With Corey Linsley and valuable reserve J.C. Tretter, center might rank at the bottom of the Green Bay Packers’ list of needs — though it is fair to point out that Linsley’s second season wasn’t as good as his first.
Here are our top five prospects in a strong and versatile center class. Stats are from STATS via Real Football, with scouting opinions courtesy of longtime NFL scout and Packer Report contributor Dave-Te’ Thomas.
RYAN KELLY, Alabama
Position rank: 1
Height: 6-4. Weight: 311. Bench: 26. Broad jump: 8-7. Vertical jump: 30.
Notes: Kelly won the Rimington Award, which goes to the nation’s top center, and was a consensus first-team All-American. He allowed one sack and eight pressures for a rate of 1.83 percent, which ranked seventh among our top 15 centers. He yielded 24 run disruptions for a rate of 4.51 percent, which ranked fifth, as helped fuel the Derrick Henry-led running attack. He was not penalized for holding or a false start. Kelly also won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which goes to the SEC’s top offensive lineman, was a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy — aka the Academic Heisman — and was the SEC’s Scholar Athlete of the Year. He was a three-year starter. Henry called him the “heart and soul” of an offense breaking in nine new starters.
Scouting: Kelly is the full package, from athleticism to strength to length (33 5/8-inch arms). “Kelly shows outstanding balance and body control for a player at his position, along with above-average quickness and foot speed to be regarded as the best trap blocker in the nation,” Thomas said. “He keeps his feet on the move and it is rare to see him walked back into the pocket, thanks to a very strong anchor. He displays excellent snap quickness, whether with the center lined up behind him or executing the shotgun. He gets his hands inside quickly to generate a strong push when locking on to an opponent. He possesses the loose hips to turn, get around and wall off, especially when leading on screens. He is also a highly competitive athlete who plays with good athleticism that he combines with aggression, but he is as smart as a chess master and won’t make foolish mistakes. He has a bit of a mauler’s attitude, but gets his hands inside the defender’s jersey quickly. He displays the body control you look for in a center when asking him to reach and shade, along with showing the ability to get his hips around for wall-off activity. He plays on his feet and has the quickness to chip and seal, along with good angle concept when working into the second level to block for the ground game.”
Personally: A brother, Mike, plays football for Navy. Those family tussles got him ready. So, too, did facing Alabama’s fearsome defense at practice. “I would say our defensive line (was my toughest matchup,” he said at the Combine. “You’re going against Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson every day. Those guys are incredible. Going against those guys every day made us a better offensive line, made me a better player. They’re incredible players, great teammates and those guys really bring it every single day to make us better.”
NICK MARTIN, Notre Dame
Position rank: 2
Height: 6-foot-4 1/8. Weight: 299. Bench: 28. Broad jump: 8-1. Vertical jump: 28.
Notes: Martin started 11 games at center as a sophomore — he had never snapped the ball until the start of spring practice — before a torn MCL sidelined him for the end of the season. He was back at center as a junior before moving to left guard for the final 10 games. As a senior, he returned to center, where he started all season. He had a tremendous season, with no sacks and four total pressures, giving him a pressure rate of 1.00 percent that ranked fourth. His run-disruption rate of 4.52 percent ranked sixth. He wasn’t flagged for holding but was penalized four times for false starts.
Scouting: Scouts universally like Martin. Where there is disagreement is over Martin's best position - center or guard. Either way, he should be an immediate starter. “Martin compensates for a lack of great bulk with above-average balance, quickness and playing speed,” Thomas said. “He does a nice job of adjusting to movement in pass protection and when moving into the second level. He possesses quick hand usage that he uses effectively to get under the defender’s pads. He shows good urgency attacking linebackers in space and the loose hips needed to wheel around and cut off the backside pressure. He is surprising strong when attacking bull rushers and, even when he gives up considerable bulk to some opponents, he compensates with strength, balance and intelligence. Because of his balance and low pad level, Martin has great success in gaining advantage coming off the snap. He is especially effective executing second level blocks. In pass protection, he showed marked improvement with his recovery quickness, staying square while sinking his hips. He has made great strides in improving his hand placement. He was lacking a bit in this area as a junior but as a senior, he was very effective at generating force and pop behind his hits to jolt the opponent.”
