B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 35 Centers from 2015
Now that we've reached the end of the 2015 NFL season, who was the best center in the game? We're not talking about who made the Pro Bowl or even who got the All-Pro votes. Who was really, truly, the best? Forget reputation and how much money each player makes. We want the sort of cold, hard analysis that comes from watching the games and grading the players.
That's what the B/R NFL 1000 is for, and it's back for another year.
The B/R 1000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading based on key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a best possible score of 100.
Potential is not taken into consideration. Neither are career accomplishments.
Centers are judged on pass protection (45 points) and run blocking (45 points) and the overall value of the position relative to the other spots on the field (seven points). The maximum score for this position is 97.
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 a team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Luke Easterling, Cian Fahey, Duke Manyweather, Matt Miller and Marshal Miller) 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 displays an explosive and dynamic pass set. He has the agility to slide in either direction when working to a low shade and possesses good upper-body strength and explosion, which often makes him a fearless puncher in pass protection.
When he maintains pad level and weight distribution, Martin has the lower-body strength and power to sit and anchor against the bull rush. At times, though, he struggles to maintain pad level and ends up playing too high with little-to-no knee bend. This often leads to Martin exposing his chest and allowing defenders to get under his pads and gain inside hand placement to leverage and control.
Where Martin often falters is in setting far too flat and dropping his opposite leg, which creates a clear path back inside and leaves him on different levels from his guards. As a result, he's sometimes unable to cut off movement back across his face, making him late to identify rushers.
Martin shows excellent hip explosion at the point of attack in the run game. He also possesses explosive upper-body power to jolt defenders back with his initial blow and the lower-body strength and power to break stalemates.
Still, there were times in 2015 when Martin raised his pad level and lost his base. This resulted in him getting stood up and stalemated in some short-yardage situations.
As a solid athlete, Martin has good short-area quickness, body control and lateral agility but often gets overaggressive when climbing to the second level, dropping his head and missing linebackers. He plays with a nasty edge, but he sometimes lets his aggressiveness get the better of him.
34. Drew Nowak, Seattle Seahawks
The word to best describe Drew Nowak in pass protection is "steady." He doesn't wow in any particular area, but he also isn't lacking in many facets.
Nowak can snap and drive in both directions, setting back and over to quickly leverage shaded nose tackles by tightly punching, latching and leveraging with his hands. He gets in trouble at times when head-up on nose tackles, though, who are sometimes effective at countering Nowak's quick-set by throwing a swim or club rip to attack his edge, since he generally plays on his toes when he sets this way.
Nowak shows good athleticism to smoothly change directions laterally in short areas. He also possesses the foot quickness to mirror nose tackles who are moving gaps while keeping them in range within his frame, using the hand to the side he is mirroring.
Nowak always plays hard and with a good deal of physicality in the run game, but he lacks the consistency to be an adequate run-blocker, which more than likely was the main cause for his being benched last season after starting seven of the first eight games.
In fairness, Nowak was an undrafted defensive tackle out of Western Michigan and was converted to the offensive line a season ago, so the nuances of the position are still fairly new to him. He struggles to consistently use the proper footwork needed to get him in position to execute blocks—especially when needing to reach shaded nose tackles.
33. John Urschel, Baltimore Ravens
John Urschel is adequate as a pass protector, but he has limited range and athletic ability. He makes up for both with technique, leverage and positioning to hold off rushers.
As is the case with many NFL centers, Urschel shows the awareness and mental processing to point out any pressure looks he sees pre-snap and consistently works through the sort to pick up the most dangerous man of the pressure. His brand of pass protection is about using pre-snap information to make quick reads and adjustments, relying on technique to clean up after the snap.
Urschel is a steady run-blocker who plays with leverage and just enough strength to consistently get the job done. He snaps and fires off the ball low when engaging, gaining inside hand placement to jolt defenders back and control them at the point of attack. He also plays with a good initial base that allows him to leverage and get under defenders, but at times he loses his base too easily and doesn't sustain to drive through stalemates or stay on blocks.
Urschel plays with consistently solid footwork and hand placement and the proper targeting needed to reach nose tackles, although defenders who possess length and power often keep outside leverage on him. In many of these situations, the best solution for Urschel is extra help in the form of a combination block, which he is more than proficient at executing.
32. Josh LeRibeus, Washington
Josh LeRibeus is a battler in pass protection. He isn't flashy and approaches pass protection differently than many centers (relying on multiple sets to keep defenders off balance), but he usually gets the job done.
LeRibeus runs into major trouble, though, when facing nose tackles with elite power. He often simply gets overwhelmed and cannot cut them off when crossing his face, failing to get into position to anchor. He does play with a functional base and shows the foot quickness and lateral agility to mirror and stay in front of defenders, though.
LeRibeus is also active in slide protection and is able to slide in either direction with ease. He has a good feel for giving help as well, which is a key component to playing the center position.
LeRibeus plays with square power, raw strength and explosion at the point of attack in the run game. He generates good force through his insteps, which allows him to get movement at the point, although his base seems to get a bit too wide at times. When this happens, he's usually forced to re-leverage his hips to drive through stalemates, or he simply falls off the block.
LeRibeus is a decent athlete who shows some short-area quickness, especially against head-up nose tackles who are shaded on the play side. He also understands when he needs to be "heavy" on combo blocks or when to overtake and slip off to the second level. When he gets to the second level, he usually plays with the right amount of agility and aggression to target and track moving linebackers.
31. Russell Bodine, Cincinnati Bengals
In 2015, Russell Bodine showed marked improvement as a pass protector every week. With more reps, the 2014 fourth-round pick stands to develop into a terrific NFL center.
Bodine is at his best when he can quickly get his hands on nose tackles and anchor right after the snap. He displays the ability to leverage with his hands and use his lower-body strength and mobility to sink and anchor versus the bull rush, although there are times when his pad level raises and defenders either get under him with a bull rush or use quick push-pull moves to get upfield on him.
Bodine struggled against head-up nose tackles who were prone to attack his edges last season, mostly as a result of setting into the line. He's more than adequate in slide protection, though, which ultimately gives him a solid pass-protection score.
