B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 35 Centers from 2014
Who is the best player in the NFL? Not based on the last 10 years or one game, but over the last year, who was the best? Good luck answering that one without starting a fight, right?
Well that's what the NFL 1000 aims to do by scouting, grading and then ranking the best players at each position before putting them in order and breaking ties to come up with the top 1,000 players. No narratives, no fantasy football points, no quarterback rating; this is cold-hard scouting.
The B/R 1000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a possible best score of 100.
Potential is not taken into consideration. Nor are career accomplishments.
Centers are judged very simply on blocking—50 points for pass protection and 45 points for run blocking, plus five points for their value as a starter or backup. In that category, we're looking at if the player is a consistent starter, a spot starter, a top-level backup or simply a backup-only player.
In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.
Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.
Each player was scouted by me and a team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Cian Fahey, Dan Hope, Marshal Miller, Justis Mosqueda) with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.
35. Marcus Martin, San Francisco 49ers
Marcus Martin came into his rookie season expecting to compete for the starting center position in San Francisco, but in Week 3 of the preseason he dislocated his kneecap, sidelining him for the first half of the year. He was able to get on the field in the ninth week after Daniel Kilgore was struck by injury. Martin, like most rookies, appeared overwhelmed at times. He allowed defenders to overpower him and beat him to his spot, making it hard for Colin Kaepernick to stand tall in the pocket.
Run Block 26/45
Martin showed a little more resilience in the running game, frequently creating creases up the middle for the 49ers running backs to take advantage of. He also has a lot of versatility after playing guard and center in college, but missed assignments plagued Martin’s season, which made it tough to have a dependable rushing attack week in and week out.
Although he didn’t play well for the most part, Martin's live-game experience should help him moving forward in his career.
34. James Stone, Atlanta Falcons
After starting center Joe Hawley and backup Peter Konz went down with season-ending injuries, James Stone was asked to step in and hold the Atlanta Falcons offensive line together. This is a tall task for any player, let alone an undrafted free-agent rookie. Stone showed positive glimpses but could never put it all together for an entire game. His lack of strength hindered his ability to stuff rushers and allowed too many of them to get after Matt Ryan.
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Stone's game is built around sheer determination and a high football IQ, but he lacks the athleticism and overall strength to be a consistent difference-maker in the running game. His slow feet make it difficult for him to pull to the outside, and he isn’t able to get a meaningful push at the point of attack when asked to fire straight off the ball in short-yardage situations.
At this point in his early career, Stone should be relegated to a backup role. While he showed signs of being an effective starter one day, he isn’t quite there yet.
33. Dominic Raiola, Free Agent
After finding the fountain of youth in 2013, Dominic Raiola came back down to Earth this past season. At this stage of his career he has to rely on perfect technique, and when his technique isn’t perfect, Raiola isn’t quick enough to recover from his mistakes. His knowledge of the game and awareness are undeniable.
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For the last three seasons Raiola has struggled to get to the second level and has seen his lateral agility regress each year. If Raiola is able to get his hands locked onto a defender, then he is still a potent run-blocker, but his lack of quickness allows defenders to beat him to his spot, causing havoc in the backfield.
At 36 years old, Raiola would be fortunate to find an interested free-agent suitor.
32. Brian Schwenke, Tennesse Titans
Coming off a poor rookie season in 2013, the Tennessee Titans were expecting Brian Schwenke to play better after a full year under his belt. Sadly for the Titans, that was not the case. Schwenke showed very little progression in his development and even took a step back in a couple of areas. He once again struggled keeping his quarterback upright and lacked the instincts needed as a center to provide help for his guards in pass protection.
Run Block 30/45
Schwenke lacks the brute strength to be a dominant run-blocker and isn’t able to drive defenders backward to create running lanes. Schwenke is able to rely on solid technique and positioning to seal off defenders, allowing his defender to take himself out of position. He doesn’t have great lateral quickness, which hampers his ability to pull or be effective in the screen game.
Schwenke went down late in the year with a knee injury, so it will be interesting to see what he can do moving forward into 2015. When healthy, Schwenke has the tools to be a starter and does offer upside at the position.
