2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Centers)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the eighth in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles, defensive ends, the inside linebackers and outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks available in this year’s upcoming draft. He has also taken a look at the top kicking and punting prospects.

Part 8: Centers

Overview:  Last year, the Dallas Cowboys selected Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick in the first round, surprising many draft analysts. Don’t expect to be surprised again, as the top center prospect, USC’s Marcus Martin, will most likely come off the board in the second round. The remaining lot should be drafted from the third round on.

This doesn’t mean that NFL scouts don’t value the position. With the influx of spread offenses in the NFL, centers have an increased value. Teams will be able to find some experienced centers in the later rounds, there just isn’t an Alex Mack (2009 first-rounder) or Maurkice Pouncey (2010 first-rounder) to be found in this year’s draft. The breakdown:

1. Marcus Martin, 6-3 3/8,  320 lbs., USC

Martin was a First-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2013. He moved to center last season after playing first his two seasons as a left guard. Martin was the first true freshman to start at guard at USC since Jeff Byers in 2004.

Strengths:  Has a wide, athletic body that can hold up against defenders. Provides good push when run blocking. Packs an explosive initial punch and makes good use of hands. Can bury second-level linebackers.

Weaknesses: Needs to still grow into body—only 20 years old. Lacks experience at the center position. Lunges when in space. Doesn’t always show good body control when pulling. Can be late to react to blitz.

Projection:  Second-round pick

2. Weston Richburg, 6-3 3/8,  298 lbs., Colorado State

Richburg set the Colorado State record for most career starts with 50. He earned First-team All-Mountain West Conference honors in 2013. Richburg anchored a line for an offense that posted the most yards (6,591) and points (507) in school history.  He played guard, tackle and center while in Fort Collins. Richburg has been training with former Pro Bowl center, LeCharles Bentley.

Strengths:  Moves feet quickly. Has good lateral movement and wide base. Uses hands well. Shows good patience in pass protection.

Weaknesses: Needs to increase core strength.  Has short arms and sometimes will let a defender slip off a block. Can have problems with quick moves on the inside.

Projection:  Third-round pick

3. Travis Swanson, 6-5,  312 lbs., Arkansas

All 50 of Swanson’s starts were at the center position. Swanson anchored a line that allowed only 0.67 sacks per game in 2013 (second best in nation). He was a Second-team All-SEC selection in 2012 and 2013.

Strengths:  Gives good effort and plays with mean streak. Finishes off blocks and is explosive at the point of attack.  Has long arms and quick lateral moves. 

Weaknesses: Can be beaten inside by quick defenders. Struggles against stronger defenders. Needs to improve balance in traffic and pulling skills.

Projection:  Third-round pick

4. Russell Bodine, 6-3 1/8,  310 lbs., North Carolina

Bodine was a two-year starter for the Tar Heels. He was an All-ACC honorable mention pick in 2013.

Strengths: Has experience at guard. Can make second-level blocks. Can snap in shotgun or conventionally. Plays with head on swivel.

Weaknesses: Can be pushed pack by bigger defensive lineman. May be too top heavy and on the shortside. Needs to improve knee bend.

Projection:  Third-round pick

5. Bryan Stork, 6-3 7/8,  315 lbs., Florida State

Stork was a three-year starter at Florida State. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center in 2013 as well as being a consensus All-American. Stork missed the Combine because of injuries to his left knee and both shoulders.

Strengths:  Experienced at both shotgun and conventional snap. Plays with good base and knee bend. Can shock you with initial punch, head on swivel. Ability to adjust to different looks, instinctive and has good use of hands.

Weaknesses: Needs to increase core strength. Struggles against bigger defensive lineman. Has a narrow base and average body control.

Projection:  Fourth- to fifth-round pick

Others to Watch:  Jonotthan Harrison, Florida; Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma; Tyler Larsen, Utah State; Corey Linsley, Ohio State; James Stone, Tennessee

Small-School Sleepers: Matt Armstrong, Grand Valley State

Next up: Guards

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.