Bodine doesn't play with much square power in the run game, so he doesn't blow many nose tackles off the point of attack. However, he usually takes advantage of in-line angles to position and leverage defenders and displays the footwork and hand placement to reach nose tackles who are head-up or tightly shaded.
The North Carolina product is effective at running zone-combo blocks and shows the awareness and timing to quickly slip off those blocks to get to linebackers at the second level. Bodine wins with quickness and proper position, but again, there are times he can't sustain and gets pushed back into the point of attack.
30. Hroniss Grasu, Chicago Bears
Hroniss Grasu was inactive the first four weeks of the 2015 season before being called into starting action in Week 5 against the Chiefs. As was to be expected, there were times when the game simply appeared to be moving way too fast for him in terms of mental processing and reaction time in pass protection. As the season progressed, though, he played with more confidence and tenacity.
Grasu plays with good balance and weight distribution when delivering a well-timed punch and shows outstanding mobility, strength and leverage. In fact, his overall hand usage is well above average—especially for a rookie.
Grasu does an excellent job of using his off hand to stun and slow nose tackles who attack his snap hand or attempt to cross his face at the snap. His pre-snap reads and mental processing improved a lot last season as well, ultimately making pass protection an area of strength for the Oregon product.
Grasu is steady in the run game, but he isn't going to overwhelm anyone consistently with raw power. Instead, he uses his athleticism, initial explosion, footwork, hand placement and a few crafty tricks to get in position to fit and strain the point of attack.
Grasu fires off the ball and engages well, gaining inside hand placement to position and control defenders at the point of attack. He also maintains a functional base that allows him to re-leverage and get under defenders.
Still, there are times when Grasu's pad level raises and his base narrows; he loses leverage and is unable to sustain or drive through blocks. In those instances, he often settles for position and stalemates and at times will fall off blocks and end up on the ground.
29. Lyle Sendlein, Arizona Cardinals
Lyle Sendlein is a "setup" and "save" artist in pass protection. He battles but often struggles in one-on-one isolated situations and requires help from other uncovered offensive linemen, especially when a nose tackle can immediately work to his edge. Sendlein is at his best when he can set nose tackles at the line of scrimmage, latching and keeping his feet going to mirror and eventually turn his anchor into a drive block.
When uncovered, Sendlein does an excellent job of setting vertically to create space so that he can survey the defense and give help where needed. He's good at working either direction in slide protection as well and is usually able to secure low shades without drifting too far.
Sendlein is better in the run game than he is in pass protection, due mostly to his toughness and tenacity. He simply battles in this area of the game.
Sendlein shows a good initial surge off the ball to jolt nose tackles back, but he sometimes struggles to consistently strain and power through stalemates at the point of attack—especially when needing to reach shaded nose tackles.
Still, he's always looking to rework his hands to regain positional leverage and battles his tail off to re-leverage his hips so he can at least hold up at the point of attack without getting pushed in the backfield.
28. David Andrews, New England Patriots
2015 undrafted free agent David Andrews found a home in New England and did plenty in 2015 to earn his keep going forward.
Many of his struggles were the result of inexperience and technique that could still use some crafting. Quick-setting at the line, for instance, often causes Andrews to play on his toes and leave his edge susceptible to opposing nose tackles. He also lacks the consistent balance and body control to recover when he gets beaten in this way.
Andrews succeeds by using his foot quickness to mirror nose tackles who are moving gaps while keeping them in range within his frame. He's shown the ability to use his off hand to stun defenders who attempt to shade his snap hand and attack his edge, and he's always looking to help on the lowest-shaded defensive tackle across from him.
Andrews quickly fires off the ball low to engage in the run game, gaining inside hand placement to jolt defenders back and control them at the point of attack. He doesn't mind fighting and battling and plays with a good initial base that allows him to leverage and get under defenders at the point of attack.
Andrews has the ability to execute long back blocks on 3-technique defensive tackles, working down the line of scrimmage and using his hands to jolt and collapse defenders, but he does struggle to consistently hold the point when he has to block back and pin shaded nose tackles. Oftentimes nose tackles are able to "long-arm" him and push him into the backfield.
In general, Andrews is more effective in short-yardage situations than in climbing to the second level and tracking moving targets. As a result, he's still far from complete as a run-blocker at this point in his young career.
27. Patrick Lewis, Seattle Seahawks
Patrick Lewis battles in pass protection and shows a lot of promise for a an undrafted free agent who spent the last few years on various practice squads before finding a home with the Seahawks.
Lewis is aggressive, but in pass protection, when you live by aggressive sets, you die by them as well. The Texas A&M product has some issues against shaded nose tackles crossing his face because he often sets too aggressively into the line of scrimmage, dropping his opposite leg in doing so and leaving a shorter path to his quarterback.
Still, his aggressive nature often works in his favor. In many cases, short-setting allows him to stonewall defenders at the line of scrimmage before they're ever a threat to counter or take advantage of his missteps.
Lewis is at his best in the run game when he can explode off the ball to deliver a quick blow to jolt defenders back or when he can use his athleticism and short-area quickness to take advantage of in-line angles to reach and angle-drive defenders. His inability to maintain a functional base is a problem, though, resulting in inconsistent play in this area.
Lewis' pad level is also often inconsistent when working to his right side (his snap hand), and it leads to defenders gaining hand placement into his frame, leveraging him and pushing him back, which is dangerous in short-yardage situations. However, Lewis is solid as a combo blocker and has a good feel for when to slip off blocks to get to the second level.
26. Brian Schwenke, Tennessee Titans
Before suffering a broken leg in Week 6 against the Miami Dolphins, Brian Schwenke was far more effective and consistent in pass protection than he was in the run game.
He shows the ability to set back and over against shaded nose tackles and can quickly build his house to make a stand while maintaining inside leverage. Against head-up nose tackles, he creates enough vertical space off the line of scrimmage to allow himself room to punch and anchor. He also has the ability to leverage with his hands and shows the overall strength to anchor versus the bull rush.