31. Rich Ohrnberger, San Diego Chargers
In his sixth NFL season, Rich Ohrnberger was asked to start seven games after Nick Hardwick’s retirement. In the pass game he was serviceable at times but did allow six hits and seven quarterback hurries despite not giving up a sack. Ohrnberger has good quickness and nice agility in his punch, but his timing can be off, and those delays lead to pressures and penalties.
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The lack of size (6’2”, 300 lbs) for Ohrnberger is an issue in the run game if he’s asked to man up against a nose tackle. He does well on plays requiring movement down the line of scrimmage or when he’s pulling, but a pure power block that needs to open up the middle of the line isn’t what he does.
The emergence of Chris Watt at center will likely keep Ohrnberger from seeing more time, but he’s a versatile player with good value at both snapper and guard.
30. Jonotthan Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
The middle of the Indianapolis Colts offensive line was not good in 2014—and during Jonotthan Harrison’s 10 starts he struggled to be a consistent pass protector. With a smart, mobile quarterback behind him, Harrison allowed two sacks, six hits and 16 hurries. He lacks the timing and awareness to be left alone in pass protection and must improve his hand placement to eliminate penalties.
Run Block 34/45
In the run game, Harrison was a bright spot. Coming out of the Florida offense, the rookie center had good movement skills and could get his head around to drive defenders out of the A-gaps. Harrison doesn’t have elite strength but made up for his lack of power with good quickness and leverage.
Harrison isn’t guaranteed a starting job in 2015, as he’ll have to compete with Khaled Holmes for the spot, but he did flash enough potential to get a long look in training camp and the preseason.
29. Samson Satele, Miami Dolphins
For the second year in a row Samson Satele ranks near the bottom of our list of centers. The main reason is due to his poor play in pass protection, where he allowed the most quarterback hits (12) of any player at his position and was consistently getting pushed back into the pocket, causing it to break down.
Run Block 35/45
Satele is much more at home in the run game, where he can fire off the ball and initialize contact with his defender. He does a nice job of maneuvering his body to stay between his man and the ball. Satele lacks the natural strength to be a mauler but has been around the league long enough to understand positioning, angles and when to allow his defender to take himself out of a play.
Satele lacks the all-around game to be an elite center in the NFL but is serviceable for a run-heavy team.
28. Luke Bowanko, Jacksonville Jaguars
Playing on a very young offensive line with a very young quarterback behind him, Luke Bowanko showed signs of positive pass protecting but also struggled in his rookie year. After being moved into the starting lineup in Week 3, Bowanko allowed four sacks, three hits and 16 hurries—numbers that don’t inspire much confidence. But he improved down the stretch and has the right mix of length, awareness and power to become a consistent starter.
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The run game was much more friendly to Bowanko, who became a very good combination alongside fellow rookie Brandon Linder at guard. The two collapsed down on nose tackles or A-gap defenders and effectively opened holes. When asked to block on his own, Bowanko showed a good mixture of power and leverage to move defenders.
Bowanko played well enough to be considered the center of the future for Jacksonville, but then the team brought in free agent Stefen Wisniewski. That’s a position battle to watch in training camp, but Bowanko definitely has intriguing upside.
27. Jonathan Goodwin, New Orleans Saints
Never known for his pass-blocking ability, Jonathan Goodwin’s skill set is more in tune with a run-first style of offense. He doesn’t have the lower-body strength to anchor down and hold his ground or the agility to stay between his man and the quarterback. He has to rely more and more on his technique as he ages, but you need more than great technique to be an effective pass-blocker.
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Goodwin was brought into New Orleans from San Francisco to help the run game become more physical and effective. He helped the Saints move up from 25th in rushing yards in 2013 to 13th this past season. Although he doesn’t possess outstanding strength, he is technically sound and shows a mean streak that you want to see out of an offensive lineman.
Goodwin allows the Saints to be more balanced on offense but is getting older, and his skills are starting to deteriorate.
26. David Molk, Philadelphia Eagles
Injuries to Jason Kelce put David Molk in the starting lineup in 2014, and he responded with solid play. In pass protection Molk struggled, as his foot speed and flexibility aren’t great for catching blitzers in the A-gaps. He’s best used in pass protection as a combination blocker, where his first-class strength is an asset. In seven games (four starts), Molk gave up nine hurries and two sacks, which accounts for his very low score.