Personally: Yes, Martin is related to another Martin of recent Notre Dame vintage. Zach Martin was the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2014 and is a two-time All-Pro. Zach’s idea of brotherly love was hammering away at his little brother with “The Typewriter.” No reason was needed to jab a finger into Nick’s sternum. Competition drove the two to greater heights. “It really has been (a blessing),” he said at the Combine. “I was fortunate to have three years with him at Notre Dame. Him and Chris Watt, both great players. And I was young, so I sat back and I learned from them. Why wouldn’t you learn from great players? Then I stepped up. I was a two-time captain and really took what they taught me.”
MAX TUERK, USC
Position rank: 3
Height: 6-5. Weight: 298. Bench: 26. Broad jump: DNP. Vertical jump: DNP.
Notes: Tuerk, who was expected to be in the mix for the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center, missed the final two-thirds of his senior season with a torn knee ligament. You want versatility? As a true freshman, he started five games at left tackle (and once at left guard). As a sophomore, he started 13 games at left guard (and once at right tackle). As a junior, he started all 13 games at center and was a first-team all-Pac-12 selection and the school’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. In limited action as a senior, he allowed no sacks and one pressure, giving him a pressure rate of 0.70 percent that ranked second in our top 15. However, he was last in that group with a run-disruption rate of 7.07 percent.
Scouting: Given his weight compared to his height, it’s not a surprise that he’s struggled a bit against bigger defenders at the line of scrimmage. Where he excels is trapping, pulling, reaching and getting out in space. He’s not long (32 1/2-inch arms) but he’s got huge hands to latch on to the defender. If not for the injury, one scout thought Tuerk would challenge Allen atop the class. “While he is taller than most centers in college, he has good athleticism, body control and change-of-direction ability for the short pulls,” Thomas said. “He does a solid job of rolling his hips and driving defenders working along the line, and has the leg drive and leverage skills to generate movement in short-yardage situations. What separates him from any other center in the draft is his outstanding hand jolt, as he does a very good job of keeping those hands inside his frame to strike with explosive force. His biggest asset in pass protection is that he has a punishing hand punch, doing a great job of latching on and getting his hands into the defender’s jersey to lock out and control. He shows good hip sink to prevent the taller defenders from pushing him back, and few of those opponents can simply bull rush him, as he knows how to use his raw strength in his anchor.” Tuerk said his aforementioned versatility and his athleticism are his strengths. “I think my biggest strength is that I’m good in space. I pull around well. I’m a smart football player. I can make the line calls and point out the direction of where the offensive line is going, call out the runs and call out the defense is, where the Mike is, things like that.”
Personally: Tuerk is no stranger to on-the-field challenges, starting with four head coaches and four position coaches at USC. Then came the torn ACL, which ruined his final season. “Emotionally, I just tried not to think of it. It happened. It is what it is,” he said at the Combine. “I’ve just got to get better. The ACL, it’s a long process but I’ve been working extremely hard. I’ve been doing rehab four or five times a week. It’s feeling strong. My legs feel strong. My glutes, hamstrings and quads, I’ve been working on that almost every day, and it feels good.”
MATT SKURA, Duke
Position rank: 4
Height: 6-foot-3 3/8. Weight: 305. Bench: 27. Broad jump: 8-7. Vertical jump: 24.
Notes: Skura was a three-year starter at center. After earning third-team all-ACC as a junior, Skura was a first-team choice as a senior. By the numbers from STATS, he was arguably the best center in the nation last year. He allowed a half-sack and six pressures for a fifth-ranked pressure rate of 1.17 percent. In the run game, his disruption rate of 3.45 percent ranked second. He was flagged once for holding.
Scouting: Skura does just about everything well. He’s a technician who takes advantage of his length (33 3/8-inch arms) and big hands. He plays with adequate strength and athleticism. However, he’s not a great athlete and he’s not a power player — though he relishes finishing off a block. “He’s one of those guys where you wonder if his game will translate to the NFL. The things he won with in college, can he win with them in the NFL? I don’t know,” a scout said. His numbers notwithstanding, the ACC wasn’t exactly filled with stud defensive linemen, the scout said, pointing out how Indiana’s underrated defensive tackle, Darius Latham, dominated their bowl-game matchup. He might be a center-only prospect, unlike some of the other prospects, who offer more versatility.
Personally: Skura’s path to Duke is a fun story. Back in high school, he never thought he’d get this far in his football career. “No, probably not,” he said at the Combine. “Every year, I watched the NFL Combine, watched it on the NFL Network, and things. Never could imagine. Definitely was a goal of mine, but to be here now is a great opportunity.”
