It’s rare for a rookie, even an offensive lineman, to play every snap his first season. Lloyd Cushenberry III did that in 2020, and he did it with no preseason and no in-person training camp.
Lloyd Cushenberry III
Experience: 2 years
Weight: 312 pounds
Cushenberry came from LSU where he helped the Bayou Bengals win the national title with the most prolific offense in the history of D1 football.
While he played every snap in his NFL debut year, he was one of the worst centers in the league as rated by PFF. His overall grade was 40.2 (out of 100) and he was the lowest rated starting center in the league and one of two who had an overall grade less than 50 (Dan Feeney of the Chargers was the other - 48.2).
According to PFF, Cushenberry allowed four sacks and committed three penalties. Of the 35 centers with 500 or more offensive snaps in 2020, that was tied for the third most sacks allowed. Only Garrett Bradbury (who allowed five and was a first round pick of George Paton) and former Bronco, Connor McGovern (who allowed six), were worse.
PFF’s pressures allowed is behind their paywall, so I can’t share that data with you. Feel free to drop that in the comments section if you have access to that data.
I will tell you that LC3 allowed the fifth-most pressures among starting centers. The two starting centers who led the league, Corey Linsley and Brandon Linder, each allowed less than five. LC3 allowed roughly eight times what they both allowed.
According to SharpFootballAnalytics, LC3 had 36 blown blocks and allowed 11 combined sacks and run stuffs. That is poor. Sharp calls out LC3 as the weak link in the Broncos 2021 OL that it ranks 14th overall even with Massie as the projected starter at RT. According to PFF, LC3 was actually worse as a run blocker than as a pass blocker.
It’s not all bad
But Cushenberry did plenty of good things, and his athleticism is tremendous for a center in the NFL (it’s rare to see a center pulling on a pin-and-pull run play). He just made too many mistakes as a very green rookie in 2020. If he can cut down on his blown block rate (BBR at Sharp), he has the physical and mental tools to be our starting center for the next decade. So let’s look at comparable centers and see if or when they improved after playing the vast majority of their team’s snaps at center as rookies.
We find that Bradbury as a rookie center for the Vikings in 2019 played 97 percent of the offensive snaps and, like LC3, was one of the worst centers in the league, at least according to PFF. His rookie overall grade was 58.1. That was 28th out of 33 centers with 500 or more snaps in 2019. While he was better in 2020, his PFF grade improved only marginally to 61.4. He allowed four sacks in 2019 and than five in 2020.
Another center who played immediately as a rookie and played most of his team’s offensive snaps was Pat Elflein. Elflein played 957 snaps at center in 2017 as a rookie. He had an overall grade of 66.6 that year. Unlike Bradbury, Elflein actually got worse in 2018 and his play was the main reason that Paton used a first-round pick on Bradbury. Elflein had an overall grade of 41.9 in his second season as a starting center. That was comparable to what LC3 did in 2020. That year Elflein allowed four sacks and committed seven penalties. In 2019 with rookie Bradbury playing center for the Vikings, Elflein was moved to guard and played fairly well with an overall grade of 64.7 in 2019.
Looking ahead to 2021
I expect LC3 to play better in his second season. The question is how much better. He could improve significantly and still be one of the worst starting centers in the league in 2021. I hope that an off-season of working with an learning from Mike Munchak will allow him to make the jump to average NFL starting center.