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NFL Draft: Athletic College Tackles that Could Be Centers in the NFL

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NFL Draft: Athletic College Tackles that Could Be Centers in the NFL

Furman offensive lineman Dakota Dozier by Brian Carriveau.

Furman offensive lineman Dakota Dozier by Brian Carriveau.

In nine years directing drafts as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson has never selected a true center.

With few exceptions, the Packers—under Thompson's leadership—identify athletic college tackles and determine where they fit in the NFL upon their arrival, once they get an up close and personal look and receive some NFL-caliber coaching.

Consider the past several offensive linemen drafted by the Packers: David Bakhtiari, J.C. Tretter, Derek Sherrod, Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse, T.J. Lang, Andrew Datko, all were left tackles in college. Josh Sitton was a right tackle.

Even though they signed as undrafted free agents, both Don Barclay and Even Dietrich-Smith were left tackles in college as well.

Exceedingly few true interior offensive linemen make the Packers' roster coming out of college. Lane Taylor is an exception to the rule, and even he went undrafted.

Considering the job at center in Green Bay is up for grabs combined with the team's history developing interior offensive linemen from college tackles, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Packers go after yet another athletic edge tackle in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Maybe this is the year the Packers buck the trend and select a true center like Marcus Martin of USC or Weston Richburg of Colorado State, but if they don't, the following is a look at which college tackles either have experience at center or figure to make the transition once they reach the next level.

Joel Bitonio, Nevada

Height: 6' 4"

Weight: 302 lbs.

Arms: 33' 7/8"

Hands: 9 5/8"

From 2010 to 2014, Bitonio started 36 of 51 games played during his college career, all of them at either right or left tackle. But at 6' 4", there's a decent chance Bitonio switches to the interior of the offensive line in the NFL.

While at the Senior Bowl, Bitonio was utilized at both tackle and guard, but center hasn't been ruled out.

"Some teams think they're going to give me a shot at tackle and see what happens," said Bitonio at the NFL Combine. "Other teams are like, you're a guard. Some teams say even center. It's kind of been all over the board, just 50/50 right now from that standpoint."

Odds of playing center in the NFL: Moderate.

Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt

Height: 6' 5"

Weight: 297 lbs.

Arms: 33 1/8"

Hands: 10 1/4"

Johnson started 51 of 51 games played at Vanderbilt, the most in school history. Most of his playing time came at left tackle, but Johnson started seven games at center and two at left guard during his sophomore season.

For measuring in at 6' 5", you'd expect his arms to be longer than 33 1/8 inches, but Johnson thinks his versatility will be valuable in the NFL.

"Coaches always say they like it, just because if a guy goes down, then I don't fill up one spot, I can fill up three spots," said Johnson. "It makes it easier for them to manage the roster, and stuff like that."

Odds of playing center in the NFL: High.

Dakota Dozier, Furman

Height: 6' 4"

Weight: 314 lbs.

Arms: 33 7/8"

Hands: 9 7/8"

Dozier lined up almost his entire career at left tackle, playing at the FCS level at Furman, but he could see the writing on the wall.

"I'm not 6' 6"," said Dozier. "I feel like I have the footwork to play tackle. I'm a little bit shorter. I enjoy playing on the inside. The speed's a little bit quicker. I love the contact."

The final two games of his career at Furman and then again at the East-West Shrine Game, he switched to the interior of the offensive line where he played guard.

Odds of playing center in the NFL: Moderate.

Jack Mewhort, Ohio State

Height: 6' 6"

Weight: 309 lbs.

Arms: 34"

Hands: 9 3/4"

Mewhort started 38 of 49 games played at Ohio State, including the last two years at left tackle. 

"I see myself as an offensive lineman," said Mewhort. "I truly believe I can play any position on the offensive line. I played left tackle the last two years, I played guard in 2011, both guards at the Senior Bowl. I was an All-American center coming out of high school. You point me in the direction tell me to play the position, I'll do it as hard as I can go."

Because of his long 6' 6" frame, Mewhort might play guard in the NFL but figures to be a long shot to play center.

Odds of playing center in the NFL: Low.

Ryan Groy, Wisconsin

Height: 6' 5"

Weight: 316 lbs.

Arms: 33' 1/4"

Hands: 10 3/8"

Wagner set a Wisconsin record, playing in 54 games. Among his 33 starts, most came at left guard, but he also started games at left tackle, center and fullback during his college career.

"A lot of guys have asked me (where I'm most comfortable)," said Groy. "What I've told them mostly is the inside three. That's where I feel most comfortable. I feel very comfortable at guard, center. I told them if need be I can play tackle. I'm not afraid to go out there; I'm not afraid to play it."

Because he's lacking elite foot quickness, Groy seems destined for the interior of the offensive line in the NFL but could play tackle in a pinch. Whether he ends up at guard or center could simply depend where his new team needs him the most.

Odds of playing center in the NFL: High.

Brandon Linder, Miami

Height: 6' 6"

Weight: 311 lbs.

Arms: 34 1/2"

Hands: 10 1/4"

Linder started 42 of 49 games at Miami, primarily at right guard but also started three games at right tackle as a senior.

As a true freshman in 2010, Linder played in all 12 games and started five, each of them as an extra lineman (tight end) in a jumbo formation. He also saw snaps at center as a freshman, even though he didn't start.