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The run game is where Molk did impress. He’s powerful and has the core strength to lock onto a defender and drive him out of the rushing lane. He does a good job with consistent hand placement and getting his head through on blocks. In limited time he showed nice promise as a guard or center due to his run skills.
Molk was a spot starter in 2014 and has value as a second center or third guard, but he doesn't show consistent starter skills.
25. Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills
After excelling in pass protection in 2013, Eric Wood struggled to to find the same consistency this past season. He wasn’t able to anchor and hold his ground against bigger defensive tackles and also had problems sustaining contact with small, quicker defensive linemen.
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Wood was increasingly more effective in the running game as the season went on. While he still lacks the physicality and upper-body strength to consistently be a force on rushing plays, he was able to show good technique and hand placement, allowing him to wall off defenders to create running lanes.
Even though Wood wasn’t as effective of a pass-blocker this past season, he still possesses the skills to be a viable option as a starter for the Buffalo Bills.
24. Roberto Garza, Free Agent
Roberto Garza came into this past season on a high note after having a resurgence in 2013, but after going down with an ankle injury in Week 1, he failed to round back into form when he returned to action. Garza, who relies more on his quickness than his strength, was unable to anchor and hold his ground in passing situations. This allowed defenses to collapse the pocket and put a lot of pressure on Jay Cutler. On the bright side, Garza was able to release from his blocks, get outside and be a force in the screen-passing game.
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While Garza is an adequate run-blocker, the Chicago Bears offense was much more effective running the ball in his absence behind Brian de la Puente. He wasn’t able to get an initial push in short-yardage situations and struggled when matched up one-on-one with defenders. When he first returned from injury, he wasn’t able to move around as fluidly as we are used to seeing from him, but by the end of the season he was back to full strength.
With Garza’s age and lack of solid production this past season, the Bears opted to move on and look for a replacement. The veteran Garza offers experience and consistency for a team in need of a center.
23. Chris Spencer, Tennesee Titans
Chris Spencer took over at center for the Tennessee Titans in Week 12 after starting center Brian Schwenke went down with an injury. Spencer is a below-average athlete with limited ability moving laterally. He does possess a solid frame and is hard to move off his spot when he sinks his heels down. Playing with leverage is key for Spencer to be successful.
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A lack of range hinders Spencer to be an effective and well-rounded run-blocker. He can thrive when asked to block on interior run plays, but oftentimes he struggles when asked to slide down the line or pull to the outside. His technique and hand placement have improved over the years as his athletic ability has deteriorated.
Spencer may have outplayed Brian Schwenke while filling in for the injured starter but was still subpar. The Titans are likely to let them battle it out for reps in the preseason.
22. Stefen Wisniewski, Jacksonville Jaguars
After being a dominant and near perfect pass protector his first three seasons with the Raiders, Stefen Wisniewski took a big step back this past season. He wasn’t able to engage defenders for that extra second needed for Derek Carr to get rid of the ball and allowed them to get under his pads, pushing him back into the pocket. Wisniewski is still technically sound and shouldn’t have any problem bouncing back next season.
Run Block 35/45
In the running game, Wisniewski is at his best in space where he is able to use his athletic ability to locate and lock onto defenders. Once again, he has masterful technique and quick hands, which allow him to get into his opponents' pads and drive them back or seal them off to create running lanes up the middle. At times he will have issues holding his ground against massive defensive tackles, which can blow up running plays.
Wisniewski is a prime example of how a rookie quarterback can make good or great players look unimpressive. Now in Jacksonville, he'll look to solidify a young offensive line with another young quarterback behind him.
21. Chris Myers, Free Agent
After being ranked as the top overall center in our 2013 edition of the B/R 1000 series, Chris Myers has been on a steady decline. He used to be one of the most agile centers in the game, but due to wear and tear he has lost some of that agility. As he gets older he has to rely more and more on his intelligence and technique, where he is still solid, but there comes a time when a body doesn't react like it used to.
