2009 NFL Draft -- Point of Attack - Centers/Guards Ranked for Denver

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With only a handful of ideal starter-quality zoneblock linemen, and with many mocks placing them at odd spots just out of Denvers reach, I found myself looking deeper and deeper at a position that is generally a lot of fun to analyze.  I was pleased to see lots of good, traditional-style zoneblock linemen throughout the middle and later in the draft, with a few more promising prospects just on the outside of the CFA cut.

With that in mind Denver should feel pretty good about going after a C/G combo at any point where the deal falls into their laps, and no sooner.  Worst case-scenario Denver misses out on the draftable prospects and gets their choice of some highly select, workaholic prospects, so this is one area where I am hoping to see Denver refrain from reaching.

As to whither C or G, these analyses ended up leaning towards C, but only because a lot of good guard prospects this year are more suited towards power schemes, and thus translate better between G/T than C/G.  A few prospects looked like good fits anywhere along the line, and they were included, and a few looked like they would make better tackles, period, and they were left off.  Of the group selected here they tend to be more athletic, good second level blockers, good at timing and placing cut blocks, technicians favored over power, and capable of or experienced at handling C duties.  The highest rated prospects for Denver also tend to have a great football mind to go with their great zoneblock fits, which raises their short-term value significnatly, on the grounds that they may be asked to step in in the case of injury, and so they will need to learn quickly and show a good grasp of their responsibilities, with the potential to prevent Hamilton from having to slide over to center in the event of injury at C.

Lets check out the rankings:

 

C--Alex Mack 

1st-2nd

Alex Mack, California:  A solid all-around center with terrific speed and balance, but who can lose leverage battles against quicker 3-techs.  He has above-average intelligence and football smarts, even for a center, and has mastered his duties on the line, in terms of getting other players in position and making the correct reads.  He has a classic competitor's mindset and plays through the whistle every time.  Tough and ornery, this is one near-elite level player who figures to be gone by the time Denver gets around to addressing the O-Line depth, but no doubt ranks highly on Denver's board.

C--Max Unger 

2nd

Max Unger, Oregon:  A tough player with a nice, workman-like attitude towards his responsibilities.  Though his speed and agility impressed at the combine, on the field he doesn't look quite that quick.  He is, however, good on short pulls and traps and can land blocks at the second level.  Very intelligent and understands his job.  If he has a serious compromise, it is in his whole-body strength, as he is severely lacking in lower-body strength, and very inconsistent about using his upper-body strength to consistently hit and reset against opponents.  It really hurts his drive-blocking ability, which makes him an early liability in the running game.  Overall he is a solid player with experience at the tackle position, but I am expecting Denver to not rank him that highly for what they are trying to do, and for a second-round pick, I think they will be looking for more than a questionable starter.

G--Duke Robinson 

2nd

Duke Robinson, Oklahoma:  Excellent size and weight, and is surprisingly agile for his size.  Not fast so much as quick, and does a great job getting off the line and into his blocks.  Excellent in short yardage and power situations, but has issues when blocking on the move.  Not the most effective pull or trap guy, and doesn't always make contact at the second level.  Does not place his cut blocks well against DBs, and can lose his own footing and balance easily.  A lot of teams will appreciate his size and presence in a drive-blocking scheme, and Denver will no doubt agree that he has a lot of upside, but for what Denver is trying to accomplish on the line, the value isn't there; from a scheme standpoint, their are major questions as to whether he could fit in at all.  Only two stars for this excellent prospect who simply doesn't fit the traditional profile on the Denver line.

C--Eric Wood 

2nd

Eric Wood, Louisville:  Smart, strong and athletic with lots of durability and and an unquestionable drive and work ethic, this player is almost perfect for Denver.  Where he falls a bit short is in the characteristic "nimbleness" required from our interior linemen.  But for as tall as he is, he has mastered keeping his pads low and rarely loses the leverage battle, and he understands opposing defenses inside and out, putting in lots of extra time to study them.  He isn't the most consistent through the hips and knees, but he is willing to do whatever it takes to stay with and finish a block.  He has an intense attitude and gives 100% every play.  Denver will definitely value Wood, but may find themselves out of the running before they even have a chance to consider him in the 2nd round.

G--Kraig Urbik 

2nd-3rd

Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin:  Powerful upper and lower body, with quickness and explosion at the snap.  Can play inside or outside, but has not played center.  Good at pass protection and on the move, but can struggle in short yardage and goal-line situations due to letting himself come up in his stance.  Needs to bend more at the knees and work on keeping his pads low, but has an excellent grasp of the game and tenacious work ethic.  Again, another case of versatility that isn't quite what Denver is looking for, but which provides extra value.

C--Jonathon Luigs 

3rd

Jonathon Luigs, Arkansas:  Less-than-desirable lower-body strength, and inconsistency in bending his knees and driving forward will drive down Luigs' stock, but there may be no better "game smart" player at the center position in 2009.  Applauded by coaches for his ability to translate coaching to on-field production, Luigs could execute even complex plays and schemes with minimal practice.  His love for the game and competition shined when he was put up against tougher or faster players, and he would fight to the whistle to stay with a block.  His explosion off the snap is excellent, and he has relied on it to compensate for his lack of brute power, but he will need to address his lower-body strength in the pros.  He is excellent when pulling and locating blocks on the second level, but needs to do a better job of maintaining his balance when blocking fast DBs, as he will overextend himself to make the block.  His highest value will be to zone-blocking teams, but any team will be able to appreciate his awareness of the defense and alignment on the field.  I am thinking Denver may grade Luigs out very highly among offensive linemen.