Conversely, Schwenke doesn't have the best body control and balance. When his base gets too wide, he struggles to recover when he is moved off his spot, though he does have the feet to mirror defenders and is good at re-punching with the hand to the direction he is mirroring.
In 2015, Schwenke had issues sustaining blocks in the run game. In downhill situations, he quickly snaps and fires off the ball, engaging low and gaining inside hand placement. He plays with more than enough square power to knock defenders off the ball. But he also often plays with an inconsistent base, which limits his ability to hook defenders and sometimes allows them to stack his block until they can slip off to make a play.
Schwenke's best run-blocking assets are his quick feet and agility, which give him proficiency when blocking back against 3-technique defensive tackles or pinning A-gap defenders for his pulling guards. He's also a solid combo blocker who has good awareness in knowing when to overtake or slip off to block linebackers at the second level.
25. J.C. Tretter, Green Bay Packers
J.C. Tretter is explosive in his vertical sets when pass blocking, creating space off the line of scrimmage that allows him to slide and work in either direction. He shows the ability to set back and over against shaded nose tackles and can quickly build his house to make a stand while maintaining inside leverage.
There are times Tretter mistimes his punch, though—especially when his snap hand is attacked. This often results in defenders getting too far into his frame. Not many offensive linemen are strong enough to bench-press a defender out of their frame to gain the leverage needed to anchor, so using the off hand and timing punches correctly is key.
Tretter maintains a functional base with good weight distribution and shows foot quickness to mirror defenders once he latches on at the line of scrimmage. He also has good athleticism, balance and body control to recover quickly if he is moved off his spot or worked out of position. When uncovered, he's always looking for work, which isn't unusual given Green Bay's protection schemes that allow him freedom to roam.
In the run game, Tretter quickly snaps and fires off the ball, engaging low and gaining good inside hand placement. He doesn't play with much square power, but he does take advantage of in-line angles to position and leverage defenders off the point of attack.
Tretter has the footwork and hand placement to reach nose tackles who are head-up or tightly shaded, but he often lacks the powerful second and third steps needed to generate enough force to overwhelm wider shades to hook or keep them flat.
If defenders do keep him out-leveraged, Tretter shows enough power through his base to re-leverage and angle-drive blocks. On zone combos, he does a decent job of pushing and securing the line of scrimmage but lacks the awareness and timing to quickly slip off on linebackers, often staying on too long or chasing defenders after three steps on outside-zone plays.
24. Tim Barnes, St. Louis Rams
Tim Barnes went undrafted in 2011 after an outstanding college career at Missouri. He's spent time on the Rams practice squad, and when he was called up, he was a backup. But he got a chance in 2015 and turned in a solid performance in his first season as a full-time starter.
Barnes snaps and quickly sets vertically or back and over while maintaining even weight distribution and a lower center of gravity, allowing him to get to his spot and build his house. He has heavy hands and a well-timed punch, but at times he creates too much space without settling his feet, which sometimes throws off his punch timing and leaves him susceptible to the bull rush.
Barnes maintains a good base and shows the foot quickness to mirror and stay in front of defenders while also posting or sliding in either direction. He understands where he can help in slide protection and will set aggressively to add into the slide but stays firm without drifting so he can pick up any late pressure.
Barnes has the short-area quickness, footwork and hand placement needed to reach nose tackles in the run game, but at times he works his hips around too quickly and allows nose tackles to work underneath his block and impact the play. He also struggles to effectively block line movement at the snap, and often his landmarks and targets end up being short.
Barnes shows good quickness, pad level, footwork and hand placement to generate good force on back blocks, though, pinning and sealing defenders backside for vacating pulling guards. You won't see Barnes overpower a defender to break through a stalemate, but he does a decent job of maintaining positional leverage.
Where he really struggles, though, is in climbing to the second level or when he has a linebacker closing downhill on him. Barnes often lets his feet go dead and lunges forward, completely whiffing on the block and ending up on the ground. He makes up for this by being an effective combo blocker at the line of scrimmage, generating good movement at the point of attack on most joint ventures.
23. Mike Person, Atlanta Falcons
Mike Person is adept at setting back and over against shaded nose tackles and can quickly build his house to make a stand while maintaining inside leverage. He plays with a functional base and good weight distribution and shows foot quickness to mirror defenders once he punches and latches on at the line of scrimmage.
Person has good short-area quickness, overall athleticism, balance and body control in pass protection, allowing him to recover quickly if he is moved off his spot or worked out of position. He is also active in looking for work when uncovered and has no issue with taking blindside shots to help secure or clean up the pocket when needed.
Where Person gets into trouble, though, is when defenders give him too much space in one-on-one situations. He seems uncertain about when to settle his feet and as a result mistimes his punch, letting defenders into his frame.
Person thrives as a zone-blocking center and understands the necessary angles to put himself in position to have success. He has the footwork, targeting and hand placement to reach, hook and work his hips around to seal nose tackles and shows the strength and power to keep them flat down the line of scrimmage when they have him out-leveraged.
Person can lose ground to put himself back on track to work speed combos or cut off the back side by ripping and running or by cutting to get defenders on the ground. He also understands when to keep pushing, overtake or slip off to climb when working zone combos. When uncovered, Person takes good angles climbing to the second level and is able to fit and drive on linebackers with relative ease.
22. Cody Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
Cody Wallace smoothly sets off the line of scrimmage after the snap and is effective at settling his feet and building his house to make a stand in pass protection. He does a good job of maintaining inside leverage on shaded nose tackles, though he does play with inconsistent weight distribution at times. When he chooses to set aggressively, he sometimes ends up running into issues as he plays with too much weight forward.
Wallace has good overall hand usage, delivering a quick strike and latches to gain the inside hand placement needed to control defenders. His functional base allows him to maintain the strength and balance needed to sink his hips and leverage with his hands, creating the necessary leverage to anchor versus the bull rush.
Wallace does struggle versus nose tackles with a dynamic first step, active hands and quick counters, though, who are sometimes able to take away the space that he created with his set.
