On the draft topic sexiness scale, centers rank somewhere slightly above kickers and slightly below which prospect is wearing the worst suit. Center just does not move the needle all that much as far as the casual draft viewer is concerned.
It's a different story for the teams themselves. The center spot is absolutely vital to an offense's performance, perhaps now more than ever given how skilled linebackers and safeties have become at attacking straight down the A-gap. While no center was taken last year until Weston Richburg went to the Giants at pick No. 43, four of the prior five drafts all featured a Round 1 selection at that position.
The 2015 class has one shot at cracking the first round, with this list's top-ranked prospect. As is often the case, a run on centers will follow much later, somewhere late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.
Here are the best centers available in this year's draft:
1. Cameron Erving, Florida State: ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said this week that Erving's midseason move from tackle to center in 2014 was "the best thing to happen to his career." Hard to argue. Erving made a seamless transition inside, buoying his NFL stock in the process. "Wherever a team wants me to play, I’ll play," Erving said at the combine.
Not only can he play the versatility card, Erving is still very much in his formative years as an offensive lineman, having shifted over from defensive tackle a mere three years ago. He already shows excellent awareness and pairs it with quickness. There's room to improve, but Erving has started to make the necessary strides. We're talking about a potential long-term answer at center.
Projection: Late first round
2. Hronnis Grasu, Oregon: Nothing all that flashy here. Grasu just gets the job done, time and again. He displays a high football IQ, which is an element that cannot be overlooked when talking about the center position. That he excelled in a complex offense in high-pressure situations for an Oregon team consistently in the national title hunt will not be ignored by NFL teams, either. Grasu shows nice footwork in pushing off the ball wide or into the second level, and he holds his own as a pass-blocker.
Projection: Early third round
3. Reese Dismukes, Auburn: Outworking an opponent can go a long way, especially in the trenches. That's not the only way Dismukes got the job done as a 50-game starter at Auburn, but his effort level did help quite a bit. The 6'3", 296-pounder does not stand out from a physical or athletic standpoint, with his relatively short arms (32 1/4 inches) and average numbers in the bench press (23 reps) and footwork drills (8.14-second three-cone, 4.7 short shuttle) coming to light at the combine. He does, however, play through the whistle, with an understanding of how to best angle himself so he can find some leverage. Dismukes can handle varied pressures up front in pass protection or get to the second level in the run game.
Projection: Early to mid-fourth round
[daily_cut.nfl draft]4. Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech: Another late-mover to the center spot, Mason actually did not see any extended time at the position until Senior Bowl week. The resulting performance made him all the more appealing to NFL teams, who could see him as a valuable swing player along the interior. Mason is a bowling ball of a blocker, extremely difficult to move from his spot yet with more than enough power to drive momentum forward. His run blocking alone will earn him a serious look somewhere, with a permanent move to center potentially ahead.
Projection: Late fourth round
5. B.J. Finney, Kansas State: Finney started for four straight seasons and was a team captain three times at Kansas State, so check off the durability and leadership boxes on his scouting report. He is able to use his hands and body positioning to make up for most of his shortcomings in the power department. A dominant week at the Shrine Game showed off the type of steady performance a team could find in Finney. All that said, he is limited as an athlete, so there will be a perceived cap on just how much of a standout he can be.
Projection: Mid-fourth round to mid-fifth round
6. Greg Mancz, Toledo: There were draft-worthy prospects all over the 2014 All-MAC team: Quinten Rollins, Titus Davis, Donald Celiscar, Jean Sifrin. However, it was Mancz whom the conference's coaches voted as MAC MVP. If not for the torn labrum he suffered during Shrine Game week, Mancz likely would be a spot or two higher on this list. He was unable to participate in combine workouts.
"It's unfortunate," he said of the injury, "but in the long run, I'd rather be able to play football than run and jump. Obviously, it's unfortunate that I can't help myself in that regard."
He helped himself plenty at Toledo, spending time at tackle, guard and center. Even before the labrum injury sidelined him, Mancz needed to bulk up for his NFL career, and he does not bring much foot speed as a blocker. What he does bring is a disciplined style that relies on technique.
Projection: Mid- to late fifth round
7. Andy Gallik, Boston College: Scheme fit is vital for the success of any draft pick, and Gallik will almost certainly need to land with a downhill power-running team if he wants to prove his worth. He shows promise blocking in a phone booth—in other words, his strength allows him to win battles so long as he does not have to range too far from his initial spot. On the move, Gallik will be overmatched early in his NFL career. As a mostly stationary anchor in the middle, he should have a shot.
Projection: Sixth round
8. Chad Hamilton, Coastal Carolina: If you're hunting for a sleeper at the center spot, well, here you go. Hamilton said at the combine that he believes his best positional fit is at center, where he made exactly zero appearances for Coastal Carolina. He is a very intriguing prospect there, though, because of the stellar footwork that he possesses for his size (6'2", 292 pounds). Experience and added strength will have to come later. Hamilton was an FCS All-America selection in 2014, a durable starter who played in 52 games and a beast leading the way for current Ravens running back Lorenzo Taliaferro back in 2013.
Projection: Sixth round
9. Max Garcia, Florida: There are some ugly moments on Garcia's tape. There is also evidence of him playing all over the line and occasionally packing quite a punch from the center spot. His trip to the Senior Bowl followed a similar pattern, with Garcia looking overmatched at times but holding his own against some potential Round 1 defensive tackles at others. Garcia's game relies on mixing it up in confined spaces. So long as a team is willing to accept the warts, there's potential.
Projection: Late-sixth round to seventh round
10. Chris Jasperse, Marshall: Think of him as a poor man's Dismukes—a lot of the same notes apply here as they did to the Auburn center. Jasperse is not all that big, strong or quick, all of which were evident at various times during a rocky Senior Bowl week. On the flip side, he started 53 straight games for Marshall and seems to process what is happening in front of him smoothly. Because of the weaknesses in his game, Jasperse may have to battle his way onto an NFL roster.
Projection: Seventh round or UDFA