Run Block 42/45
While his age has diminished his skills as a pass protector, Myers still has the toughness and awareness to be successful as a run-blocker. He understands angles and positioning are key when you don’t possess the overall power to physically move defenders where you want them to go. Myers might not be as effective at playing in space as he once was, but he can still make a difference at the line of scrimmage to create running lanes.
Myers has been one of the most productive centers throughout his career, but as his time in the league comes closer to an end, the Texans will need to find a replacement for him moving forward.
20. Bryan Stork, New England Patriots
A fourth-round pick thrust into the starting lineup, Bryan Stork had a rough start to the season but ended red hot and gives the Patriots hope for the future at the center position. In pass protection, Stork has good feet and shows impressive quickness in adapting to pass-rushers. And at 6’4” and 310 pounds, he has enough bulk to shut down most bull-rushers. Improving his timing will help eliminate the nine hits he allowed and keep down his six penalties from 2014.
Run Block 30/45
An agile center with good movement skills, Stork has a veteran understanding of angles and leverage. He knows how to get the knee bend to drive nose tackles off the ball and has the lower-body power to be effective in drive-blocking situations. His run blocking really improved by season’s end as he got comfortable with combo blocks.
Stork had a tremendous rookie season after a rough start and looks to be the anchor for the Patriots offensive line, but we can’t give him a full five points just yet.
19. Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
Ryan Kalil ranks as one of the worst pass protectors on our list due to his lack of overall strength to hold up against even a mediocre defensive lineman. In past seasons, Kalil relied on his quickness and technique to keep pass-rushers out of the backfield, but this past season he took a step back in this area as well. He allowed the third-most quarterback hurries out of starting centers and gave up three sacks. Kalil would definitely be helped out by having a true pocket passer lined up behind him, but we can’t put all the blame on Cam Newton.
Run Block 42/45
What Kalil lacks in pass blocking he makes up for in the running game. Here he is able to show his athletic ability by getting to the outside to seal off the edge or by releasing upfield to overpower smaller linebackers and safeties. Kalil is much more effective moving forward or laterally off the snap than he is trying to hold his ground, but when he stays low and locks onto his defender, he is usually able to stay in control of his opponent.
Kalil is a one-dimensional offensive lineman who excels as a run-blocker but has major issues holding his own in the passing game.
18. Tim Lelito, New Orleans Saints
In an offense designed to fan out the offensive line to open up passing lanes for Drew Brees, Tim Lelito did a good job on limited snaps preventing blitzes and keeping Brees upright. In 294 snaps, Lelito didn’t allow a sack and was credited with allowing just three hits and two hurries. His lack of agility in pass protection is something to watch, though, if Lelito sees more reps.
Run Block 34/45
Lelito shows the strength to kick out defenders and is a very good combination blocker in the run game. When asked to pull he does so with good power but lacks ideal foot speed to reach linebackers. Lelito is stout enough to drive-block and push the pile.
Lelito may have been the projected starter for the Saints in 2015, but then they traded for Max Unger. A move to guard is expected, which could be a better fit for Lelito’s skill set.
17. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore Ravens
It is like night and day when you compare Jeremy Zuttah as a pass-blocker and as a run-blocker. In the passing game he at times will appear lost and isn’t able to locate defenders. He struggles when matched up one-on-one with bigger defensive linemen because of a lack of upper-body strength. Zuttah tied with Scott Wells (St. Louis Rams) for the most quarterback hurries out of all the centers in the league.
Run Block 41/45
Zuttah is an active and physical run-blocker who consistently plays with great leverage and technique. He shows quick feet and doesn’t waste steps when moving laterally down the line or when he releases off a combination block getting downfield to the second level. Zuttah isn’t going to consistently overpower defenders, which is his one downfall as a run-blocker.
Zuttah is an exceptional blocker in the running game and should improve as a pass protector after having a year of experience playing in the Ravens system.
16. Evan Dietrich-Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evan Dietrich-Smith went from blocking for one of the best quarterbacks in the league with the Green Bay Packers to one of the worst quarterbacks in the league as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This change showed us that Dietrich-Smith was helped out a lot by Aaron Rodgers' ability to get rid of the ball with his lightning-quick release. He allows defenders to get into his body and overpower him on passing downs. He gets pushed into the quarterback, which breaks down the pocket.
