If EDS Leaves, Who's Next at Center for Pack?

Last year's starting center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, remains unsigned. Should he leave Green Bay in free agency, where do the Packers turn in their hunt for a fourth starter in four years? We take a look at a sparse group of free agents and this year's draft class.

The Green Bay Packers might be in the market for a starting center, should 2013 starter Evan Dietrich-Smith depart in free agency.

They faced the same issue after the 2011 season, when Scott Wells departed for the St. Louis Rams. During that offseason, they signed veteran Jeff Saturday. They could go that route once again, with veterans like Brian De La Puente and Samson Satele the top available players behind Alex Mack and Dietrich-Smith.

Mack is one of the best players at his position, and due to the Cleveland Browns placing the transition tag on him, the price would be hefty. De La Puente would be a more likely veteran option, but with Ted Thompson's draft-and-develop philosophy and more needs on the defensive side of the ball, the new center is likely in Green Bay already or entering the NFL Draft.

In-house options include 2012 fourth-round pick J.C. Tretter and starting right tackle Don Barclay. Tretter missed most of last season after being placed on the PUP list after suffering an ankle injury in OTAs. Barclay experimented at center during training camp but struggled with shotgun snaps and has never played the position in an NFL game. Barclay, however, could be moved with the return of injured former top picks Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod.

This year's center class is a good one and is headlined by USC's Marcus Martin. Martin, an early entrant, might wind up being the first center off the board and is the lone first-round prospect, a source told Packer Report on Wednesday. "He's going to be this year's version of Travis Frederick," the source said, comparing Martin to the former Wisconsin standout who went in the first round to Dallas last year.

After playing guard in 2011 and 2012, Martin moved to center in 2013. He started 13 games before sustaining knee and ankle injuries against UCLA, which prevented him from testing at the Scouting Combine. He was named to the All-American Dream Team as the top center prospect by the NFL Draft Report, a scouting service used by most teams.

"He is the best center, hands down," said longtime NFL scout Dave-Te Thomas, who authors the NFL Draft Report.

NFL Draft Scout's top-ranked center is Arkansas' Travis Swanson. Swanson measured in at 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds at the Scouting Combine. Thomas called Swanson one of the top interior offensive linemen in the draft, though he was concerned about his performance at the Senior Bowl. "I think he probably will be the best trap blocker in this draft – guard, tackle or center." Swanson's height might be an issue for the Packers, though, based on their historical preference. Dietrich-Smith, Wells and Saturday all measure in at 6-foot-2.

Another player that Thomas saw as potentially the best center prospect available was Weston Richburg out of Colorado State. Richburg is a "great pass blocker with a long reach that can occupy multiple blockers," Thomas said, comparing him to Olin Kreutz. Richburg excelled in Colorado State's zone-blocking scheme. The Packers still employ zone blocking, though they turned to more power blocking in 2013.

Richburg had a big week at the Senior Bowl, where he faced first-round defensive line prospects such as Pitt's Aaron Donald and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. Richburg's durability is something that would be appealing to Green Bay. He finished his career starting 50 consecutive games.

Utah State's Tyler Larsen (6-4, 313) is as "strong as an ox," Thomas said. He started 52 consecutive games and, according to the NFL Draft Report, never allowed so much as a pressure.

Other centers in the class from bigger college programs include Ohio State's Corey Linsley, Florida State's Bryan Stork and Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard.

Linsley (6-3, 296), who like Larsen put up 36 reps on the bench at the Combine, started the final 26 games of his career. He was first-team all-Big Ten as a senior.

Stork (6-4, 315), who was recruited to play tight end, was the anchor of an offensive line that protected Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and helped lead the team to its first national championship since 2001. He won the Rimington Award as the nation's top center. Thomas, however, called Stork "just a guy."

Ikard (6-4, 304), who was a finalist for the Rimington, is seen as a better run blocker. At a position in which intelligence is paramount, Ikard graduated from Oklahoma with a 4.0 GPA, won the Wuerffel Trophy and was named Capital One's Academic All-American of the Year. He started 50 career games.

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