Wallace shines in Pittsburgh's run game. He's relentless and plays with tremendous physicality, showing explosion off the ball and the ability to consistently gain inside hand placement. He maintains a functional base with a low center of gravity, allowing him to play with square power and to drive through stalemates to bury defenders.
Wallace generates good leverage to stand up A-gap players and creates solid movement at the point of attack on "Ace" double-team blocks, stepping same-foot, same-shoulder with both guards. It's not unusual to see him slam down or push over nose tackles who are inside the shade of one of his guards as he climbs to the second level to fit on linebackers.
On down blocks, Wallace explodes off his opposite leg and works flat to the hip of the 3-technique defensive tackle, making contact with his hands and driving to widen the point. At times, though, he can get a little out of control, but he makes up for it with agility and body control—especially against moving targets.
21. Khaled Holmes, Indianapolis Colts
Khaled Holmes was off to a great start to the 2015 season before his season hit a speed bump in Week 6, when he suffered a high ankle sprain, and Week 7, when he suffered a neck injury. Holmes is an underrated pass protector, though, which he showed in 2015 when he was healthy.
The USC product maintains a low center of gravity when he quick-sets, allowing him to leverage head-up nose tackles by punching and latching with his hands. This allows his hips to naturally drop to anchor—a sturdy anchor when he's fully healthy.
Holmes shows good awareness to alert the offensive line and adjust protections when he sees the defensive wheels spinning late—an often overlooked component of being an NFL center. He does a good job of staying on the same level as his fellow linemen to pass off line games, although there are times when he lets up his anchor too early and gives up unnecessary quarterback pressures.
Holmes was equally impressive in the run game in 2015, displaying sound technique, leverage and competitiveness that manifested into tremendous physicality. To put it plainly, he is a nasty run-blocker, and he showed it last season.
Holmes maintains a functional base with a low center of gravity when run blocking, which allows him to play with good downhill square power. He also generates excellent movement at the point of attack on "Ace" double-team blocks, stepping hip-to-hip with both guards. When climbing to the second level to square up and fit on linebackers, he's often able to shove over and secure nose tackles who are inside shade of the guard.
On back blocks, Holmes explodes off his opposite leg and works flat to the hip of the 3-technique defensive tackle, making contact with his hands and driving to widen the point. Still, there were times he missed the hip, and defensive tackles wiped him and got back over the top.
20. Bryan Stork, New England Patriots
Due to complications and lingering effects of a concussion, Bryan Stork started only eight games (including the playoffs) for the Patriots in 2015. He made huge strides from year one to year two, though, and it was most evident in his pass protection.
Stork is able to snap and drive into his pass set, creating space to cover up shaded nose tackles. He can set vertical and get to his spot to build his house, and he usually delivers a well-timed, explosive punch. His overall hand usage is excellent and an area in which he has improved since his rookie season.
Stork is inconsistent when needing to keep defenders from gaining upfield ground when attacking his edge, although he does show his best recovery ability when moved off his initial spot. He's active when looking for work when he is uncovered and is effective in giving help to late pressure.
Though Stork made a lot of improvement as a pass-blocker last season, he's still more effective as a run-blocker. He has excellent square power and leverage in this area, allowing him to get consistent movement at the point of attack and the ability to sustain and strain through stalemates.
He has the footwork and hand placement needed to reach blocks and keep head-up nose tackles or shaded tackles flat down the line of scrimmage. He slowly leverages his outside hand, allowing him to work his hips around to hook and seal defenders.
Still, there are times Stork is completely out of control and his base gets too narrow, allowing defenders to work back late and impact the play. He's also inconsistent working to the second level at times and either booms on linebackers or busts on the block altogether.
19. Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos
Matt Paradis is at his best in pass protection when he can set at the line of scrimmage and punch and anchor against nose tackles who are shaded away from his snap hand. He's a bit limited in terms of his physical traits and athletic ability, though, and it shows up when he has a shaded nose tackle to his snap hand or when he's isolated against a head-up nose tackle who can work to either of his edges.
When there is no immediate threat in slide protection, Paradis is adept at staying firm and giving help, although at times he does seem to drift too far, making it difficult for him to work back versus late pressure. He does a nice job of maintaining sound depth relationship with his offensive line, which allows him to smoothly pass off line games in the middle. He also shows excellent mental processing, which comes as no surprise considering Peyton Manning was the man behind him for most of the 2015 season.
Run blocking comes a little more naturally to Paradis than does pass protection. He seems to use much better technique—paired with just enough strength and power—to get the job done.
He snaps and fires off the ball low, gaining inside hand placement to control defenders at the point of attack. He also maintains a functional base that allows him to re-leverage and get under defenders to drive and break through stalemates.
Paradis consistently displays the footwork, hand placement and targeting needed to reach nose tackles who are shaded to either side, especially moving to his snap hand. When climbing and tracking to the second level, he's able to fit-accelerate or throw well-timed cuts on linebackers. He also displays the awareness to adjust his track when he sees linebackers start to creep up to run through the A-gap.
18. Jonotthan Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
Undrafted in 2014, Jonotthan Harrison landed with the Colts and has turned out to be a solid NFL center and excellent value for Indianapolis. While he's especially talented as a run-blocker, he's more than serviceable in pass protection.
Harrison is able to snap and get into his pass set quickly, which allows him more space to work against tight shades. There were times in 2015 when he played with too much weight forward when attempting to set aggressively, though, which left him susceptible to push-pull moves and swim moves.
Harrison's violent punch is sometimes enough to neutralize those defenders. His heavy, violent hands are among the best of all NFL centers. The combination of his upper-body explosion and tight hand carriage jolts defenders back, stopping their charge in most instances.
He consistently plays with a functional base, never bringing his feet too close together. This allows him the flexibility to mirror and change direction as needed. It also allows him to recover if he's moved off his spot. When uncovered, he does a good job of helping his guards, identifying and pointing out blitzers and line stunts.
Many of the skills that make Harrison a solid pass protector also make him a tremendous run-blocker. Tack on his athletic ability and quick, efficient feet, and it's easy to see why he was one of the more impressive run-blocking centers in the league in 2015.