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Powerful at the point of attack, Dietrich-Smith is able to get good push at the line of scrimmage. He uses his body well and can angle off defenders to create space for the Buccaneers running backs. Where he struggles is in open space. Dietrich-Smith is slow off the snap and doesn't pull to the outside as quickly as you would like to see from a player his size. When he is able to get out in front of the play, he has issues locking onto his target and sustaining his blocks.
Dietrich-Smith is an example that a great quarterback can make an offensive lineman look really good in the passing game, and a bad quarterback can have the opposite effect.
15. Chris Watt, San Diego Chargers
After getting his feet wet at guard, Chris Watt proved he can be effective in pass protection. Watt uses his hands well, gets a good initial punch on defenders and uses his athleticism in blocking for the screen pass.
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Watt is more impressive in the run game than he is in the pass, and he developed quality technique while playing guard. He also shows good balance and footwork when driving defenders. Watt is most impressive with calling out the blocking scheme and will get even more comfortable with more reps at center this offseason.
Watt filled in nicely for Nick Hardwick and Rich Ohrnberger during the second half of the season. Watt will look to be the starter for the Chargers next season and prove he can be a top-end center in the NFL.
14. Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington
After playing most of his career at guard, Kory Lichtensteiger (6'2", 296 lbs) made the successful transition over to center in 2014. Lichtensteiger added some weight after the 2013 season, which allowed him to sink his hips and hold his ground better against power moves from the defense. The downside to playing heavier is that you can’t move around as quickly, so defenders were able to use their quickness to get by Lichtensteiger.
Run Block 36/45
Having the experience from playing guard helped Lichtensteiger out quite a bit in the run game. While he isn’t as quick as he was in the past, he still plays well in space and is able to pull equally well in either direction. In each of his seasons, Lichtensteiger has improved his technique and hand placement in running situations, going from a liability in the running game to one of the best run-blockers Washington has.
Lichtensteiger has the ability to play any of the interior offensive line positions, and that versatility should secure his place in the starting lineup for the upcoming year.
13. Daniel Kilgore, San Francisco 49ers
Coming into the 2014 season, Daniel Kilgore had only played sparingly for the San Francisco 49ers in his first three seasons. As this past season got underway, Kilgore was lining up as the team's starting center and played exceptionally well until his season came to an end in Week 7 after suffering a broken leg. Kilgore’s technique and footwork were much improved compared to prior seasons, as he was able to keep defenders at bay. He didn’t allow a sack in his seven games.
Run Block 36/45
Kilgore was outstanding in the run game, clearing holes for Frank Gore and rookie running back Carlos Hyde. He got his hands inside defenders' pads and played with enough leverage to drive defenders back. Whether it be inside or outside, Kilgore aggressively attacks defenders and doesn’t hesitate to initiate contact.
Kilgore surprised a lot of people with his play, and if he is able to get back to full strength, he should solidify the middle of the 49ers offensive line.
12. John Sullivan, Minnesota Vikings
Intelligent and knowledgeable, John Sullivan uses his football acumen as well as his athletic ability to hold off defenders. He shows a solid initial punch but lacks the brute strength to hold up in one-on-one situations against defenders.
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Sullivan showed this past season that even without Adrian Peterson rushing behind him he could be an effective run-blocker. His quick feet and excellent balance allow him to seal off defenders or pull to the edge and clear to the second level. Sullivan lacks top-tier strength and has to rely on playing with leverage when matched up against massive defense tackles.
Sullivan solidified his position as a high-quality starter for the Vikings and should be the leader of their offensive line for years to come.
11. A.Q. Shipley, Arizona Cardinals
A physically and mentally tough center for the Indianapolis Colts in 2014, A.Q. Shipley started out the season as their starter but was replaced after Week 4. His game film showed a player who deserved to be the starter, as he was able to keep Andrew Luck upright on a consistent basis. He shows good awareness and is able to release off a combination block to slide in front of a free rusher.
