The center position is frequently overlooked despite being the keystone for the offensive line, and a quarterback’s best friend. A quality center often means the difference between an elite offensive line and just a good one. Look at the teams with the most consistently strong offensive line play. They’ve all had top-notch centers: Travis Frederick with the Cowboys, David Andrews with the Patriots, Max Unger and now Erik McCoy with the Saints, Jason Kelce with the Eagles, and Maurkice Pouncey with the Steelers.
Guys like Alex Mack, Mitch Morse, Rodney Hudson, and Ryan Kelly have helped transform their offensive lines. In my book, it’s the second most valuable position on the o-line after left tackle, especially given the rise in elite defensive linemen over the past few years. The centers in the 2020 NFL Draft are a good blend of plug-and-play and developmental starters.
I’ve previously ranked my top-20 offensive tackles, top-50 wide receivers, and my top-25 quarterbacks here for PFN. Please note that these are my personal rankings. These are not Pro Football Network’s official rankings, nor should they be confused with Tony Pauline’s grades. You can check out Tony Pauline’s center rankings here.
1. Cesar Ruiz, Michigan (First round)
Cesar Ruiz checks in as one of my highest graded centers, up there with the likes of Erik McCoy and Ryan Kelly. There are not many boxes, if any, that Ruiz doesn’t check off. He’s explosive and athletic, demonstrating excellent range as a center when moving up to the second level. He has excellent ability in pass protection (critical in a center nowadays), with very good pass set quickness, excellent pad level, good hand speed, and ideal hand placement. He has demonstrated impressive mental alertness to pick up stunts and blitzes. His overall play strength is only “good,” and he may struggle against top-tier power rushers in the NFL starting out, but Ruiz is my clear-cut top center in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2. Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU (Top-50)
Depending on who you ask, the battle for the top center in the 2020 NFL Draft is between Cushenberry and Ruiz. Cushenberry is a good athlete with top-notch balance, anchor, and power. He does a lot of the little things right from a fundamental standpoint in pass protection, and he’s demonstrated the requisite IQ to play center at the next level. In the run game, Cushenberry is more passive than ideal, and isn’t a true “mauler”. If he can improve upon those traits, Cushenberry can be a top-tier center in the NFL.
3. Matt Hennessy, Temple (Second round)
Hennessy is one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft. Offering versatility to fit any scheme in the NFL, Hennessy is a plug-and-play starter. He reminds me of current Houston Texan Nick Martin with his outstanding tenacity in pass blocking and solid fundamentals. Hennessy is more smooth than explosive in space, but he meets several thresholds as an athlete.
4. Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin (Third round)
Biadasz’s draft stock has taken a tumble this past season, but he should be in the mix for a center-needy team on the second day of the draft. He isn’t an outstanding athlete in any sense, but like Hennessy, Biadasz checks enough boxes to become a starter in the NFL. He’s a fundamentally sound and nasty blocker up front, and he’ll bring some violence to the offensive line he lands on.
However, the regression Biadasz showed in 2019 is noteworthy enough to give enough pause to NFL evaluators. Biadasz reminds me of current Buffalo Bills center Mitch Morse as a center you can win with because of his top-notch ability in pass protection and mental processing.
5. Nick Harris, Washington (Third round)
Harris had a rough showing at the Senior Bowl, but his tape suggests he can be a fine starting-caliber center prospect. Harris is a scheme-specific center, and he’ll be much better suited in a zone-run scheme, where he can be a starter, versus a gap-scheme. While he isn’t the most violent blocker out there, he’s one of the most technically-savvy offensive linemen in this draft. Harris demonstrated good mental processing in traveling to the second level, resulting in reaching the best angles against speedier defenders in space. With further physical development, Harris can develop into a solid starter at center in the NFL.
6. Keith Ismael, San Diego State (Third round)
Ismael had a standout performance at the Senior Bowl, which is what first put him on my radar. His tape matched his Senior Bowl showing, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well-developed Ismael was for a small-school offensive lineman. He has a few lapses in technique, namely in his footwork, but Ismael demonstrated great balance and moved well on tape. Having played center and both guard spots, Ismael adds valuable versatility to his already talented resumé. Overall, he’s one of my favorite players in this class and deserves to be mentioned among the top centers in the 2020 NFL Draft.
7. Jake Hanson, Oregon (Fourth round)
8. Cohl Cabral, Arizona State (Fifth round)
Cohl Cabral is a polarizing prospect. One of the most well-rounded and versatile offensive linemen in this draft class, Cabral started multiple games at left tackle and center. He uses his hands well in pass protection and moves well in space, whether he’s pulling or climbing to the second level. Cabral has been voted team captain for two years as well. However, his measurements will likely cause him to slide down boards. Cabral measured at 300 pounds with 32-1/4″ arms at the NFL Combine and only participated in the bench press at the event. Overall, I think Cabral can be a good backup center option with room to grow into a solid starter with development.
9. Frederick Mauigoa, Washington State (Fifth round)
10. Zach Shackelford, Texas (Fifth round)
11. Darryl Williams, Mississippi State (Seventh round-UDFA)
There are some traits with Darryl Williams that could lead him to become a solid backup option over time, but right now, he’s far too inconsistent to see the field. His use of hands and mental processing is adequate, but his physical limitations are evident on the field as an athlete. Williams has shown flashes of good power on down blocks and in his punches in pass protection, but it has remained strictly as flashes.
12. Sean Pollard, Clemson (Seventh Round-UDFA)
13. Donell Stanley, South Carolina (Seventh Round-UDFA)
14. TJ McCoy, Louisville (UDFA)
15. Trystan Colon-Castillo, Missouri (UDFA)
AJ Schulte is an NFL Draft Analyst for @PFN365. You can follow him on Twitter @AJDraftScout.