Today's Best Centers and Their Throwback Comparisons
Who doesn’t like to be the center of attention?
The following seven players in the seventh part of this 12-part throwback comparison series have gotten our attention. In case you're wondering, these performers are in no particular order.
You probably know the drill by now. Here are some of the best centers in the league today, including all four pivots originally named to the Pro Bowl in 2013 back in December.
The criteria are multifaceted, and one legend doesn’t fit all. We are talking style as much as anything, because after all, the eye test is still the best pop quiz ever, but other factors will be taken into account when making comparisons.
One reminder: This is not a ranking of the six best centers in the NFL. It’s some of the best players at their position and who they remind us of from the distant or not-too distant past.
Finally, our thanks to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for some of their statistical support.
Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
Similar To: Mike Webster
For the first time since 2008, the Carolina Panthers were NFC South champions and playoff-bound.
Running the football continues to be the team’s forte (although running back Matt Forte plays for the Chicago Bears).
Enough jokes. Carolina ranked 11th in the league in rushing in 2013 led by running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, quarterback Cam Newton…
And center Ryan Kalil.
The four-time Pro Bowler, when healthy, is annually rated as one of the league’s top centers, according to Pro Football Focus. Kalil’s 2012 season was cut short after five games, but he was a pivotal part of the team’s 12-4 finish this past season.
Mike Webster was part of four NFL championship teams with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played in Super Bowls IX and X and started in Super Bowls XIII and XIV. He was a powerful blocker who could take on defensive tackles and nose tackles one-on-one and dominate.
Here’s one guarantee: Kalil is not done when it comes to ringing up all-star accolades.
Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns
Similar To: Jim Ringo
Winning has eluded the Cleveland Browns for most of their tenure since returning to the league in 1999.
But center Alex Mack has done everything possible in order to change that.
The five-year veteran has not only started all 80 games since being a first-round draft choice in 2009, he has not missed an offensive snap over that span.
Talk about consistency—Mack was named to his second Pro Bowl this past season despite the fact that the Browns finished 4-12, the sixth straight season that the franchise has lost at least 11 contests.
Pro Football Hall of Fame center Jim Ringo was also consistently great, named to 10 Pro Bowls during his career with the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. He was part of two championship teams with the Packers, and at one time during his career he started 182 consecutive games.
Mike Pouncey, Miami Dolphins
Similar To: Jim Langer
What’s in a name, especially when your brother plays the same position you do in the NFL and has been named to three Pro Bowls?
That’s the dilemma that faces Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, twin brother of Pittsburgh Steelers pivot Maurkice Pouncey. The latter was named to the Pro Bowl his first three years in the NFL.
Maurkice was injured in a Week 1 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Mike put together a solid campaign in South Florida and those efforts ensured that there will be a Pouncey on the AFC Pro Bowl roster for a fourth straight year.
Like Pittsburgh, Miami has had its legacy at the center position with Hall of Famers such as Jim Langer and Dwight Stephenson. Langer was named to six straight Pro Bowls from 1973-78 and was part of two Super Bowl championship teams (VII and VIII) with the Dolphins.
Pouncey was named to his first Pro Bowl this season, so he’s at least got that part of the puzzle started. Let’s see if the NFL titles are soon behind.
Max Unger, Seattle Seahawks
Similar To: Dermontti Dawson
Seattle Seahawks center Max Unger has established himself as one of the best players at his position the last two seasons.
The former second-round pick started 16 games at right guard as a rookie in 2009, but a year later, missed all but one game with a toe injury.
Unger returned in 2011 at center and was a starter for all but one game. The last two seasons, he hasn’t missed a contest and has been named to two consecutive Pro Bowls.
Dermontti Dawson is of recent vintage when it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, enshrined in Canton in 2012. Like Unger, he cut his teeth one season at guard (playing next to Hall of Fame center Mike Webster) before moving to the middle. Dawson was a seven-time Pro Bowler and his ability to pull from his position made him unique.
Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
Similar To: Doug Smith
Do you think the Pittsburgh Steelers missed former Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in 2013?
Despite a respectable season by rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, Mike Tomlin’s team finished tied for 27th in the NFL in rushing (86.4 yards per game), while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 42 times.
Was Pouncey’s absence for the final 15 games the sole reason for the team’s shaky offensive performance? No. But the loss of the three-time Pro Bowler in Week 1 played a major part in the Steelers’ struggles.
Doug Smith spent 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and was their starting center for the vast majority of those years. He was named to six Pro Bowls and was an important part of an offense that stressed the ground attack in those years.
A healthy Pouncey combined with a more experienced Bell could mean good things for the Pittsburgh ground attack in 2014.
Brad Meester, Jacksonville Jaguars
Similar To: Jeff Van Note
You have often heard the words of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick:
“Do your job.”
For 14 seasons, Brad Meester has done his job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He began his career at left guard and after three seasons was shifted to center, where he's been a mainstay when healthy.
All told, Meester has played in 196 career games and started 195 of them, including all 16 contests each of the last three seasons. And somewhat surprisingly, he’s never been named to the Pro Bowl and never will be.
In December, Meester announced his retirement, capping off a solid yet unspectacular career that began in 2000.
Speaking of doing his job, center Jeff Van Note was an 11th-round draft choice by the Atlanta Falcons in 1969 and was named to five Pro Bowls in 18 NFL seasons. He played in 246 games and started 226 of them.
It’s safe to say both of these performers did a terrific job.