Harrison takes good angles when releasing and climbing to the next level to block linebackers and shows the ability to dip his hips, shoot his hands and latch onto linebackers. There are times, though, when he is engaged on the line of scrimmage or in space and can't maintain blocks because of poor balance or because he lets his feet go dead after contact.
Harrison shows the ability to re-leverage his hips to drive through stalemates and can excel in the zone-blocking scheme because of his sound footwork and technique. As a result of both, he's terrific at combo blocking with his guards while keeping his shoulders square to come off on linebackers at the second level.
He plays with physicality and competes on every play. You can see excitement and emotion when he plays the game as he looks to finish off blocks and pick up blocks downfield, which is all attitude and something that can't be coached.
17. Ben Jones, Houston Texans
Houston's Ben Jones is steady in pass protection. He understands what he is good at and puts himself in position to use those things to his advantage. In doing so, he limits his weaknesses and has proved to be a key component of the Texans' pass protection unit.
Jones is at his best when he can set firm and get his hands on opposing defensive tackles right after the snap. He keeps his movement efficient and also shows good patience, strike-zone recognition and punch timing to deliver an on-target strike. He has some issues when creating space against tightly shaded nose tackles, though, especially when they can attack the edge of his snap hand.
The Georgia product is active in giving help yet maintains control to work back and pick up late pressure crossing his face. He uses his width and base to stay in front of defenders when mirroring while utilizing his off hand to feel for defenders within his frame who are moving gaps.
In the run game, Jones plays with more square power and raw strength than explosion at the point of attack. Still, he generates good force through his insteps, which allows him to strain and drive through to break stalemates against nose tackles.
Jones has the footwork and hand placement needed to reach blocks and keep head-up nose tackles and shaded tackles flat down the line of scrimmage. He often drives tackles to the turf in these situations and has the short-area quickness to get to in-line landmarks to cut off head-up or far-shaded nose tackles.
Jones also shows he can dig out defenders who are inside shade on his guards. He understands when he needs to be "heavy" on combo blocks and when he can overtake or slip off to the second level.
16. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore Ravens
Eight-year veteran Jeremy Zuttah had a solid 2015 season for the Ravens—especially in pass protection—until being placed on injured reserve with a partially torn pectoral muscle in November. His versatility (after having played multiple interior line positions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to 2014) has made him a talented full-time center.
Zuttah has a smooth pass set with which he works vertically to create space between himself and opposing defenders. He's most effective, though, when he's able to get his hands on defenders right after the snap. He can slide with depth in either direction while maintaining inside leverage and is adept at using independent hands to keep defenders off balance, especially when they attack his snap hand.
When Zuttah gets beaten, it's usually because he gave too much ground and allowed defenders to build momentum before bull-rushing him and throwing a quick move to his edge.
Zuttah is steady in the run game but will not consistently overwhelm anyone with power. Instead, he uses his athleticism, initial explosion, footwork and hand placement to consistently get in position to fit and strain the point of attack.
The Rutgers product fires off the ball and engages quickly, gaining inside hand placement to position and control defenders at the point of attack. He generally maintains a functional base that allows him to re-leverage and get under defenders. He also does a good job of reworking his hands and accelerating his feet when he feels a defender is off balance.
Zuttah is effective at working zone combos and will stay on heavy to secure the block, pushing the point. He knows when to overtake, though, and also understands when to climb and square back up to fit and accelerate on linebackers at the second level. In doing the latter, he sometimes raises his pad level, which narrows his base, causing him to lose leverage and end up on the ground.
15. Stefen Wisniewski, Jacksonville Jaguars
Stefen Wisniewski is a talented pass-blocker, especially when he plays with patience. He can slide and create space in either direction and maintains the leverage needed to punch and anchor with authority.
Wisniewski maintains good weight distribution when snapping the ball, which affords him lower-body mobility and balance in pass protection. He is then able to latch and create leverage with his hands to anchor against head-up nose tackles. At times, though, he gets out over his toes and makes himself susceptible to push-pull and quick swim moves.
As with many centers, he really struggles when nose tackles tilt in order to attack his snap hand and mix quickness with power to get upfield off his edge. But in general, he shows good foot quickness and mental processing to identify pressure and mirror tackles moving across his face.
In the run game, Wisniewski plays with excellent square power and leverage through his base, allowing him to get movement at the point of attack right at the snap of the ball. His powerful base and overall strength allow him to sustain and strain, powering through most stalemates.
Wisniewski struggles at times with dropping his head and allowing 3-technique defensive tackles to cross in front of him, though. In many of these cases, the result was the defensive tackle disrupting a pulling guard.
He does an excellent job if generating vertical push on "Ace" block double-teams and stays on the block heavy most of the time. When he decides to get to the second level, Wisniewski is effective in space and has shown the ability to throw strong cut blocks to chop down fast-flowing linebackers.
14. Matt Slauson, Chicago Bears
Whether playing left guard or center, Matt Slauson wastes little movement in pass protection. He efficiently sets with depth in either direction to maintain inside leverage against shaded nose tackles, though he may be at his best when setting firm and throwing hands at the line of scrimmage against head-up nose tackles who play tight and with power.
Slauson has a solid functional base with his insteps firmly dug into the ground, allowing him to slide in either direction or to quickly brace, dig in and anchor. He also shows excellent weight distribution and body control in pass protection, allowing him to waste little movement if he needs to recover.
He has patience and terrific timing when delivering a blow with his hands. His awareness and mental processing in adjusting protections are also terrific.
Slauson snaps and engages quickly out of his stance, gaining hand placement to effectively leverage defenders with hip explosion in the run game. He generates tremendous square power through his base to consistently move the point of attack.
The seven-year veteran does a good job of loading his hands and delivering a powerful strike on combo blocks and double-teams, resulting in collapsing the point of attack and leaving him free to square up and fit on linebackers at the second level.
Slauson's experience at guard makes him an excellent puller as well. He uses his hips well and takes advantage of body positioning to get between defenders and the ball-carrier.
