Below, NFL Draft expert Matt Richner's analyzes his top five NFL Draft 2013 center prospects.
2013 Top 5 Centers
Identifying a top level center is more art form than science. After reviewing game tape and talking with scouts and front office executives, I’ve come up with this list of the year’s top-rated centers.
1. Barrett Jones (Alabama): The list of accolades and accomplishments for Barrett Jones is pretty impressive: Jones was the 2012 Rimington Trophy (nation's top center) winner, a consensus first team All-American, the Outland Trophy winner, and a finalist for the Lombardi Award. He is an experienced player with 50 career starts (25 at RG '09-'10, 11 at LT '11, 14 at C '12), in the country’s strongest conference. In 2011, as the country’s top-rated left tackle, Jones gave up only three sacks on the year.
Notre Dame finished the season 11th in the nation in rush defense this past season, but Jones and his offensive linemates had their way with the Fighting Irish. In the national championship game, Alabama rushed for 265 yards and over 110 of those yards came on designed runs in the middle of the offensive line.
An incredibly intelligent young man, Jones has mastered the playbook and makes all the offensive line calls. He is a leader amongst his teammates and a player who executes the little details that help his teams win games. Physically, he can handle bigger, stronger bull rushers. He didn’t give up a sack against the nation’s top-rated defensive interior linemen, including Sheldon Richardson, John Jenkins, Bennie Logan and Kwame Geathers.
Jones has decent agility. He’s not going to be a lead blocker down the field, but he can get to the second level with enough quickness to ease any concerns. He plays with good balance, has a strong initial punch, understands leverage and angles and almost always seems to get the upper hand amongst top talent. Jones is a player in the mold of former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk.
2. Khaled Holmes (USC): The injury bug bit Holmes this past season, causing him to miss the game against Stanford and limiting him in several other games. A quick and explosive athlete from the center position, Holmes can quickly get upfield, making him suited for the zone-blocking scheme in the NFL.
As leader of the offensive line, he makes all the calls. Against Stanford, Holmes called a great game when he was on the field, holding the Cardinal’s top pass rushers at bay. Once he went out with an injury, the flood gates were opened, and Stanford was able to get into the backfield with ease.
Holmes understands and alertly picks up blitzes and stunts, but he’s vulnerable to power rushers when he doesn’t get low enough. He plays with a strong initial punch but won’t drive a defender off the ball. He will get his opponent sideways and out of the gap, but he’s not a mauler.
A three-year starter on the offensive line, with the last two years as the Trojans starting center, Holmes effectively handled and outplayed Utah’s Star Lotulelei and Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III.
3. Braxston Cave (Notre Dame): A leader on an experienced Notre Dame offensive line in 2012, Cave has been lauded by scouts as one of the strongest players on the Notre Dame roster. Cave brings a good mixture of book and street smarts. In the national championship game, matched up against one of the nation’s top-rated defensive tackles, Jesse Williams, Cave was able to hold his ground and not allow penetration. He showed his strength in being able to lock on and move his defender sideways.
Cave moves with an average skill set laterally but has a hard time getting out to the edge with little resistance. He doesn’t always take the best angles on his blocks, and he plays a little high, which causes him some problems with missed blocks. He will need to work on becoming more explosive after the snap, but he does a good job at locating his assignment and linebackers in the second level.
A smart football player who can manhandle opponents once he gets his paws on them, Cave is a steady football player who always came prepared. He helped in the development of Notre Dame’s young quarterbacks the past couple of seasons.
A good, sound football player who can play all three spots in the interior offensive line, with some training and development, Cave could turn out to be a quality center in the NFL.
4. Travis Frederick (Wisconsin): Frederick is yet another top-rated offensive lineman out of one of the nation’s top systems for turning out quality NFL ready talent, the University of Wisconsin at Madison. As with all other lineman who play at Wisconsin, Frederick is a technically sound player who plays the game with limited mistakes and errors.
At 6’5” and 313 lbs., he has a big frame for a center, with definite room to grow; he could top out around 325 if needed. Rarely does he give an inch to the bull rush, and he can handle himself very well in tight spaces. Always looking to help out his linemates, keeping his head on swivel, he looks to finish plays.
Frederick has a hard time getting upfield, so he can be slow at times in reacting to stunts and blitzes, and he doesn’t display the agility and explosiveness on screen games sometimes needed from a center. Frederick has the power and strength to drive defenders off the ball, so he’s ideally suited for a man-blocking scheme over a zone-based scheme.
5. Brian Schwenke (Cal): Schwenke switched from left guard to center this past season with little difficulty. He has the size (6’3”, 314 lbs.) and shorter arms (32”) that scouts routinely look for from an interior offensive lineman. His good quickness allows him to get out into space and pick up his blocks. He’s a physical player who won’t back down from anyone.
Having played all three interior positions, Schwenke has the versatility and experience that teams are looking for. A natural knee bender, he keeps his pad level low and will drive right out of the snap. Last year, even with no experience at the center position, he made all the line calls.
If Schwenke has a drawback, it’s that he struggles when having to block on the move, showing a definite weakness in his change of direction. Overall, however, he’s a good, tough player who gets the most out of his ability.
2013 NFL Draft Content Schedule: