The Jacksonville Jaguars have great belief in their offensive line entering 2021. And evidently, the rest of the NFL holds a similar sentiment, at least when looking at individual pieces.
After left tackle Cam Robinson was an honorable mention on ESPN's rankings of 2021 offensive tackles, center Brandon Linder has found himself mentioned among ESPN's top interior offensive linemen in a poll conducted among 'more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts'. Linder received the same recognition last offseason as well.
Linder is one of the league's most consistent centers in terms of performance and he also has led an offensive line that showed signs of being a physically dominant road-grading group and paved the way to James Robinson rushing for over 1,000 yards as a rookie last season.
"Offensive line, especially the interior line, I feel really good about them, [OL Andrew] Norwell, [OL Brandon] Linder, and [OL] A.J. [Cann]," Jaguars first-year head coach Urban Meyer said in March ahead of free agency.
"Those guys are good and our right tackle, I feel like his future’s ahead of him too. So, the offensive line, they should be better than a year [ago]. The expectation is that the offensive line will be much better next year.”
Linder was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 4 center in 2020, No. 6 in 2019 and No. 6 in 2018. On an offensive line that prides itself on its interior play, Linder is the top talent. He is also the key to the Jaguars' offensive communication up front, especially in terms of setting pass protections.
"Very underrated player. He has length and good athleticism, savvy. He just plays in Jacksonville, so he doesn't get much credit," an AFC scout told ESPN and Jeremy Fowler.
Only three centers were ranked among the top-10 interior linemen in ESPN's rankings (Frank Ragnow, Rodney Hudson and Erik McCoy), while five other centers -- including Linder -- were listed among those who received votes. This means that Linder is at best looked at as the No. 4 center by the league and, at worst, the No. 8.
The simple truth is that Linder has been one of the NFL's best centers in recent seasons and would likely be even higher on this list if he played for a team with more on-field success during his career. Along with this, the only downside to his game has been his durability, with 2019 being the only year he has started all 16 games.
Linder, a four-time offensive captain, is one of the team's longest-tenured players after seven seasons and 82 career starts. He is also arguably the offense's most consistent and established performer, which says something considering the position he plays.
Linder will now be asked to be a driving force behind the Jaguars' offensive line taking a step forward, a step the Jaguars hope they can take after returning all five starters, each key backup and offensive line coach George Warhop.
"We got everyone back. We got our coach back, Warhop. Everyone’s excited. In that room, we truly love each other, and we truly are friends. We hang out outside the building. So, we’re excited. We’re ready to turn it up and it’s going to be a fun year," Linder said in June.
"I mean it’s great. It’s always nice to build a relationship with a coach and not changing over every year having to learn from a new coach [because] everyone has different techniques and stuff. Warhop truly cares about us, not only as football players but [as] men outside this building. So, we are all excited to have him back and it’s just nice [because] we have a relationship with him and now it’s just going to keep building.”