13. Nick Mangold, New York Jets
Nick Mangold is at his best when pass-protecting in a phone booth and can keep everything tight and in front of him to punch defenders and end the fight immediately. Creating space after the snap just isn't his game. But as a seven-time Pro Bowler, it clearly works for him.
Mangold isn't as fluid as other centers who are able to smoothly set back and over immediately, but he always gets himself in proper position to cover up defenders without wasting much movement. There were times last season when he attempted to go back and over directly out of his stance but never seemed to reach a landmark in which he could make a stand. In doing so, he often looked off balance and was beaten with a quick swim a few times in similar situations.
The 10-year vet isn't the best at recovering when he is moved off his spot, but he does have the feet to mirror defenders and is good with re-punching with the hand to the direction he is mirroring. He can also come back into balance and rework his hands to regain position fairly effectively.
Mangold is an effective run-blocker, thanks in large part to his being an efficient technician. He wastes little movement, firing out of his stance with low pad level. He's almost always able to gain inside hand placement, allowing him to create leverage to lift and jolt back nose tackles.
Mangold does a nice job of getting initial movement to fit on defenders but also possesses the strength through his base to play with enough square power to drive through stalemates. He also has the quick and efficient feet to leverage and control nose tackles working in both directions.
On vertical double-teams or combo blocks, he is able to square up and create force with his shoulder, staying heavy through the half of the defender he combos on, which generates decent leverage and vertical push at the point. He also knows when to slip off and fit on linebackers at the second level.
12. Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
Corey Linsley snaps and explodes into his set, creating space to work vertically or right and left off the line of scrimmage. He almost always gets inside leverage of shaded nose tackles and is usually able to quick-set and anchor against head-up nose tackles.
Linsley plays with stout strength, and his base allows him to keep the even weight distribution, balance and body control needed to recover and regain position when moved off his spot. He's also active in looking for work when uncovered and even shows the range to "pop out" and give help to the edge of the line.
The 2014 fifth-rounder displays excellent awareness to work along the line of scrimmage and the lateral foot quickness needed to mirror and shadow the movement of the most dangerous man in pressures, although there were various points of the season where he struggled with his overall mobility, agility and range due to a very bad high ankle sprain.
Linsley was asked to do a lot of things as a run-blocker last season, and because he plays with sound technique and footwork, he found steady success in the center of Green Bay's line.
The Ohio State product plays with square power and leverage through his base, allowing him to consistently get movement at the point of attack and also sustain and strain through stalemates when he re-leverages his hips. His hand placement and footwork are also above average for a player his age (24).
Linsley can dig out nose tackles shading inside the play-side guard on quick combo blocks. He has good quickness, pad level, footwork and hand placement to generate force on back blocks, pinning and sealing defenders backside for vacating pulling guards. He also understands the fundamentals of combo blocks and double-teams, usually knowing when to overtake, slip off or move on linebackers at the second level.
11. Max Unger, New Orleans Saints
Max Unger is one of the rangier centers in the NFL. He seems to cover and make up a lot of ground effortlessly—especially in pass protection.
Unger is well-versed in several sets. When he quick-sets, he's usually able to latch his hands on nose tackles who are head-up or tightly shaded. With no shaded nose tackle or immediate threat shading either guard, Unger snaps and explodes into his set, creating vertical space off the line of scrimmage, and settles his feet waiting for anything to come at him.
He also shows he can set back and over to maintain leverage and help his guards secure inside-shaded tackles or into slide protection. He possesses good mobility and overall play strength, allowing him to punch and create leverage with his hands to sink his hips.
The former Seattle Seahawk shows outstanding body control, reworking his hands to regain position if defenders happen to out-leverage him. When uncovered, Unger is active in looking for work in both directions and displays the foot quickness and agility to mirror and stay in front of defenders while using independent hands to keep them off balance and from attacking his edge.
Unger is quick to uncoil out of his stance after snapping the ball in the run game and is able to gain solid hand placement to leverage defenders with his hip explosion. He shows he can play with square power generated through his base to move the point of attack or work in-line angles effectively.
Whether head-up or shaded, Unger works nose tackles with solid footwork and hand placement to hook and seal. He knows when he needs to re-leverage and keep defenders flat when they have him out-leveraged.
On "Ace" double-teams, Unger does a good job of driving his opposite leg to step hip-to-hip. At the point of attack, he loads his hands to deliver a powerful strike and collapse the point, allowing his combo mate to leverage.
Still, he struggles to engage linebackers who are flowing downhill, often missing with his hands and getting side-stepped. He's not terrific in space but usually manages to get the job done against moving targets with a well-timed cut block.
10. Joe Berger, Minnesota Vikings
Joe Berger was at his absolute best in pass protection last season when he could quickly get his hands on nose tackles and anchor right after the snap of the ball. He does show the ability to snap and slide working in either direction and always maintains good weight distribution and inside leverage when he settles to his spot.
Berger has the body control, balance and hand usage needed to regain position and recover and shows the foot quickness to mirror defenders and keep everything in front of him. Where he sometimes struggles, though, is in allowing his pad level to rise, giving defenders an opportunity to get under him with the bull rush.
Berger isn't the most technical, strongest or explosive run-blocking center in the league, but he plays with undeniable effort, toughness and physicality and fights on every single play.
He fires off the ball and engages with inside hand placement. If he doesn't knock the defender off the ball on initial contact, he is usually able to immediately rework his hands and re-leverage his hips to break through the stalemate. The 11-year vet still has the short-area quickness, footwork and hand placement needed to reach nose tackles, but at times he gives up a little too much ground and gets pushed into the backfield.
Berger can quickly pin and hold the point when blocking back on tight-shaded nose tackles. He doesn't always help to create significant vertical movement on "Ace" block double-teams but shows he can wheel his hips and collapse the point once he is engaged.
9. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
Jason Kelce plays with tremendous explosion in his pass set, driving himself into proper position to make a stand in pass protection. He has the fluidity in his hips and efficiency with his feet to slide and work in either direction and is adept at setting back and over, as well.
