Natasha Tucker

Ragnow projected as possible first-round pick

One early mock draft projects an Arkansas player to be taken in the first round of next year's NFL Draft.

It has been a long time since Arkansas had a first-round NFL Draft pick.

The Razorbacks are going on a decade since Darren McFadden and Felix Jones came off the board in the opening round of the 2008 draft. The nine-year drought is tied for the sixth longest among Power Five programs and is tied with Vanderbilt for the longest in the SEC.

According to one early mock draft, that could change next season. Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzalo has Arkansas center Frank Ragnow going to the Carolina Panthers with the 21st overall pick in his mock draft released Wednesday.

Here is what he said about the rising senior:

With center Ryan Kalil getting up there in age, it makes sense to look toward the future at center for the Panthers. Ragnow was the nation’s best center last season, finishing at 89.4 overall. He’s strong at the point of attack and smooth at the second level, and he has the versatility to play any position along the interior.

Palazzalo used Las Vegas odds to determine draft order and also notes that his mock draft "represents what I would do with each pick, not necessarily a prediction of the future."

Pro Football Focus has been a fan of Ragnow for a while. The analytics website put him on its 2016 All-America team and named him the top run-blocker and top offensive lineman - regardless of position - in the country last season.

However, most other early mock drafts do not list Ragnow among the first 32 selections.

One problem with him going in the first round could be the lack of centers who get picked that early, similar to what Hunter Henry experienced in 2016. He was an early second-round pick despite being the first tight end off the board, whereas there were three first-round tight ends selected last week.

No centers were taken until late in the second round this year and only five have gone in the first round over the last eight years.

For what it's worth, one of those five centers - three-time Pro Bowler Travis Frederick - was coached by Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Bielema is on record that Ragnow could be even better than him.

"I’ve had a lot of players play really good at that position and he’s as good as I have ever had," Bielema said in March. "In my opinion he could be something special not only at our level, but beyond."

Many outlets don't agree with Bielema, though. Those that have a center in the first round or have position-by-position lists of the top prospects tabbed Michigan's Mason Cole as the top guy. Some don't even have Ragnow as the second-best center or - such as - in the top eight.

It will likely come down to a combination of how Ragnow performs this season and in events like the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, as well as which NFL teams need a center and are willing to draft one early.

If the Razorbacks don't produce a first-round pick in 2018, their drought would reach 10 years.

That would match the longest streak in UA history and it would be up to McTelvin Agim - or an Arkansas player yet to emerge - to prevent a school-record drought in 2019.

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