first in Michigan history to start on the offensive line from day one as a true freshman. Though he’s moved around between left tackle and center, he’s always featured somewhere on the line over the past four seasons, accumulating 51 starts.

While he played on the left edge for three seasons, with only his junior season spent at center, it’s the latter where he arguably projects most favorably for the pros. Either way though, part of the appeal with adding Cole to a roster is the likelihood that his NFL floor would be as a versatile backup potentially to step in at any of the five O-line positions, though most ideally for the three interior spots.

What prevents Cole from a higher grading, and what might ultimately lead to being a low-end starter at best, is a lack of any standout abilities. Cole has short arms, not only for the edge but not ideal regardless, and though he’s added some weight, doesn’t offer the stoutest of builds for the interior, nor does his strength stand out to hold up against powerful interior defensive linemen. Likely a result of his short arms, Cole often tends to lunge into his blocks when seeking contact.

He does move well however, with applicable athleticism to the run game to lead block and work uphill. His junior film from center shows quickness from snap to block. Cole has the ability to redirect and change direction that reflects well in his ability to mirror in pass protection and to give himself an opportunity to handle counter moves in the second phase of blocks.

5. Will Clapp, LSU. Grade: 4th Round

6’4”, 311lbs. Redshirt Junior.

A three-year starter, a first team All-SEC center in his final season, experienced and versatile at both guard and center, and a key blocker for both Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice the past few years. There’s plenty to put on the CV for Clapp to interest NFL teams, potentially in the middle rounds.

Clapp has good length for the position, and while his weight listing is sufficient, looks rather lean on film. Though not a standout athlete, his reliable footwork, motor, and combination of aggression and punch at the point of attack aid his ability to handle the interior of the trenches. He battles hard from snap to whistle each play.

Even so, there are certainly limitations, with below average core strength that can create issues with his anchor, struggle to hold position and forced back into the pocket. There’s some technical deficiencies and inconsistencies that sees him lose out at times in the battle for leverage, he can over-lean and bend into contact and can be unbalanced when beaten to the punch.

While he’s been a part of a productive running offense, he doesn’t regularly create movement when driving. However, his length, work ethic and smart play with good awareness give him starting potential, who may also be able to offer depth at a couple spots on the line.

6. Scott Quessenberry, UCLA. Grade: 5th Round

6’4”, 310lbs. Redshirt Senior.

When describing Quessenberry’s game, it’s a little bit of solid here, a bit of average there. His build, strength, and movement are enough for the pro level to become a starter and can cite plenty of experience in one of the better conferences in the country. While experienced at both center and guard, he likely fits best as a pivot. While he’s been a full-time starter each of the past two seasons, there are long-term durability concerns, having missed all of 2015 due to surgery required on both shoulders.

Quessenberry has a sturdy frame and stout base, suited to absorbing pressure in pass protection, to which he holds up well. He anchors well and can sustain his blocks once established. Balance is a plus, generally playing with control and maintaining good form throughout the play. He keeps his eyes up and aware, reacting well for the most part to late blitzes. Though generally ok, does need to watch his hand placement which can occasionally get a little careless.

While he can absorb well in pass pro, Quessenberry doesn’t create a great deal of movement himself. As a result, he’s ineffective in the run game, to assist in creating running lanes, something that will hinder his worth as a potential guard in particular. Once on the second level, Quessenberry is not the best at finding good blocks, with his limitations showing up in such situations.

7. Tony Adams, NC State. Grade: 6th Round

6’1”, 302lbs. Senior

With a short frame and average-looking athleticism, those would presumably be among the factors for the NFL leaving Adams off the Combine invite list. It definitely felt like one of the more significant snubs, however, with the two-time 2nd team All-ACC pick a standout on a strong Wolfpack offensive line and offers starting potential for the NFL level. Following his 35 career starts for NC State, he performed well at the East-West Shrine event in front of scouts.