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After spending much of the 2013 season at left guard for the Baltimore Ravens, Shipley proved that he is much more comfortable manning the middle of the offensive line. At center he isn’t asked to match up one-on-one as much and can assist his teammates more with combination blocks or by chipping and getting to the second level.
Shipley was wrongly benched for the subpar play of the Colts' interior offensive line in 2014, and now in Arizona he'll look to push for the starting job on an offensive line being remade under head coach Bruce Arians.
10. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
Jason Kelce has thrived the last two season in Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s offense. Kelce has the quickness and athletic ability needed to run Kelly’s uptempo offensive scheme. His agility allows him to be a force on the outside in the screen passing game, which is a major part of what the Eagles try to do. When matched up head-to-head with a nose tackle, Kelce will struggle to hold his ground, allowing defenders to push him around.
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Once again Kelce is helped out by the game plan. He is allowed to move around and use his athletic ability to create running lanes. He also gets into defenders and initiates contact with his quick hands, then sustains his blocks until the whistle blows. Kelce is not a road-grader, and he isn’t going to overpower defenders by driving them off the line of scrimmage.
As long as the Eagles don’t plan on switching to a power run game, Kelce will be leading the way in Philadelphia for years to come.
9. Max Unger, New Orleans Saints
Max Unger missed the better part of the year with foot and ankle injuries, but when he was on the field, the Seahawks offense was much more efficient. His agility and lateral quickness allow him to patrol the middle of the offensive line and lend support where it is needed. Unger has a tendency to play on his heels and is sometimes overpowered because of it.
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Unger was a perfect fit for the Seahawks zone-blocking scheme. He has the athletic ability to pull in either direction and is able to get upfield to the second level to lock up with linebackers. In games that Unger played, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch averaged just over five yards per carry, but when Unger was out because of injury, Lynch managed just 4.4 yards per carry.
When healthy, Unger has the skill set to be in the upper echelon of centers in the league. The Saints value interior pass protection, and he offers that at a high level.
8. Brian de la Puente, Free Agent
Brian de la Puente filled in masterfully for the Chicago Bears when starting center Roberto Garza went down in Week 1 with an injury. De la Puente displayed quickness off the snap, solid footwork and a strong initial punch. While he is very active and agile, he lacks the all-around strength to hold up against a powerful interior defensive lineman. He isn’t able to hold his ground, which collapses the pocket and destroys throwing lanes.
Run Block 38/45
De la Puente is at his best when he is allowed to move around or get to the outside for a kick-out block. He has great lateral quickness and vision, which contribute to his success on the outside. Once again, he is lacking in the strength department. He isn’t powerful enough to line up and go one-on-one against a defensive tackle in a power running system and will struggle at times to stay locked onto defenders.
De la Puente performed at a starting-caliber level in 2014. Any team in need of interior offensive line depth should look to sign him.
7. Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
After being selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft, Corey Linsley proved to be one of the biggest steals of the class. He helped Aaron Rodgers stay upright and allowed him to have an MVP season. Linsley is athletic enough to make blocks inside, outside, downfield and in the screen game. While he doesn’t show superior technique, he will be able to develop that facet of his game throughout what will likely be a long and productive career.
Run Block 36/45
Linsley is a well-rounded and versatile center who is just as impressive in the running game as he is in pass protection. He is able to use his athleticism to pull in either direction with great efficiency, which undoubtedly opens up the Packers playbook. Linsley will need to work on playing with better leverage, as he is sometimes walked back by massive defensive tackles.
The Packers once again showed why they have one of the best front offices in the league by selecting Linsley in the 2014 draft. He will surely be at the helm of the Packers offensive line for years to come.
6. Will Montgomery, Chicago Bears
After coming over from Washington as a free agent before this past season, Will Montgomery was mostly known for his skills as a run-blocker. Once he took over the starting center position in Week 10, Montgomery showed he is also a solid pass protector. Obviously he was helped out by getting to block for Peyton Manning, but he still showed quickness out of his stance and is an excellent communicator across the front line.
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Montgomery was thrust into the starting rotation in an attempt to bolster the running game, which turned out to be a huge success. He uses his hands well, and when he locks on to defenders, he is able drive them off their spot to open running lanes for the Broncos running backs. Montgomery also excels at getting to the second level and taking on linebackers or defensive backs to create big gains in the running game.