When defenders gain inside hand placement and start to bull Kelce back, he has the ability to recover by disengaging his hands and reworking to establish hand placement. This allows him to re-leverage his hips while maintaining even weight distribution and balance to sink and fight force with force to regain positional leverage.
There are times, though, when Kelce gets overwhelmed with defenders who possess elite power and explosion and can attack his snap hand, making it difficult for him to make a stand to anchor.
Whatever Kelce lacks in pass protection, he more than makes up for in the run game. He possesses rare mobility, agility and explosiveness at the center position and displays tremendous toughness each play. He's a crafty lineman who uses what he has and has adapted his skill set to match his physical tools.
Kelce maintains an outstanding base in the run game, and his feet and legs never stop driving once he engages, allowing him to break any stalemates. He makes reaching and cutting off defenders look easy with smooth footwork, hips and hand usage. When playing against head-up nose tackles, Kelce uses a well-timed violent backside hand that seems to catch defenders off-guard and allows him to gain leverage to take away the defender’s ability to two-gap.
He is also absolutely filthy in space, showing the body control and agility to pull and execute blocks against moving targets, whether it's running through a second-level defender who is stationary or throwing a well-timed cut block on a moving target.
8. Mike Pouncey, Miami Dolphins
Mike Pouncey plays with tremendous explosiveness, functional strength, mobility, body control and balance, displaying him the perfect combination of traits to protect the middle of the Miami offensive line. Few centers in the league are as skilled at protecting the quarterback.
Pouncey is at his best when he can explode into his set, gaining vertical depth and keeping leverage toward the direction in which he may have an immediate threat. He also shows the fluidity to snap and drive in both directions, setting back and over to quickly leverage shaded nose tackles by tightly punching, latching and leveraging with his hands.
The Florida product also does an excellent job of using his off hand to give himself time to get his snap hand up and shows the foot quickness to mirror nose tackles who are moving gaps while keeping them in range with his off hand. He also shows the awareness and mental processing needed to identify and work through reads pre-snap.
Just like in pass protection, Pouncey plays with explosiveness in the run game. His functional strength, mobility, body control and balance make up the perfect combination of traits to give him success at getting movement at the line of scrimmage. That said, he rarely overpowers or physically dominates at the point of attack.
Part of the reason for this is that he excels at getting lateral movement. He also does an excellent job of staying heavy and widening his base when combo blocking while still able to shove over and secure defenders shaded to his outside, so his guards can gain position.
Pouncey is outstanding when he is asked to pull, showing good agility and body control when getting out on the perimeter in either direction. He shows he can track and execute exceptionally against moving targets.
Despite his technical prowess, he doesn't grade out higher in run blocking because he's limited to finesse techniques and struggles to overpower at the line of scrimmage.
7. Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
Despite question marks along the Carolina Panthers offensive line in recent years, the center position hasn't been an issue. Ryan Kalil has been exceptional, as he was in 2015.
He is smooth in his sets, creating space to work vertically or right and left along the line of scrimmage. He shows the ability to always get half-man leverage against anyone he is working against, and his base allows him to keep the even weight distribution, balance and body control needed to recover and regain position when moved off his spot.
Kalil is always active in looking for work when uncovered but at times does drift a little too much, making it difficult for him to work back against any late pressure.
Kalil is well-rounded as a run-blocker, possessing the sound technique and brute strength to execute blocks necessary for any scheme. He plays with square power and leverage through his base, allowing him to consistently get movement at the point of attack and sustain and strain to power through stalemates.
He has the footwork and hand placement needed to reach and keep head-up and shaded nose tackles flat down the line of scrimmage, slowly working to hook them and cut off the backside. He also shows he can dig out nose tackles who are inside shade of the play-side guard.
Still, there are times when Kalil buries his head and defenders work back late across his face to impact the play.
6. Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns
Alex Mack spent much of the 2015 season rediscovering his form after a season-ending injury in 2014. A broken fibula is difficult to bounce back from at any position, let alone one that puts so much emphasis on lower-body strength and leverage.
As the season went on, he showed good body control, balance and mobility to recover when moved off his spot, which wasn't always the case in the first half of the season. His mobility, agility and suddenness initially appeared to be off.
But once he found his form, Mack began looking like his old Pro Bowl self. He explodes into his pass set and shows he can work to create space vertically if he has a head-up nose tackle or no immediate threat in front of him. His hand usage is also very good, and he does a good job of using his off hand to slow nose tackles who attack his snap hand.
Mack's awareness is also exceptional. He communicates well to point out pressure and adjust protections pre-snap.
Mack shows dynamic hip explosion out of his stance in the run game, allowing him to quickly uncoil and engage defenders. He wins in the run game with efficient footwork, leverage, strong hand placement and outstanding mobility. In the first half of the season, there were some key aspects of Mack's run-blocking tool box that were unavailable to him due to the limited mobility. The remnants of the injury were evident because he had some issues getting his second step in the ground and generating force through his insteps.
As was the case with pass protection, this became less of an issue as the season went on and Mack returned to his previous form.
On "Ace" block double-teams, Mack does a nice job of forcefully stepping hip-to-hip with his guards. He knows exactly when to overtake or slip off to block linebackers, and on outside-zone runs he does a great job of working speed combo blocks, staying on track to collide and overtaking anything coming back at him.
5. Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders
Rodney Hudson plays with an extensive tool box in all aspects of his game. He's consistent in his set, works well in slide protection, is always actively looking for work when uncovered and utilizes good technique to fill in all the gaps.
He seemed to be at his best when he could quickly short-set and get his hands on defenders immediately to stonewall them at the line of scrimmage. He's adept at re-leveraging his hips and hands to gain inside control, using his overall strength to anchor. His hand usage is a true testament of a pro working on his craft and developing the skills to place him among the best centers in the league.
There were times last season, though, when Hudson had issues cutting off looping defensive ends who would wrap late. He also consistently struggles with keeping engaged defenders from batting down passes at the line of scrimmage.
