Center is one of those positions that I believe can be filled in later rounds. Unless Maurkice Pouncey falls to the Broncos in the second round, I just don't see a need to expend a draft pick until late in the draft.
With so many other holes to fill at key positions; like linebacker, defensive end, cornerback, guard, wide receiver, nose tackle... I mean come on. Tom Nalen was a 7th rounder. Why waste a pick on a center when you can find one later? The drop-off in talent is much more significant at the other key positions the Broncos need to fill. Use the early picks on those, fill this need later.
I know many disagree and center was ranked second in the recent poll I ran asking which position was our biggest need. Need shouldn't always correlate to draft position.
Under the Broncos new offensive scheme, the offensive line must be bigger. Gone are the days of the zone blocking scheme that relied on lighter, more athletic lineman. Josh McDaniel's has brought his own master-mind and needs the correct personnel to carry it out.
In my mind, there may be only a handful of centers to choose from in this draft that will fit this mold.
Matt Tennant, C, Boston College
Tennant has the skills to be a starter in the NFL, but I have him ranked lowest here because the Broncos would likely need to spend a second round pick in order to pick him up. He will likely be gone by the time the Broncos are on the clock in the third round.
I am not really a fan of taking a center that high in the draft. Third round maybe, but with so many other holes at priority positions it would behoove me to be okay with the Broncos taking a center in the first or second rounds.
As always, I enjoy CBS Sports' analysis because of its knack for being concise and to the point.
Pass blocking: Good hand punch to get the defender off-balance and shows some nastiness in attempting to de-cleat the defender when the opportunity arises. Good lateral agility to mirror the defender. Keeps his shoulders square and plays with leverage and balance due to proper knee bend. Plays high and can get in trouble anchoring against shorter, powerful defensive tackles.
This kid is a bit undersized, but carries with him a nasty attitude. What a steal he could be in the third round. I just don't think he will last that long, being rated the second best center in the draft. A strong showing at the combine might even put him on even keel with Maurkice Pouncey.
Run blocking: Moderate and improving strength to wall-off and sustain. Can turn and control his assignment to keep him from making the play. Flashes some explosiveness in his initial pop, but needs to add more strength in his upper body to sustain blocks longer.
This was my main point of contention with Tennant. The whole point of drafting a center is to continue the shift to a power run game. His size limits his ability to be consistent in the run game McDaniels will employ.
Pulling/trapping: Efficient combo blocker. Provides a pop at the first level, but is agile enough to get to the second level and deliver an effective block there as well. Good lateral agility and initial quickness to pull. Athletic enough in this area to consider moving to guard at the next level.
He sounds like a perfect center for a zone blocking scheme. I'm not sure I like that the Broncos are moving away from their longheld staple of a run game, but times have changed.
Initial Quickness: Good initial quickness to gain an advantage on the defender. Good burst off the snap for the cut-block on quick throws.
Hmm, perhaps Tennant will be available early in the third round when Washington picks. Shanny could get himself an excellent zone blocking center. If he added weight, the Broncos and McDaniels could potentially have an excellent candidate to take over at center in Tennant.
Downfield: High-effort player who looks to block downfield and isn't afraid to block to or through the whistle. Very good foot quickness and balance to get to the second level and adjust to the moving target.
I like nastiness in linemen. It shows they enjoy putting the hurt on other people, which means they don't enjoy the hurt being put on their quarterbacks.
Intangibles: Tall, almost lanky athlete for the center position. Room for additional muscle mass. Legitimate NFL athleticism. Reliable shotgun and traditional snapper. Durable player entering his senior campaign with 41 consecutive starts. Has the athleticism and body style to consider moving to guard. A bit too lanky for some teams at center.
I know I sounded like I never wanted Tennant fromt he get go, but this last statement is one of the main reasons he made the list. If he can add another 10-15 pounds of muscle, he would become the bulkier center the Broncos are looking for. It would give him the edge he needs to become a better power run blocker.
Erik Cook, C, New Mexico
6'6", 320 lbs.
Well, I wanted a big man and so here he is. He is graded out as a late 7th rounder or CFA, either way, he would be a fine addition to the practice squad. The problem is, the Broncos may need someone who is able start much sooner.
Erik Cook will need to work on his footwork and quickness, but by all accounts he should at least be able to contribute on the depth chart. If not as a center, certainly a guard.
Pass blocking: Athletic and flexible for his size. Able to move his feet inside against quick tackles, and also to roll out with quarterback in moving pocket. Shows some nastiness and plays through the whistle when mauling inside. Good pop when trying to push his defender away from quick screen. Accurate shotgun snap, getting his head up to see and hit his man. When doubling a tackle, keeps head on a swivel to stay aware of twists and late blitzers. Gives good effort to chase down defenders making tracks toward his quarterback scrambling out of the pocket. Height can be a detriment inside, but his anchor is usually strong. Must get a bit higher on his man's leg to ensure his cut block is effective.