C--Antoine Caldwell 

3rd-4th

Antoine Caldwell, Alabama:  A leader and a motivator, Caldwell is stronger than his measurables might indicate, getting most of his power from his lower body.  Not the most effective player on the move, nor does he seem to possess other great prospects' feel for the pocket and protecting their QB, but he does handle line calls and pre-snap reads adequately.  A stronger type of center that would be suitable for a power scheme, but to the degree that Denver continues with zone-block, should lose value.

G--Tyronne Green 

4th

Tyronne Green, Auburn:  This is one of those "sweet spot" picks that Denver may have a chance to nab.  He is versatile, playing at DT, G and most recently C, which he picked up quickly.  He does a good job of studying defenses and using technique against opponents, but his strength is definitely his inherent athleticism.  Not a finished product currently, he needs a little more time to work with an offensive line and to polish his game up.  He grades out well and consistently in every category, but with some time he has the ability to grade out great.  As a high-investment backup, he has the potential to pay tremendous dividends.

C--A.Q. Shipley 

5th

A.Q. Shipley, Penn State:  a former nose guard, Shipley is tough, physical, aggressive, and likes to get dirty.  Understands his duties on the line, makes good calls and consistently gets off the line with adequate pop; he lacks a bit in the work-ethic category, and isn't a guaranteed "play to the whistle" type of player.  Doesn't have ideal measurements to play at a consistently high level at guard, so may project best as a backup center.

G--T.J. Lang 

5th-6th

T.J. Lang, Eastern Michigan:  A work in progress, Lang is a tough-minded, physical player who never lets up and who shows flashes of the kind of awareness you like to see in C depth.  He is athletic enough to pull and trap effectively, has good balance and is smart enough to learn the line calls.  A self-starter who responds well to coaching and could play a relief role at any spot on the line, he could be a good value for Denver in their search for interior depth, but may not have the upside to project to a long-term answer at C.

C--Edwin Williams 

6th

Edwin Williams, Maryland:  The overall world-class depth of this year's center class is driving down the value of good players like Williams.  Because he isn't the tremendous athlete of the top of the class, teams can expect to start bidding for his services later in the second day, and they may just get a steal.  Williams had the admiration of his teammates and coaches for his leadership both on and off the field, and he could be counted on to disrupt surprise-blitzers and to call the exotic defensive plays correctly for his team.  Adequate strength and speed, with excellent short-area quickness and a great explosion off the snap, he can be beaten by quicker defenders consistently, and struggles to maintain longer blocks on the stronger players.  Overall a solid player with limited upside but who could provide dependable depth for years.

C--Jon Cooper 

7th-FA

Jon Cooper, Oklahoma:  The traditional makeup of a zone-blocking center.  Cooper is smart, versatile, and can hold the point of attack with help from the guards.  Tenacious and never gives up on a play. He moves well and has a real gift in his short area quickness, allowing him to help both guards in the same play.  Excellent snapper out of the shotgun and has long-snapping experience, he is bound to intrigue Denver if they still are looking for this classic version of a zone-blocking center; lighter, quicker and very aggressive.

C--Brett Helms 

7th-FA

Brett Helms, LSU:  Another undersized zone-block specimen with adequate smarts and recognition, a good snapper in the shotgun and a great never-say-die attitude.  Team player who buys in completely to the line and QB, giving up his body in protection.  Of course, he wouldn't have to do that so much if he had the strength and athleticism to consistently hold the point of attack.  Intriguing prospect with a small amount of upside, rare for this late in the draft.

G--Roger Allen 

7th-FA

Roger Allen, Missouri Western:  Very smart guard, one of the few guards in this class who clearly could project to center at the next level.  He is very competitive, has played through an injured hand and shoulder and takes a lot of pride in his consistency.  The shoulder injury and questionable competition figure to drive his stock way down; but after getting cleared medically, the hope is he can climb back into the draft.  He has tremendous upside, with a very strong hand-punch; good, strong lower body with good drive and consistency in run blocking.  He also has quick feet and hands, adjusts well to defenders and finds good blocks at the second level.  An exceptional option late in the draft, he may turn out to be one of the best linemen drafted this year, and Denver is bound to take a long, hard look.

G--Matt Slauson 

7th-FA

Matt Slauson, Nebraska:  A one-and-done type of player, Slauson is in need of some good coaching, because his "one" can be positively amazing sometimes.  As a moving blocker, he adjusts and pulls well, and has the speed and agility to locate and execute blocks at the second and even third levels.  Has adequate strength, but shows flashes of a terrific hand-jolt that can hold up blitzing players on his outside shoulder, without losing leverage for his inside block.  But these flashes of elite-level talents are inconsistent, and too often he can be beaten after that first move. He seems to lack the knowledge and understanding to properly readjust and reset, so he tends to be finished after that first move.  Hopefully he can get the coaching he needs to address this, and if so, he has tremendous potential.  As a final draft pick or UFA, he could be worth a shot.

C/G--Alex Fletcher

7th-FA

Alex Fletcher, Stanford:  A smart player who has started at both center and at right guard.  He was a team captain who knows how to anchor, and how to play with leverage.  Cna hold his own versus strength and bull-rush oriented opponents and also has the lateral agility and speed to pull or trap effectively.  Has great hand technique and can turn defenders and get his hands placed well, and can place and reset to maintain the line of scrimmage.  Tough and thick like a burlwood knot in the middle of the line, he has only marginal lower body strength and struggles to get a push in short yardage and goalline situations.  Overall a solid pickup as a late rounder who could provide solid depth or be a surprising earlier pick with potential to start.

 

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