Hudson snaps and fires low off the ball in the run game, gaining inside hand placement and showing the hip explosion and power to lift and generate leverage to move nose tackles off the point of attack.
He also shows the footwork and hand placement to reach and keep defenders flat down the line of scrimmage, but his strength isn't in hooking and sealing guys laterally. Instead, he plays with good square power, generating force from the ground and up through his base, which allows him to sustain and strain blocks at the point of attack.
When runs go away from him, he's often able to dig the defender out of the point by forcefully running through his play-side shoulder. Hudson generates outstanding force on "Ace" double-team blocks, lifting defenders by stepping same-foot, same-shoulder or posting down to get tremendous vertical movement.
4. Mitch Morse, Kansas City Chiefs
Mitch Morse made the switch from a college offensive tackle at Missouri to a center in the NFL, but it was a smooth and seamless transition, which is evident by how good he is in pass protection.
Morse quickly explodes into his pass set and is able to drive, setting back and over in both directions. He shows he can settle his feet while maintaining a low center of gravity, which allows him to quickly leverage shaded nose tackles by tightly punching, latching and leveraging with his hands.
When defenders get into his frame, he does a nice job of constantly fighting to regain hand placement and maintaining weight distribution. He also plays with great balance to recover if he loses position.
When uncovered, Morse is active at looking for work and does a great job of picking his spots to give help.
As good as Morse is in pass protection—due in part to being a converted tackle—he is even better as a run-blocker, which is surprising. He explodes off the ball and uses his hips well, allowing him to control defenders to get movement at the point of attack.
Morse plays with excellent functional strength and maintains a solid base with a low center of gravity. He generates good movement at the point of attack on "Ace" double-team blocks as well, stepping same-foot, same-shoulder with both guards. When climbing to the second level, he's often able to slam down, shove over and secure nose tackles who are inside shade of the guard.
3. Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills
Eric Wood is a steady performer in all facets of pass protection. He's especially talented at identifying protection demands and the best way to set as dictated by the man lining up across from him.
If he is playing against a shaded nose tackle who is trying to attack his edge, he shows he can set back and over, creating space off the line of scrimmage. In doing so, he expands his set point while maintaining the half-man leverage needed to cover up the shade and build his house to make a stand.
When Wood gets a head-up nose tackle across from him, he's generally able to quickly set vertically, settle his feet and punch to leverage with his hands. He also shows the overall strength to sit and anchor through insteps versus the bull rush. If there's a defensive tackle inside shade of either guard, Wood is able to slide to either side to gain position and mirror, cutting off defenders who attempt to get back across his face.
In slide protection, he is very good at giving a hand to the back side while keeping his eyes and outside shoulder toward the slide. When uncovered, he actively looks for work and is excellent at securing low shades who may have peaked through protection.
In the run game, Wood displays solid technique and fundamentals and plays with enough explosive power and strength to be effective in this area as well.
He has terrific footwork and good hand placement to leverage with his upfield hand to reach and quickly flip his hips to hook nose tackles. When he has a head-up nose tackle or one shaded away from run, his go-to move to cut off flow is to rip and run, forcing movement back upfield to eventually seal.
In short-yardage situations, Wood always seems to surge forward to create a bubble for runners. He has difficulties at times adjusting his track when linebackers move downhill right at the snap, though, but that's generally a tough block for anyone to make.
2. Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
Travis Frederick is one of the best centers in the NFL. In 2014, he was named to the All-Pro team and selected to his first Pro Bowl. In 2015—his third year—there was no drop-off in his performance, as he anchored a Dallas offensive line that is considered to be one of the best in football.
Frederick shows the ability to drive off either foot and in either direction in pass protection, efficiently setting back and over to create space. He's good at using his non-snapping hand to quickly strike and stun head-up defenders at the snap and shows the overall strength to create leverage with his hands and the mobility to anchor in one-on-one situations.
When moved off his spot, Frederick is quickly able to recover, using body control and balance to regain position. It's all a direct result of his maintaining good weight distribution and a low center of gravity. He also shows the awareness and mental processing needed to check protections against the blitz and identify and communicate with guards to pick up line twists.
Frederick consistently executes all the blocks that are crucial for a center in the run game. Regardless of scheme, he simply explodes out of his stance with tremendous footwork and targeting to hold the point of attack.
A great example of his skill and technique is in back-blocking against defenders who are shaded over vacating pulling guards. This block is difficult and technical, especially for a young lineman with little NFL experience.
Frederick consistently shows the footwork, targeting and hand placement needed to reach and hook, cut off and seal or keep nose tackles flat down the line of scrimmage. He's also excellent working combo blocks and creating push at the point of attack. When slipping off, he takes good angles tracking to the second level and always seems to find a way to gain control and fit on moving linebackers.
1. Weston Richburg, New York Giants
After having ups and downs as a rookie at guard in 2014, Weston Richburg moved to center and quickly cemented himself as the best player on the Giants offensive line—and subsequently the best center in the league last season.
Richburg is quick in his sets to create space to work off the line of scrimmage. He plays with an outstanding pass-protection demeanor, always able to maintain a low center of gravity, good weight distribution and a functional base. He also plays with exceptional functional strength and mobility to anchor in one-on-one situations against the NFL's best nose tackles.
Richburg wastes little movement. He has the awareness and mental processing needed to check protections against pressures. He's always looking for work when uncovered and actively looks to give help.
There really isn't a hole in the Colorado State product's pass-protection game, and he might be even better as a run-blocker.
Richburg explodes off the ball with bad intentions in the run game. He has exceptional strength, balance and leverage to consistently play with square power at the point of attack, getting movement off the line of scrimmage.
Richburg, being the true technician that he is, has the footwork, targeting and brute strength to execute with ease, even on the most difficult blocks centers are asked to make: the back-block and “pin” down-block.
In one-on-one situations, he displays the hip explosion, strength and power to hit, lift and drive defenders off the ball and also has the mobility to dip his hips to re-leverage to break stalemates. He works well with his guards on “Ace” double-team blocks and zone combos to get push, and once Richburg slips off and climbs to the second level, it's almost unfair what he does to linebackers.