Perhaps he can fill in the guard position opposite of the side the plays are designed to throw too. I wonder how long opposing defenses would catch on to that. ha! Really, 6'6" is tall, but we are only talking about two or three inches here. It wouldn't take a guy like Orton long to figure out how to bypass the guys large body when throwing the ball. Sounds like a solid pass blocker though, something the interior of our line lacked this past season.
Run blocking: Quick enough to snap and get his hands on his man's jersey to turn him, take him down the line or just wall him off. Knows the angle he needs to take on the MIKE to keep him from the play. Will lunge when playing too tall out of his stance, allowing a nose-up defender to swim past him. Also gets his pads too high as a drive blocker, though he keeps his legs moving to push the pile.
Needs some work in this area, but a year on the practice squad would really help him develop into a better run blocker.
Pulling/trapping: Doesn't have the foot speed to pull consistently. Gets a hand on players coming from inside, but doesn't move quickly enough to square up against them. Gets tripped up in trash so trapping may prove difficult.
This appears to be his achilles heel. Both centers and guards do this regularly, so I am not sure how he will overcome this deficiency.
Initial Quickness: Generally gets off the snap well whether quarterback is under center or in shotgun formation. Most starting NFL tackles, however, will out-quick him initially whether lined up at the zero or one techniques. Would be better off playing guard or tackle, where he's not worried about the snap.
This says it all, but hard work and practice could help him become a better center at the pro level. All indications point towards a move to OG or OT in the NFL. Still, the experience at center will be quite valuable to a team like the Broncos from a depth standpoint.
Downfield: A bit slow to get his weight moving forward, but does manage to reach and negate linebackers, even after blocking down. Sustains by latching on and keeping his feet active, but may have trouble adjusting to quicker NFL defenders. Hustles to get 20-25 yards downfield on screen passes or reverses. Linebackers can disengage with a strong punch to the chest, as Cook takes time to get his hands up when on the move.
Cook will have to work hard to earn a job in the NFL, but I think he has what it takes to become a serviceable lineman. Take Mike Iupati in the first, turn Cook into a OG and draft the last center on this list and bingo! We got ourselves a quality offensive line for the next decade! Or so I can dream.
Intangibles: Intelligent player who makes line calls. Coaches and teammates call him a leader by words and example on the field, in the weight room and in the locker room.
His work ethic will be why he makes it in the NFL. Whether it is as a starter or a solid backup in the rotation, he will find his niche in the league. Hopefully, the Broncos can benefit from that.
Eric Olsen, C, Notre Dame
6'4", 310 lbs.
Olsen is my favorite center prospect, after Pouncey, in this draft. The son of a firefighter, who had the unfortunate call to duty in the aftermath of 9/11, had learned early on the value of hardwork and dedication.
There is much to like about this kid and though he is currently graded out in the 6th round, I expect his stock to rise before the draft. Hopefully, the Broncos can snatch him up in the fifth round.
Pass blocking: Strong anchor and good knee bend. Can mirror after initial contact against tackles. Likes to punch defenders when helping guards, knocking them to the ground at times. Keeps his man on the ground once he falls. Struggles with quickness and recovery, reaching and bending at the waist to pick up late blitzers and twists. Accurate shotgun snap with his head up facing the line. Sells run block fake on bootlegs.
Olsen is an intelligent player who will command the line early on. He obviously excels at pass blocking and shows his nasty side early and often.
Run blocking: Good drive blocker who pushes his man downfield. Keeps feet moving after first contact but will overextend and lacks flexibility to sustain against slippery quicker defenders. Also strong enough to turn his man out of the hole. Stays on first block too long at times, allowing linebackers to penetrate before he can get to them.
Needs to work on his technique in the run game, but has the smarts to adjust quickly. The more I learn about this kid the more I hope to see him don an orange and blue uniform.
Pulling/trapping: Foot speed and change of direction abilities are not elite and has a bit of extra weight in the middle, but gives good effort to get around the line when pulling or trapping in front of run plays. Best when hitting stationery targets; will miss adjusting to oncoming defenders.
I will predict he will lose some of that "baby fat" after his first training camp. Being a center will mask his lack of agility to change directions, but he will need to improve to become a great center.
Initial Quickness: Gets hands up quickly into his man's jersey after the snap, even when man-up against nose tackles. Good initial punch, but it's not enough to knock his man back.
With more teams moving to a 30 front, centers that can tie up the big man in the middle will be at a premium in the NFL. Eric Olsen fits the bill here as well.
Downfield: A bit heavy-footed moving to the linebackers, but almost always finds a target to hit. Will go after two, three or four players downfield, playing through the whistle. Effective cut blocker downfield.
The nastiness will earn him the respect of his teammates and that of his opponents. You got to love this guys stamina to go at it like he has every single play.
Intangibles: Charlie Weis called Olsen the line's "heart and soul." Durable lineman who fights through pain. Smart enough to make line calls. Plays with a nasty streak - knows his toughest opponent and goes after him all game long.
This final quote is refreshing. That about sums up everything I want in a guy playing center. We all miss Tom Nalen, perhaps its time to bring in a worthy replacement. By worthy I mean, a drafted to become the anchor of the Broncos offensive line for the next decade or longer.
Eric Olsen is that guy.