2010 NFL Draft Watch: Centers

(Note: This is the continuation of a series of articles looking in-depth at each position category in the 2010 NFL Draft. All players will be evaluated based on their fit in the Broncos' scheme and quality of player preference)


Defensive tackles (part 1)

Defensive tackles (part 2)

Defensive ends

Now on to what is generally considered the Broncos' #1 area of need and priority upgrade: Center. In compiling this list, I was struck by just how horrendously thin the 2010 crop is at this position. After the top guy there is a massive drop-off in talent, and after the top 3 opinions vary from 4th round to better off selling cell phones. Due to that dearth of prospects and variety of "expert" opinion, I will expand the parameters to all 7 rounds of the draft. Again, I will be using the position designations on for a starting point.

In addition to positive personal qualities (i.e., hard worker, good football IQ, tough, leader, versatile), I will be operationally defining an "ideal" center for the Broncos' power running scheme with the following: big, low center of gravity, excellent at anchoring, good with his hands, solid footwork, mean streak preferred. Less important will be agility or pure athletic talent. Obviously, run-blocking will be a priority over pass-blocking (but this must also be solid), and they absolutely cannot be often pushed back or blown off the ball.

Like on the defensive line, Vortex7 has a great post on the Offensive Line that is excellent reading in a similar vein. Again, I am indebted to PredominantlyOrange for his use of the War Room information.

Maurkice Pouncey 5 stars OC
Erik Cook 5 stars OC
J. D. Walton 4.5 stars OC
Kenny Alfred 3.5 stars OC
Kevin Matthews 3 stars OC
Eric Olsen 2.5 stars OC
Ted Larsen 3.5 stars RG
Chris Hall 3.5 stars RG
John Estes 3 stars RG
Matt Tennant 2.5 stars LG
Jeff Byers 2.5 stars LG

Maurkice Pouncey (6-5, 318 lbs) Florida

2nd round 5-star prospect



The man, the myth, the legend. The twin. If you come to MHR much at all, you know this guy's name. The unquestioned top prospect at center, he screams versatility, which might allow us to upgrade several positions in the middle with one pick:

Three year starter and possesses the versatility to line up at both center and guard at the next level... Possesses good height and bulk for any of the three interior OL positions. Speed and athleticism are adequate for size [Scouts, Inc.]

In fact, he started at RG his freshman year at Florida for 11 of 13 games. When asked by the Orlando Sentinel why a team should draft him, he replied, "I'm a competitor, a leader... I'm all for the team." His weight is excellent for our power scheme, and the only question might be with his height if he can get anchored properly. Apparently, yes:

-Uses his hands extremely well, possesses violent hands
-Very good strength
-Good anchor versus the bull rush
-Controls the POA
-Good run blocker
-Plays with good leverage
-Good physical toughness
-Very good balance, seldom on the ground [Sideline Scouting]

The War Room has some concerns about his technique, stating he must improve this before he will be ready to start in the NFL, and notes, "For a lineman with his size, athleticism, and strength, he ends up on the ground too much." Still, this guy has few weaknesses and fits our player mold as well as our scheme to a "T".


J. D. Walton (6-3, 300 lbs) Baylor

3rd round 4-star prospect



If we can't/won't get Pouncey, this is the next... maybe only other choice for us. Scott Wright of Draft Countdown summarizes him very well:

Tough and physical --- Finisher who plays with a nasty demeanor and has a killer instinct --- Excellent leadership qualities --- Gets a big push in the run game --- Stout at the point of attack

Doesn't possess eye-popping physical tools but makes up for it with top-notch intangibles and by doing all the little things

Sideline Scouting raves about his abilities in run blocking, as well as his intelligence and "good football IQ." He played in a zone-blocking system at Baylor, but in the Senior Bowl he held up well to both Terrance Cody and Dan Williams, so he has the ability to succeed in our system. He certainly has the low center of gravity and size to do so. This really caught my eye:

Works hard throughout the play, and agitates his defender even when on the ground. Gets low in goal-line and short-yardage situations to take out his man [NFLdraftscout]

The major knock against him is his lack of athletic ability, to which I say: So? The War Room raises some questions about his pass blocking, calling him "adequate at best". Still, he has great instincts and he can improve with good coaching.