Linder has the length of a tackle but also appears to lack elite foot quickness.

Odds of playing center in the NFL: Moderate.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "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].

Photo: Furman offensive lineman Dakota Dozier by Brian Carriveau.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (16) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jordan's picture

Good article, but Rodgers has a heck of time seeing over tall players. Scott wells was 6'2". Eds was also 6'2". Most of those guys you listed were 6'4 or taller.

I don't know why Rodgers struggles seeing over tall guys or finding passing lanes while guys like Brees and Wilson don't seem to struggle. Wilson usually takes a deep drop though.

Maybe they'll go with linsley. He's only 6'2".

4thand1's picture

Hell I was watching clips on Brees actually standing on his tiptoes to see downfield. AR got 3 inches on him. Little advice, don't call Rodgers short if you ever have the chance to meet him.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Brees is either on his tiptoes or is at the edge of the pocket. You hardly see Brees actually climb the pocket.

Jordan's picture

Is that NFL schedule out? Interesting video in link below. It makes you wonder if nobody is open? Rodgers not reading coverage? Rodgers holding ball to long? Packers o-line stunk? Seahawks have a good D ? ;) I wonder how many points the packers' offense can score against Seattle D ?

DrealynWilliams's picture

It was a combination of things.

Our O-Line damn sure didn't bring its A-game.
Our WRs were getting mauled from whistle to whistle.
We had NO threat of running for more than 3-4 yards.
Seahawks has a hell of a D-Line.

Did I miss anything?

DrealynWilliams's picture

Games/teams like that no longer worry me with the addition of Lacy and Starks now playing the role he's meant for. We do however, need a replacement for Jones - his type at least. I wouldn't necessarily label Nelson as a physical WR and Cobb seems to disappear or just doesn't make impacting plays (offensively) against "in your face CB's".

Annnnnnd another thing! Let's not forget how great our defense looked even with the horrible calls that went against us. The Seahawks scored one touchdown!

DrealynWilliams's picture

Lol,of course you beat us all to Moncrief.

Can't believe Boykin slipped my mind during that post. I wonder why we saw little of him early on in the season. I remember seeing Jeremy Ross (before he was cut) more than Boykin.

ben's picture

"Lol,of course you beat us all to Moncrief." (i think i just puked in my mouth a little)

I was just going to give stroh a thumbs up too. Until he got to Moncrief. He's got good measurable but he is soft and both his production and tape is lacking.

"Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Odel Beckham, Martavis Bryant, Abbrederis, Marquise Lee, Paul Richardson, & Jordon Matthews will all be better pro-receivers."

Quote me on that.

ben's picture

Jordon, Good call on Linsey. He's a real athlete and hopefully more of a possibility than most of the prospects listed in the article.

Dozier- Na, Mewhort- Na, Linder- Na, Bonito- going too early. Wesley and Groy do look pretty good.

Best Value at Center: (Revised)
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (3rd-4th round)
Russell Bodine in the (4th-5th round)
Ryan Groy (6th-7th round)

ben's picture

I just watched some of Ryan Groy's & Corey Lindsey's tape.

Lindsey's game against Cal was bad, against WI just OK. (not as good as his measurables led me to believe) (kind of like Shazier & Moncrief)

Now Russell Bodine has the freakish measurables and the great game-tape. Next to LDT my favorite Center prospect, an ass-kicker and for me a sure thing.

I'm not sure if Ryan Groy can play Center, but he's a steal in rounds 6 or 7. Except for 1 play early, Groy does a very good job against Hageman and has a very good overall game. 1st team All Big 10, strong, & can pull. Underrated.

Wesley Johnson gets to the 2nd level like a mad man. He did a pretty good job against Clowney, but seems to lack a touch of agility and strength. I can see TT loving his versatility and the fact he's from Vanderbilt.

HankScorpio's picture

It's a sound theory to take the more athletic OTs from college and make them interior OL in the pros. It allows the Packers to pass on some of the top prospects in rounds 1 and 2 and still have decent players inside.

Of course, there is usually a year or two apprenticeship involved. Which tends to drive the crowd that demands instant results from the draft nuts.

JimTaylor31's picture

True statement. Our expectations far exceed reality in most cases and instant starters and high performers are much the exception and not the rule after picks 10-15 or so. I notice that many posters get focused on the shortcomings of every player rated around the #21 slot. Any player not rated in the top 10 or so will have shortcomings, otherwise, they wouldn't be around at #21.

4thand1's picture

All they can focus on is , Its a 1st round pick! They are supposed to be NFL ready no matter what. Some on these guys are juniors, only 20 to 21 years old playing against seasoned vets.

4thand1's picture

Just read a good article about a teams 1st round pick. If a player doesn't make big strides in developing by the 3rd year, time to part ways with him. A team that invests the time and money on a 1st round pick shouldn't dump him to soon. So the experts say a 2 to 3 year window.

JimTaylor31's picture

That sounds about right to me. in 2-3 years you should pretty know what you have and if a guy is actually an NFL quality player we should see a jump in improvement in the second year. Quite a few guys can look OK in year 1 and then just level off. I'm not as down on the defense this year as some folks because TT invested a lot in the 2012 & 2013 drafts on defense. We should see some definite measurable strides this year. If not, then we do have a major problem.

jimtalkbox's picture

Smart article. TT has NEVER drafted a true Center and I don't expect him to anytime soon!

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