The Changing of a Guard


The debate on Dan Koppen has ended. The story on Manny Ramirez has been written. It's time for the "next man up", my peeps. We move forward and we march on. My Denver Broncos (that's right... still my team. Although you do have visitation rights: Every other Saturday and also for the month of March) have decided to transition a career-backup at guard... into a starter at center. Immediately. And it scares the shit out of some of you.

So, is such a transition popular and stylish, or is it ugly and unnatural? That's what we're here to find out: How rare is it to see a guard transform into a center? And where do starting centers come from? CH74 started a very nice discussion on the FanPost I linked above. That's where we go to talk about whether Manny is mighty, or whether Manny is many things... but a center ain't one (anybody else hearing Jay Z when I read that?).

This discussion here is in generalities. You're not going to read this post and come away with an apples to apples comparison that tells you whether or not Manny will work out. But you should come away with a better understanding of whether it's an outlandish proposition to transform a guard into a center.

We're taking baby steps here. This is merely meant to limit the head-scratching of the position change so that we can then focus on Manny the man, instead of Manny the guard. And with that, here are the 16 projected starters at center in the AFC. Oh, as a quick note: If you're not uber interested in the details you can make it zoom along a bit quicker by only reading the 2nd bullet item on each team/center where I pass judgment on them...

AFC East.

New England Patriots. Center Ryan Wendell.

  • Ryan played primarily at guard for Fresno State, but also started 4 games at center. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Patriots in 2008. He spent his first three seasons as a backup guard (also played center on two occasions) - playing in 31 games and starting 5 of them. In 2012, this undrafted guard, and career-nobody, overtook Dan Koppen for the starting center job for what would become the top scoring offense in the land. As we know, center Dan Koppen was released and became a backup for the Broncos, until injury slid him into the starting role. And the rest has been written.
  • Transformer. This little piggy was a guard until he became a center in the NFL, after years of riding the bench and doing nothing.

Miami Dolphins. Center Mike Pouncey.

  • Taken with the 15th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Mike Pouncey didn't play center at Florida until his Senior season, when he slid over from right guard to fill the hole left by his brother's (Maurkice) departure to the NFL. "Though conversion didn't come without problems. Mike Pouncey struggled with inaccurate snaps the first few games of the season and ultimately might not be able to match his brother's lofty draft status." Hmmm. Get what I'm driving at there with the "Hmmm"? Need a hint? Get off Manny's lawn!
  • Purist. First-round pick. Homie was a guard until his Senior Season in college, but I'm going to call him a center because he's never gone back and he never will.

New York Jets. Center Nick Mangold.

  • Mangold is a center, pretty much always and forever. He was the starting center at Ohio State for three years. He entered the league via the 29th pick in the 2006 draft and never changed his stripes.
  • Purist. First-round pick. Center all the way.

Buffalo Bills. Center Colin Brown

  • Brown saw "action in 13 games as a reserve left guard and on special teams in 2006" prior to locking down the starting right tackle position for his Junior and Senior seasons. He was primarily a tackle, though also a guard, but did see "action in two games as the backup center" way back in his freshman season. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2009 draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was released and picked up by the Baltimore Ravens. He was released and picked up by the Buffalo Bills. He saw no live action from 2009-2010, and has since seen action in 12 games (2 starts) from 2011-2012. Most of his game time has come in the form of special teams. Saw limited action at both guard and at center. This career nobody is now slated as the starting center for the Bills.
  • Transformer. This guy was a tackle and also a guard. Three NFL teams later, the career backup is penciled in as a starting center. Wait, what the?

AFC South.

Houston Texans. Center Chris Myers.

  • Myers started at right guard for the University of Miami during his Sophomore and Junior seasons. He started at right tackle for them as a Senior. He was primarily a guard, though he also played tackle, but he did see 3 games worth of action at center. He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2005 draft by my very own Denver Broncos. He was drafted as a guard. He got his first start in 2007 where he began the season at left guard for five games. Injury to Tom Nalen forced him to become the starting center for the rest of the season - with Chris Kuper coming in to take over the left guard responsibilities. The Texans liked what they saw and needed a center. They went after Myers; We retained Nalen. Tom never started another game, but Myers has gone on to make two Pro Bowl trips for those filthy savages.
  • Transformer. Benedict Arnold here was a guard and also a tackle. He became a starting center due to injury a couple years after joining the league.

Indianapolis Colts. Center Samson Satele.

  • Dude played for Hawaii at a hodge podge of positions, much like the other guys. Unlike most of the other guys, he actually had a meaningful number of snaps at the position. During his four years, he started 53 games, 12 of which were spent snapping the ball. He was taken in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft by the Miami Dolphins. He's a center. He does not fit the mold of a player that changes positions after having minimal to zero experience as a center. He must smell bad, though, because he's bounced from Miami to Oak Town to Indy in his six years in the league.
  • Purist. But it's a tough call. This ugly ex-Raider only had 12 games of center experience in college, but he was drafted to be a center in the 2nd round. He's a center through and through.

Tennessee Titans. Center Fernando Velasco.

  • Velasco started 13 games at center for Georgia and the rest of his starts were at right guard. He went undrafted to the Titans in 2008 and had 3 starts in his first four years (2008-2011) combined. Those starts were at guard. He finally grabbed a starting role during training camp of the 2012 season, his 5th year in the league. He started 3 games at guard and 13 at center. He's penciled in to start at center once again. Oddly enough, he was moved to guard for three games last year because another Titan was reportedly a good center but a bad guard. Hmmm. I guess it really is easier to play center than guard for some people.
  • Purist. This hombre had 13 games at center in college, but he played as a backup guard for his first 4 years in the league. Now all the sudden he's a starting center. Make your own determinations, but I'm going with purist mostly because his college career was short, and also because he may have been snapping the ball in practices in the Pros as a utility backup.