Ted Larsen (6-3, 302 lbs) N.C. State

4th round 3-star prospect



A one-year starter at center after being converted from defensive tackle, he is an intriguing physical prospect who is nonetheless very raw. He displayed a tendency to give high snaps especially early on, particularly in important and high-stress situations. He also was underwhelming at the Senior Bowl, allowing Cody and Williams both to get solid push into the backfield. Still,

-Hard worker, competitive
-Mean streak
-Works well blocking in tandem [Sideline Scouting]

He has good leverage and strength, so it was likely the jump in talent that threw him. The War Room calls him a "smart, instinctive player". He projects best into a zone blocking system as a center, but I think that he is a solid late-round developmental prospect at RG for the Broncos, although he will have to get much better at pulling (he has a tendency to lunge on the move) before he can start. I like his natural desire and talent, though:

Improving with his hand placement and is generally able to knock his opponent out of the lane, as he keeps his legs chugging with quick power steps. Flashes some nastiness as a run blocker. Looks to knock the defender to the ground with an intimidating pancake when he senses the advantage... High-intensity player. []


John Estes (6-2, 295 lbs) Hawaii

5th round 3-star prospect



An extremely durable prospect who has started all 54 games of his career (NCAA record), he is very athletic and excellent in run support as well as being solid in pass-blocking:

Strong understanding of pass-protection schemes shows up on film. Quickly diagnoses and reacts to stunts, games and blitzes. Does a nice job staying on combo block until linebacker flows to one side or the other and can slide off block in time to get into the second level [Scouts, Inc.]

Unfortunately, he is undersized and while he has good upper-body strength lacks the lower body strength desirable at center, especially in a power-running scheme.

Flashes the ability to anchor and knows how to use leverage, proper hand placement and good balance. Lacks the bulk, strength and long arms to hold up consistently against a bull rush []

I think that with his awareness, leadership, tenacity, and mean streak he can do well as developmental prospect at RG.


Kenny Alfred (6-2, 290 lbs) Washington State

6th round 3-star prospect



I want to see what his actual weight is before we draft him. I've seen everything from 286 to 300 lbs. Outside of that, however, he is a very interesting prospect as demonstrated by this piece in the Spokane Spokesman-Review:

What really rings the eclectic English major's bell is discussing the relative merits of novels, or music, or, thankfully for Cougar fans, the satisfaction of knocking a big ol' defensive lineman back a few yards. "Run blocking is a lot of fun," the 6-foot-2, 289-pound Alfred said. "That's when you actually get to grind your feet into somebody and push and push and push" ... [offensive line coach Harold Etheridge says] "he's our leader, not only at the position but throughout the whole football team"

His snapping is "flawless", and he pops out of his stance quickly. He is equally adept at run and pass blocking. The major question is his limited ability to anchor and hold up to NFL bull rushes. That's a biggie. But, his hard work and possibility of putting on more bulk makes him a possible solid backup.


Kevin Matthews (6-4, 298 lbs) Texas A&M

6th round 2-star prospect



There is much to like about Matthews: he was a former walk-on at Texas A&M, sat behind current 49ers center Cody Wallace for two years, and then when he stepped into a full-time starter role in 2008 was instrumental in transforming a horrific offensive line into a unit that gained the 3rd-highest passing yards/game in school history. He got himself on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, and garnered All-Big 12 Honorable mention in 2009. Intriguingly, he is the cousin of current Packer linebacker Clay Matthews III (Kevin's father is an NFL Hall-of-Famer).

Sideline Scouting notes some of his good qualities:

-Gets good leverage
-Good technique
-Solid knee bend
-Very solid and reliable run blocker
-Uses his suddenness and good leverage to open up holes
-Seals well
-Good awareness, works well with the Guards
-Tenacious, works hard to finish his assignments

His coaches describe him as "hard-nosed", so when combined with his obvious work ethic and moderate athletic ability, as well as good size, he sounds like a good fit for us. He would be a backup only at first -- he needs to get much stronger in the upper body and develop better anchoring technique -- but here is a solid depth guy at center.


