NFL’s top 5 centers for 2015

From grizzled veterans to up-and-comers, centers have to be physically and mentally strong.

With the difficult duty of making protection calls and then executing them, centers are in a difficult (and often under-appreciated) position.

The best are well-rounded in their run- and pass-blocking, as well as smart enough to diagnose a defense and make the correct pre-snap adjustments.

1. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
Generally considered the best center in the game today, Pouncey is equally effective in run and pass blocking. While judging centers (or offensive line play) is a risky proposition, the Steelers were the No. 2 offense in the NFL last year with a well-balanced attack of weapons at quarterback, running back and receiver.

2. Nick Mangold, New York Jets
For all the faults and criticism of Geno Smith, he was given time in the pocket. He was given 3.10 seconds in the pocket to throw (second longest in the NFL), 2.79 seconds to attempt a throw (second) and 4.28 seconds until a sack (first), according to Pro Football Focus. Still, the Jets had the 32nd-ranked passing attack, so it’s no wonder Smith received so much criticism. And the Jets had the No. 2-ranked rushing attack. Mangold deserves his Pro Bowl accolades.

3. Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders
Like Mangold and Pouncey, Hudson played more than 1,000 snaps for the Chiefs and was solid in all aspects of the blocking game, even if the Chiefs offense only managed to rank 25th. Hudson was credited with allowing two sacks and only seven quarterback hurries, according to PFF. With the Chiefs tight up against the salary cap, the Raiders outbid them for Hudson, making him the second-highest paid center in the league, right behind Pouncey with an $8.9 million annual average.

4. Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo ranked in the top 10 for most time to throw, to attempt a throw and until a sack, according to PFF, and Frederick earned Pro Bowl honors in 2014. The Cowboys had the second-ranked rushing offense and the seventh-ranked offense overall as Frederick directed a strong offensive line in Dallas.

5. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
We can only imagine the pressure Kelce is under to make a line call quickly in Chip Kelly’s high-paced offense. Other players and coaches apparently appreciated that, too, as Kelce was voted as a Pro Bowl player. His forte was in run blocking and that could be an even bigger deal this year with the addition of DeMarco Murray (and possibly a more straight-ahead attack) in the Eagles backfield.

Honorable mention: Alex Mack, Max Unger, Ryan Kalil, John Sullivan, Mike Pouncey.

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