Adams played offensive guard for the majority of his college career, but may suit center for the pros, and does have some experience there from early in his career. He may not be the tallest, but has enough arm length to compensate, and a broad, heavy build, well-distributed between his upper body and base.

He has ideal strength to hold up and maintain position at the point of attack. He sustains blocks comfortable, proving tough for defenders to find any success once the block is established, difficult to counter post-engagement. He has wrestling in his background and as it does for so many others, it translates well to his upper body technique as a blocker.

Adams uses his natural leverage to aid his ability to anchor. There’s a bit of effort required to do so, as not the best athlete, but is capable on the move and on the second level to do a competent job and shows smart directional blocking to open holes in the run game.

8. Sean Welsh, Iowa. Grade: 6th Round

6’3”, 306lbs. Redshirt Senior.

Another experienced Hawkeyes offensive line prospect, Welsh has played three positions during his time in college, at both guard spots and outside at right tackle. While that may not including playing center, his stocky, short build might see him fit well in the middle.

Aiding that projection is his reputation as a film room junkie, something he reportedly strongly believes in and puts a lot of work into. He should be able to transition well to dictating blocking assignments. Either way, he could offer versatility at all three interior positions, lacking the length to do much at right tackle going forward as he has for Iowa previously.

Welsh plays with aggression and commitment each snap. While not a standout athlete, he shows enough initial quickness out of his stance with good reactions, footwork and change of direction to establish himself in the early phase of the play, and to work upfield in the run game.

He does show some issues with an inconsistent anchor, not helped by poor pad level despite his shorter frame, but generally finds a way to maintain pocket integrity. Despite the engaging style of play, has an average punch that doesn’t consistently create movement. Balance can occasionally let him down, ending up on the turf a little too frequently.

9. Brian Allen, Michigan State. Grade: 7th Round

6’1”, 298lbs. Senior.

With very similar measurables, he gets compared to his brother Jack more than anyone, but my optimistic comparison is that Allen could be David Andrews all over again, should he land in a similarly favorable situation. Coming out of Georgia, Andrews was as fiery, competitive and nasty as it gets but went undrafted due to limitations due to his lack of length and ideal athleticism. Allen brings the same on-field demeanor, but with the same questions.

Allen makes the most of his naturally lower pad level and ability to leverage to produce a stout anchor when established on blocks. He delivers a good punch when able to reach, even if there’s inevitably some situations where explosive interior rushers with long arms can control the point of attack. He gives himself every opportunity, though, and uses his wrestling history to maximize his abilities. Regardless, he won’t back down from anyone.

Allen looked more mobile than expected at the Combine, efficiently working through the positional drills. His footwork is polished and he can execute his role getting in front as a blocker in space. When the opportunity is there to do so, you better believe he’s going to finish his blocks emphatically. For all the competitiveness, Allen is always situationally aware, showing high football IQ that aids his ability to win. Not someone to bet against.

10. Dejon Allen, Hawaii. Grade: 7th Round

6’2”, 295lbs. Redshirt Senior.

Having excelled in college at left tackle, not giving up a sack in pass protection in either of the last two years according to his team’s website, size limitations will see Allen shift inside for the NFL, perhaps best fitting at center. He could offer the versatility to play all three interior positions. He started at both guard spots in addition to left tackle over his 49 starts in 50 games with the Rainbow Warriors.

Looks strong and stout with a good wide base and backed that up with 29 reps on the bench at his pro day. He’s certainly one of the better athletes in this offensive line class and uses his plus movement traits to excel when mirroring and reacting. He has excellent footwork, and the ability to recover and reset, and backs it up with a heavy punch.

Despite good core strength, Allen is not the heaviest, and will be moving to the interior against bigger more powerful defensive linemen which might prove more difficult to hold up physically than he was able to on the edge, and apparently played significantly underneath 300lbs in college. He can get a bit high out of his stance and gets called for too many penalties, with a tendency to grab and hold if beaten early off the snap. 

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