Jacksonville Jaguars. Center Brad Meester.

  • Meester started at center for four years at Northern Iowa. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2000 draft. He started all 16 games as a rookie - at left guard. This center-turned-guard turned back into a center in 2003, after playing left guard for three seasons.
  • Purist. Mister was a center in college then a guard in the pros. And now he's a starting center. Whatever. I'm calling him a real-deal center here just because of his college days.

(Getting a little long winded and a little boring now. We go faster...)

AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens. Center Gino Gradkowski.

  • Gino was primarily a guard for his three years at Delaware (played three games at center). He was taken in the 4th round a year ago, and played in all 16 games as a rookie. He’s now projected as the starting center following Matt Birk’s retirement.
  • Transformer. This dude was a guard in college and until Birk retired in the pros. He's another complete transformer late in life. In dog years.

Cincinnati Bengals. Center Trevor Robinson.

  • Robinson played exclusively at right guard for Notre Dame. He went undrafted a year ago, and became the starting center at mid-season due to injury. He kept the job even after the previous starter returned from injury, and is projected as the starting center going forward.
  • Transformer. The striped tiger seen here was purely a guard. He became a center when the shit hit the fan. Without warning. It stuck to the wall and remains there to this day.

Pittsburgh Steelers. Center Maurkice Pouncey.

  • Maurkice Pouncey was a center for the most part. He started at right guard during his freshman year, after which he became a center forever after. He was the 18th pick in the 2010 draft and has been an All Pro Center in each of his three seasons.
  • Purist. First-round pick. That is all.

Cleveland Browns. Center Alex Mack.

  • Alex was a center for the most part. He became a center after high school and never went back. He was drafted with the 21st pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and it took him only one year before earning his first Pro Bowl nod.
  • Purist. First-round pick. Center all day. Ditto, ditto.

AFC West.

San Diego Chargers. Center Nick Hardwick.

  • Nick Hardwick was a guard (and a defensive tackle before that) the year before he left Purdue for the NFL. He played at center in his final season. He was drafted 66th overall in the 2004 draft. He's played center his whole career in the NFL and has made a Pro Bowl appearance.
  • Purist. He had a year of experience at center, so that's probably enough to say he's not a true transformer, seeing as how he's remained a center ever since.

Oakland Raiders. Center Stefen Wisniewski.

  • Stefen was a right guard for two years at Penn State. He started at Left Guard for the Raiders in his rookie season of 2011. He became their starting center in 2012.. where he remains today.
  • Transformer. This pillager was a guard, but the expansion team needed a center. And so they told him to transform. And he did. And it was not good.

Kansas City Chiefs. Center Rodney Hudson.

  • Hudson was a starting guard all throughout college. This 2nd round draft pick from two years ago has recently been taught to play center and projects as the starter.
  • Transformer. I think that about sums it up. Guard. Transformer. Blasphemer!

Denver Broncos. Center Manny Ramirez.

  • Manny was the 6th ranked center coming out of high school. He was a four year starter at Texas Tech, primarily at guard. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2007 draft by the Detriot Lions. The Lions were mismanaged on a scale of epic proportions, even resulting in a 2 win season and a 0 win season. Ramirez was signed by the Broncos in 2011. He's played in 35 games, starting 26 of those contests. The Lions used him as a swing-backup both the guard and center positions.
  • Transformer. Fo sho. Has experience snapping the ball in practice for multiple teams, but no real game experience at center, not since his elite high school days anyway.

What we've learned.

  • Of the 8 "purists" on the list (and I was being very generous with that ranking, if you didn't notice), 4 of them were 1st round picks. 3 of them were in the top-66 overall, and only one of them was taken after that.
  • Unless your team drafted a center in the 1st or 2nd round, chances are very very high that your center had way way more experience at guard than he did at center. And there's a pretty good chance that he had virtually no experience at center.
  • There's also a pretty decent chance that he's a been a career backup until he became your starting center.
  • Most guards that become centers have had a few games here or there where they've proven they can snap the ball and make the calls. And not much else.
  • Teams do not generally require any real experience at center in order for them to make you their starting center. They just sort of genie blink it one day when they're out of other options.
  • Tackles get tired of guards always taking over at center, and so sometimes they get in on the action as well.
  • A center is never a center until he becomes one. A guard is a center that hasn’t snapped the ball yet. Centers were guards until they were centers. Just picture it in like an old wise Yoda voice or something. Maybe invert the sentence structure and whatnot.
  • There a few cases listed above that are fairly similar to Manny's - where career-nobodies at guard all the sudden transform into starting centers. Take another look and see if you agree.

And here's what you didn't learn.


Are you focused?

  • After the last five years of drafting, just one of the centers that were taken after the second round is actually penciled-in as the starting center. Five years of drafting... And only ONE starting center - league wide - was drafted as a center, after the 2nd round. So where do all the starting centers come from?
  • I didn't break down the NFC because I didn't want to. My guess is that there are more "transformers" over there than there are in the AFC. I'm basing that guess mostly off the amount of high draft choices the AFC has at center. Those are generally the purists. Without them, this would have been a lopsided victory for the giant metal men (the Transformers, silly).

I used CBS' updated depth charts in formulating projected starters. Quotes are from CBS' applicable player page unless otherwise noted. And there aren't any other quotes now that I'm re-reading this. Because I got bored and that turned into lazy. Sue me :)

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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