It's not often that players who are selected on day three of the NFL Draft can expect to compete for a starting role right away, but not every draft pick has the background of Evan Boehm.
The Missouri product started all four seasons at the college level for the Tigers, and broke the school record by making 52 consecutive starts over the course of his career. Even though Boehm played through pain for much of his senior year, the Cardinals' draft pick demonstrated a rugged toughness by remaining in the lineup and that stood out to general manager Steve Keim.
"A guy that one of probably four or five natural centers that we identified during the draft process having the ability to be a starter in the National Football League," Keim said. "Intangibles are excellent. We've talked to you guys about our personal character and our football character grades, he was probably one of the five or six players that warranted a double A."
Boehm fits the mold of many of the Cardinals' recent draft picks made during the Keim era. The team values speed, versatility and character, and both Keim and head coach Bruce Arians made mention of how highly Boehm graded in the team's character evaluation.
"They (Missouri) do a great job there of coaching their offensive line," Arians said. "Powerful, tough, smart, was a great wrestler, state champ wrestler in high school, captain, dad's a coach, everything you're looking for in a leader on your offensive line."
The most pressing question for the Cardinals is whether Boehm's intangibles will translate into success at the NFL level. Boehm does have some limitations as a player, but Arizona is banking on the team's ability to maximize his strengths within its scheme. We turned on the tape to see determine Boehm's pros and cons as a prospect.
- At 6-foot-2 and 309 pounds, Boehm is a smaller, powerful lineman built for the interior of the offensive line. There's no doubt he's a natural center in terms of his frame, especially considering Boehm's 31 5/8-inch arm length measured at the NFL Combine is limiting. Often times, a 33-inch arm length is considered short for NFL players, and Boehm comes in well below average in this regard. Arm length is important for offensive linemen looking to create separation from defensive linemen, and naturally, longer arms allow players to extend further and keep linemen away from their bodies. On film, Boehm's shorter arms don't appear to limit him in terms of his run blocking, but in pass blocking, he gives up a bit more ground than most centers and this is important because the Cardinals often rely on linemen to hold blocks longer so the team can take deep shots down the field.
- Boehm's immediate side-to-side movements are a plus for him, as he adjusts to blitzers in the A-gap well. When Boehm does not have a player lined up over him in a 0-technique, he helps himself by taking short, choppy steps to prepare for delayed blitzers or stunting linemen coming through the A-gap. Boehm keeps his body low to the ground on these types of plays, which allows him to generate the force needed to deliver a blow to defensive linemen. As a center, it's often important to stay closer to the line of scrimmage in pass blocking because quarterbacks need to step up in the pocket to deliver passes, and in the first few minutes of watching Boehm, it was easy to tell he has a great working knowledge of the position. He knows where he needs to be on particular plays, and he knows what he needs to do with his body to put him in the best position to be successful.
- As a center, there are times when teams don't send a pass rusher through the A-gap and guards and tackles are overwhelmed with defensive linemen and additional blitzers. Boehm has a natural instinct for how to deal with these types of plays, and that's to assess how he can help neutralize the pass rush. On a number of plays we watched, Boehm would ensure the A-gap was protected before sliding over and delivering a blow to linemen working against Missouri's guards. The help Boehm provided in these situations was critical because he has outstanding power and a strong ability to deliver forceful initial contact.
- One of Boehm's greatest weaknesses is his extended side-to-side movements. While Boehm has a demonstrated ability to pick up blitzers and move one to two yards to his right and left with ease, this does not translate to lengthier movements. Boehm struggled to pull in the run game, and was often late to reach his landmarks on screen plays. This could be a result of Boehm playing much of his senior season with a high ankle sprain. Even though Boehm sprained his ankle early in the season, he remained in the lineup and played through the pain, which may have limited his movements in space.
- When Boehm does get out and move in space, he lacks fluidity and is stiff in his movements. Even with technical coaching in the NFL, Boehm will probably never excel in this regard because he isn't a naturally flexible athlete. Still, much of our evaluation was dependent on watching Boehm's 2015 film, and in his prior seasons, Boehm demonstrated a better ability to get out and block in the open field. When he wasn't dealing with a high ankle sprain, Boehm was significantly improved as a pulling center in the run game, and the Cardinals are likely counting on him to return to form in this regard.
- Boehm excels in situations where he can burst off the ball and deliver powerful contact, but asking him to pull on run plays and move outside the tackle boxes isn't ideally suited for his skill set. While Boehm has a low center of gravity in the middle of the offensive line, as soon as he leaves to block on screen plays, he often stands straight up and loses leverage.
- Boehm's struggle with extended movements also hurts him in the run game when he moves to the second level of a defense. After Boehm snaps the ball, he charges out of his stance with the ability to maul defensive linemen, but once he reaches the second level, Boehm often finds himself standing straight up. Boehm is often times too reliant on his ability to thrust defenders out of the way and off their landmarks with his upper body that by the time he reaches the second level of a defense, he's standing straight up and puts himself in position to be exposed and passed. Defenders often had little trouble ripping or even simply running past Boehm once he approached them at the second level, and this impacts running lanes for ball carriers. The quicker a linebacker is able to dissect a play and move past Boehm, the better chance that player has of making a tackle.
- Overall, Boehm comes into the Cardinals organization as a ready-made prospect with the ability to contribute and compete on day one. Boehm isn't a player with a tremendous ceiling and all-world potential, but he is a player that has an outstanding knowledge of the game and positions himself to be successful on the vast majority of plays. When you turn on the tape, it's apparent Boehm understands his strengths and he plays with a tenacity that the Cardinals will miss without Lyle Sendlein.
Boehm may not be All-Pro material as a center, but he can challenge A.Q. Shipley for a starting role right away. Boehm is a proven leader and a great value pick in the fourth round of the draft, because it's harder to find consistency in the middle to late rounds of the draft. We said in the days leading up to the draft that Arizona would be wise to look at centers who could help fill the void left by Sendlein, and Boehm is a definite candidate who fits that mold.null