It's difficult to envision the Green Bay Packers investing a draft choice into Kentucky guard Larry Warford, but they're doing their due diligence just in case.
"The Packers, they asked me if I played center, just for backup reasons," said Warford at the NFL Combine. "You only get seven active linemen a game, so they want to know if I'm versatile enough to play that position."
Warford is considered one of the best true guards in this year's draft class. Visit nearly any draft website, and you'll see an almost consensus ranking of guards with Alabama's Chance Warmack at the top, followed by North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper and Warford coming in at No. 3.
What makes Warford unlikely to wind up in Green Bay is the recent contracts sunk into incumbent starters Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang.
Sitton signed a six-year, $34.95 million contract in 2011 that doesn't expire until after the 2016 season while Lang inked a five-year, $22.06 million deal just last year that also comes to a close after 2016.
The argument could be made that Lang deserves some competition for his job after giving up nine sacks (according to ProFootballFocus.com) and 21 1/2 pressures (according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn) in 2012. But the reality that the Packers have made a commitment to Lang that makes it highly unlikely that he's unseated anytime soon.
At least in theory, the Packers could bring in someone to challenge Evan Dietrich-Smith at the center position, but it doesn't appear as if Warford is anything more than an emergency option at that particular position.
"He's a very powerful guy," said former NFL scout Dan Shonka of Ourlads on Cheesehead TV's Railbird Central. "I think that he's more of a man type of blocker than say a zone-blocking guard, somewhat similar to Chance Warmack, not quite that caliber, but he's certainly a very good football player and should play a good time in the league."
The Packers have been incorporating more power-scheme blocking into their offense over the course of the last year under Mike McCarthy, but still haven't strayed entirely from their zone principles.
Either way, Warford isn't likely to be a long-term fixture at center for any team. Still, he knows it's important to be flexible when only 46 players can be active on game days in the NFL.
"(Teams) want to make sure that I’m versatile, asked me if I’ve taken snaps before," said Warford. "I was actually our second-string center this past year if our first-string center went down. I took snaps all spring. While our first-string center was in class, I took over that role. So I’ve played a lot of center."
Warford played right guard almost exclusively at Kentucky but feels he could play on the left side of the offensive line if asked.
Over the course of his entire college career, Warford says he only gave up four sacks: two as a sophomore, one as a junior and one a senior. That particular statistic becomes even more impressive when you consider he played against SEC competition week in and week out.
A former teammate of receiver Randall Cobb at Kentucky, Warford expressed extreme admiration for the current Green Bay Packer.
"He's one of the greatest guys I met," said Warford. "When you talk about a leader, the first person I think about is Randall. Coming in, such a young guy with a big responsibility on his back, to carry our team through all the adversity we went through while he was here, I can't explain how much that meant to me. And I respect him so much for that, because he's a great guy."
Now it's time for Warford to forge his own legacy. It may not be with the Packers unless he unexpectedly falls further down draft boards than most expect, but he stands to become one of the better interior offensive linemen to come out of the April's draft.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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