5 Best Center Fits for the Packers in the 2013 NFL Draft
During the free agency period before the 2012 season, starting center Scott Wells and the Green Bay Packers could not to come to an agreement over a new contract.
So, Wells signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent instead, and the Packers then signed veteran center Jeff Saturday, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, where he had played with Peyton Manning for so many years.
The Saturday experiment had it's pluses and minuses for the Packers. Saturday learned the offensive system of the Packers pretty quickly, and he was solid with his line calls and his pass protection. But it was also obvious that Saturday had trouble blocking in the run game and getting to the second level.
Finally, late in the season, the coaches decided to replace Saturday with Evan Dietrich-Smith, who had also seen time at left guard earlier in the year when right tackle Bryan Bulaga fractured his hip, and T.J. Lang went from left guard to right tackle for a couple of games.
Dietrich-Smith is a much better run-blocker than Saturday, and that became evident in the games he started late in the season and postseason. Overall, Dietrich-Smith did a solid job at center in the games he started.
Ironically, Saturday was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad, where he announced he would be retiring after the game.
Because of that, the Packers have some quality depth issues at the center position, and on the interior of the offensive line. The Packers only had undrafted rookie Greg Van Roten to back up at guard late in the year.
Therefore, I'm expecting the Packers to select a prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft who can obviously play center, but also play other positions across the offensive line.
The NFL Scouting Combine is a little over a week away, and the players who I am listing will all be there. All five of the players I'm listing can play multiple positions, while two of them can play every position on the offensive line.
There has been speculation about the Packers drafting an offensive tackle only in this draft, but I just don't see it. The Packers are currently five deep at offensive tackle, with Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay, Derek Sherrod and Andrew Datko.
The only way I could see the Packers selecting just an offensive tackle, is if they feel that Bulaga (hip) and Sherrod (leg) would not be able to play effectively in 2013. Both are former No.1 draft picks, too.
That is why I believe the Packers will draft an offensive linemen who has the versatility to play in two or three areas on the offensive line, especially on the inside. Having the ability to play tackle would be a big plus.
Here is my top five list of center prospects for the Packers.
Barrett Jones (Alabama)
Weight: 305 pounds
Barrett Jones has been an All-American at two positions (center and left tackle), plus also played right guard his first two years at Alabama.
Jones was also part of three national championship teams. The Crimson Tide offensive line dominated opponents over that time, and Jones was a big reason why.
Besides versatility and stellar play on the field, you can also add toughness to Jones' list of attributes. Jones severely injured his foot in the SEC Championship Game versus Georgia, but was still able to play in the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame. The Tide whipped the Fighting Irish 42-14 in that game, and Jones played very well.
A couple days after the game, Jones had surgery on his foot to repair torn ligaments. Jones should be ready for all football-related activities again in April.
Jones is expected to be selected in either late in the first round or early in the second round in the draft.
Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina)
Weight: 310 pounds
Jonathan Cooper was one of the best offensive guards in the country in 2012 for North Carolina, leading the way for exciting running back Giovani Bernard. However, Cooper's best position in the NFL might end up being center. Either way, the Packers would have a versatile player on the interior of their offensive line.
Cooper was also an All-American. He's a punishing run-blocker, as he had double-digit knockdown blocks in nine of the 12 games in which he played in. North Carolina averaged 193.8 yards a game running the football.
Cooper is also very adept in pass-blocking as well.
The former Tar Heel is expected to be selected late in the first round or early in the second.
Travis Frederick (Wisconsin)
Weight: 338 pounds
Travis Frederick started 31 games for the Wisconsin Badgers, seeing time at both guard and center. Frederick mostly played left guard for the Badgers as a freshman and sophomore, and then started at center all of the 2012 season.
Frederick was named All-Big Ten First Team by the media, and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention by the coaches in 2012.
Frederick is a very good run-blocker and has improved as a pass protector in his three years at Wisconsin, which saw the Badgers win three straight Big Ten titles and also go to the Rose Bowl three straight times.
The former Badger is smart and strong, and has good technique coming from a school that annually seems to put good offensive linemen into the NFL.
Brian Schwenke (California)
Weight: 307 pounds
If things go right for Brian Schwenke in the 2013 NFL Draft this year, he might soon be snapping the ball to another former California Golden Bear with the Packers. That would be quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
California didn't have a great season in the Pac-12 as a team (3-9), but Schwenke stood out with his play on the field at center.
In fact, Schwenke was named to the 2012 All-Pac-12 First Team.
Schwenke also opened some eyes at the Senior Bowl. At least, according to Mike Mayock of NFL Network. And Mayock certainly knows what he's talking about.
Schwenke was able to handle people like big John Jenkins (Georgia) in practice, as he showed good strength and some nice quickness getting to the next level. He also showed that he can use balance and leverage to his advantage.
In addition to his abilities at center, Schwenke also has experience playing guard as well.
Schwenke is expected to be selected in the third round of the draft.
David Quessenberry (San Jose State)
Weight: 295 pounds
Next to Barrett Jones, David Quessenberry might be the most versatile offensive lineman in the 2013 NFL Draft. Quessenberry was the first offensive linemen in San Jose State history to be selected to the Senior Bowl. He certainly played like he belonged in Mobile.
Quessenberry definitely stood out at the Senior Bowl for a couple of reasons. One, he performed very well for the North team in drills and at practice. Second, he did that at multiple positions, which included center. He also excelled at both guard and tackle.
Quessenberry was part of an offensive line at San Jose State for a team that finished 11-2 and won the Military Bowl.
The former Shark was recruited to San Jose State as a 240-pound tight end. He has the frame to add weight in the NFL.
Quessenberry was also named to the 2012 All-WAC First Team (coaches).
Quessenberry is expected to be selected in either the third or fourth round of the draft.