Denver's offensive line seemed to jell once Montgomery took over the starting center position, allowing the Broncos to have a more balanced offense. In 2015, Montgomery will look to jell with the Bears.
5. Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns
Even playing in only five games this past season, Alex Mack (6'4", 311 lbs) ranks in the top five among centers in the NFL. He finished with just enough snaps to qualify for our list and no doubt would have ranked higher if he was healthy throughout the year. Mack has the strength, speed and intelligence to be an elite center in the league, and he has the stats to back it up. He only allowed one quarterback hurry along with no sacks or quarterback hits in his five games.
Run Block 36/45
Mack has superior balance and agility, which allows him to get to the second level with ease. That athletic ability also allows him to quickly get out of his stance and pull to the outside. If there is one knock on Mack, it is that he will rise up too high out of his stance and isn’t able to play with leverage. When this happens he doesn't get solid push at the line of scrimmage and will get pushed into the backfield.
One of the best in the league. The Browns hope Mack comes back next season at full strength and plays up to his potential.
4. Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders
Rodney Hudson had an all-around great year for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. Hudson has great balance and keeps a wide base, which allows him to sink down and hold his position even against a stiff bull rush. He is also able to keep his head on a swivel and slide to either guard position to help with a combination block.
Run Block 36/45
Hudson was much improved as a run-blocker this past season. He maintained contact and sustained blocks on a much more regular basis. Hudson lacks prototypical strength but has the lateral quickness to slide to the outside and seal off the edge. He has active hands and is able to get them inside his defender's pads to lock on.
In Hudson’s fourth season in the NFL he showed marked improvement to his all-around game and has the potential to keep growing as a blocker. The Raiders wisely opened their wallets to pay him, and quarterback Derek Carr will be very happy with Hudson in front of him.
3. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
After missing all but eight snaps in 2013, Maurkice Pouncey showed no signs of rust as he made his way back from an ACL injury. Pouncey is remarkably quick off the snap. He stays low and gets into defenders' bodies, allowing him to hold his position on passing downs. He is outstanding at reading the defense and making calls at the line of scrimmage.
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Pouncey’s return to the field was one of the major factors in Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s breakout year, which led to Bell finishing second in the NFL in rushing yards. Pouncey is able to drive his feet and sustain his blocks, which in turn leads to huge running lanes. He has the quickness to pull and meet defenders in the hole, then the strength to redirect those defenders to create an opening.
After a rough year in 2013, Pittsburgh’s offense thrived behind Pouncey and the rest of the Steelers' improved offensive line.
2. Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
The narrative surrounding Travis Frederick went from people questioning the sanity of the Dallas Cowboys selecting him in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft to praising them for taking one of the most outstanding players at his position. He showed improved footwork and balance, which allowed him to become more consistent as a pass protector. Frederick still isn’t able to match up one-on-one with elite defensive tackles on a regular basis, but he will only get better with in-game experience.
Run Block 45/45
One of the most gifted run-blockers in the league, Frederick uses his excellent technique and lateral quickness to create creases for the Cowboys backfield. The skill that allows Frederick to be extraordinary in the run game is his ability to be strong at the point of attack, whether he is moving downhill or laterally to the outside.
Frederick has the skill set and drive to be one of the best centers in the league for years to come.
1. Nick Mangold, New York Jets
Last year at this time, Nick Mangold was showing his age and looked like his career had started its downhill path. Mangold silenced those thoughts this past season by playing exceptionally well and letting everyone know that he still has gas in the tank. He is a powerful blocker who can anchor down against a stiff rush or use his lateral agility to slide over and help his guards out with a combo block.
Run Block 44/45
Mangold is one of the most well-rounded offensive linemen on this list. The 31-year-old has the ability to be a factor in the passing game as well as a force in the Jets rushing attack. While he isn’t the most agile center on this list, he is one of the few who can hold his own in a one-on-one situation against top-tier defensive tackles. He uses his experience and knowledge of angles to seal off defenders to create running lanes for his backs.
Mangold might be another year older, but he showed this past season that he can still play at an All-Pro level.