Erik Cook (6-6, 320 lbs) New Mexico

6th-7th round 2-star prospect



The most versatile center prospect not named Maurkice Pouncey. He has played both guard positions and at RT, plus he has good football IQ, is very intelligent, and has been "extremely reliable" (Scouts, Inc.) his past two seasons at C. says, "Coaches and teammates call him a leader by words and example on the field, in the weight room and in the locker room." That's quite an endorsement for our system.

His size and weight are excellent for a power scheme, and while he has adequate agility for his size he will never be mistaken for a pulling guard. Still, his strength is run blocking but he also has long arms and good pass-blocking technique. His anchor is "superb" against a bull rush, and he only gave up one sack and one penalty all season long.

For the coup de grace,

Few centers in college football win the Most Valuable Offensive Player and Most Valuable Player awards for their team to go along with Most Valuable Lineman. In part, that speaks to the lack of playmakers on the 1-11 Lobos' offense in 2009, but Cook's strength and leadership should not be overlooked.

Even in a losing cause, he continues to fight all-out. Look for him to get drafted and NOT cut.


Chris Hall (6-4, 298 lbs) Texas

6th-7th round 3-star prospect



He certainly sounds like a good fit:

-Heady and intelligent, good football IQ

-Gives a good effort, hard worker, competitive
-Good mental toughness
-Natural leader [Sideline Scouting]

He has started at least one game at every position on the line. He blocks with good leverage but needs to have much better strength before he can be a full-time NFL starter. He displays some really good agility and is very intriguing for RG, where his excellent initial quickness would allow him to get into good position and negate his strength disadvantages. He is a project right now but is solid depth for multiple line positions. The War Room compares him very favorably to the Colts' Ryan Lilja, which I find to be quite a compliment.



Matt Tennant (6-5, 290 lbs) Boston College

2nd-3rd round 4-star prospect

A very good athlete, most scouts give him plenty of praise for his "good football IQ" and his "flawless" snaps, as well as his "excellent" technique. His leadership qualities are also top-notch: in 2009, he was a team captain and a finalist for the Rimington Trophy. Besides, what was the name of that other BC center who played for the Broncos?... Tom something... Nalen? Walen? But wait:

Does not have the ideal bulk that you look for --- Not overly strong or powerful --- Gets pushed back --- Has trouble sustaining and will fall off blocks --- Won't get huge push in run game --- Plays too high at times [Draft Countdown]

Due to his somewhat undersized weight and less-than-desirable strength, plus his tendency to get pushed back by big defensive tackles, and finally him being primarily a pass-blocker, I just can't justify it. He's a zone-blocking guy only.


Eric Olsen (6-4, 310 lbs) Notre Dame

4th-5th round 3-star prospect

If you don't already know, Olsen's father was a NYC firefighter who was at Ground Zero after 9/11. That's a great story, but it's also one that motivates Olsen to do his best on the field. He certainly does:

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 []

His strength by far is pass-blocking -- he only allowed 1 sack in 450 attempts. Unfortunately, he just doesn't cut it in run blocking:

-Struggles to anchor against bigger defenders
-Can be walked back [Sideline Scouting]

His versatility (started both G positions as well) is useless to us, since our guards must pull/trap often -- which requires good agility, change of direction ability, and good angles. Olsen has none of those qualities. If he goes undrafted, he is absolutely worth a look for our PS, but that's about it.


Jeff Byers (6-4, 285 lbs) USC

6th round 2-star prospect

I wish I knew why he is listed at center, since he's spent much more time at LG. He has plenty of experience -- he's had 6 years of college eligibility -- he does great in pass protection and has great agility allowing him to pull and trap well. He is very competitive, has good mental toughness, and works to the whistle.

But, this is a killer:

-Narrow base
-On the ground too much
-Plays too upright and loses too many battles for leverage
-Not real strong at POA, can be walked back into the pocket [Sideline Scouting]

Ultimately, he doesn't have the leverage to be a center for us, and he doesn't have the bulk to be a guard for us.


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