ISAAC SEUMALO, Oregon State
Position rank: 5 (tie)
Height: 6-foot-3 7/8. Weight: 303. Bench: 19. Broad jump: 8-9. Vertical jump: 26
Notes: Seumalo has rare five-position versatility. As a true freshman, he was the Beavers’ starting center. Seumalo, the first freshman to start at center for OSU since 1978, earned Freshman All-America honors. He started 10 games at center and two at right tackle as a sophomore to earn second-team all-Pac-12 honors, but sustained a broken foot in the bowl game. Fixing the injury required two surgeries, costing him the entire 2014 season. In 2015, he was an honorable mention on the all-conference team as he started nine times at right guard and three times at the end of the season at left tackle. He allowed no sacks and five pressures for a pressure rate of 1.43 percent, which ranked sixth. His run-disruption rate of 5.21 percent ranked 10th. He was not flagged for holding and was penalized twice for false starts.
Scouting: While center might be Seumalo’s best position, his versatility and ability to play in a zone scheme would make him an intriguing option for the Packers, who might have to plan for a future without guards Josh Sitton and/or T.J. Lang. “To move from guard to left tackle like he did, that’s impressive stuff,” a scout said. He’s got 33-inch arms and a strong anchor to keep the pocket clean. “He demonstrates good explosion off the snap. He has the loose hips to change direction and flow down the line, showing classic knee bend and plant-and-drive agility to redirect,” Thomas said. “Few drive blockers show the initial quickness that Seumalo possesses. He comes out of his stance with good urgency, getting into his blocks with hands properly extended, keeping his legs wide in his base and his pad level low. He is especially effective at gaining advantage on scoop-and-reach blocks. He has the keen vision to quickly locate and pick up stunts and flashes good pass set, knee bend and anchor to beat even the quicker defensive tackles. With his kick slide and lateral agility, he could be very effective playing in front of the quarterback at center.”
Personally: Seumalo comes from a family of athletes. His father, Joe, is a former defensive line coach at Oregon State who now coaches the defensive line at UNLV. An older brother, Andrew, played defensive tackle for the Beavers and is a graduate assistant coach at the school. A sister, Jessi, plays volleyball for OSU.
JACK ALLEN, Michigan State
Position rank: 5 (tie)
Height: 6-foot-1 1/4. Weight: 294. Bench: 23. Broad jump: 8-5. Vertical jump: 26.5.
Notes: For his career, Allen allowed only three sacks. Not only was the team co-captain a two-time all-Big Ten first-team selection, but he joined Dave Behrman and Tony Mandarich as the only offensive linemen in school history to be two-time All-America first-teamers. As a senior, he was a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, aka the Academic Heisman, and one of three finalists for the Rimington Award, which goes to the nation’s top center. During the game-winning drive vs. Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game, he lined up at center, fullback and tight end. Allen yielded two sacks and eight pressures, with the pressure rate of 1.68 percent ranking eighth. He wasn't as good in the run game, with a run-disruption rate of 5.68 percent ranking 12th.
Scouting: If Allen were an inch taller and a bit longer (32 1/4-inch arms), he would rank among the cream of the center crop. He overcame his lack of elite traits to carve out a tremendous career in college. Can he make the transition in the NFL? “Jack Allen of Michigan State is considered the toughest hombre of the bunch, drawing comparisons to former Chicago Bears dominator Olin Kreutz,” Thomas said. A scout thought Allen was the third-best center, behind Kelly and Martin, but would have limited appeal for Green Bay, even though he did start five games at left guard as a freshman. “I don’t think he can play guard and you don’t need a center. But I love him. You can see that he was a state-champion wrestler in high school. He’s tough, smart, a fighter and a winner.”
Personally: Do you know someone who wants to be a big-time offensive lineman? Then reach out to John and Leslie Allen of Hinsdale, Ill., for some pointers. Jack Allen started 47 games in his career. In 2015, he lined up next to his brother, Brian, a sophomore who started 10 games at left guard and two at center to win second-team all-Big Ten. Their younger brother, Matt, will be a freshman at Michigan State next season. In the family home, there’s a full wrestling mat — and a hole in the wall. As a senior at Hinsdale Central, he won the state wrestling title at 285 pounds. He was the shortest lineman at the Combine. “I’m not as tall as any of them, but I think I’m a pretty tough football player,” he said at the Combine. “I’m physical on the field. I work pretty hard. I try to pride myself on being one of the hardest working guys in the room. Just toughness, really.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.