Pre-Draft Jaguars Position Primers: Brandon Linder Anchors Center, But What About the Future?

The Jacksonville Jaguars are set at center for the time being, with starter Brandon Linder and back-up Tyler Shatley. But could this be the draft to start building for the future?
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In a few short weeks, the wait will be over. The 2021 NFL Draft will be here and the Jacksonville Jaguars will kick off the spectacle for the first time in franchise history.

Following the worst season in franchise history and 15 consecutive losses, the Jaguars are looking to make a splash to turn around one of the NFL's more stagnant franchises. The Jaguars are equipped with 10 draft picks to fuel that turnaround, including the No. 1 overall pick.

But where do the Jaguars need to improve? Who needs to be replaced? To answer these questions and more, we are taking a look at what each Jaguars position group looks like entering the final month before the draft. Today, we look at the centers on the offensive line.

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On the roster: Brandon Linder and Tyler Shatley

Since shifting to center before the 2016 season, Linder has become an anchor on the Jaguars offensive line. Injuries have cut two of those seasons prematurely short, but he has started every game he’s played at the position.

He’s been the leader on an offensive line that helped running back Leonard Fournette gain 1,674 yards from scrimmage during the 2019 season and then made way in 2020 for rookie James Robinson to gain 1,414 yards from scrimmage.

Tyler Shatley first joined the Jaguars in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. Since he has become the Jaguars plug-and-play lineman, filling in and starting along the line whenever and wherever needed. As such, he started at center for seven games this past season.

Offseason additions: N/A

Head coach Urban Meyer said more than once that he was happy with the Jaguars offensive line and felt the pieces there were only going to get better in the coming years. That includes Linder at center.

“Offensive line, especially the interior line, I feel really good about them, Norwell, Linder, and A.J.," Meyer said on March 9.

“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.”

Offseason subtractions: N/A

Tyler Shatley was set to become a free agent. But two days before free agency was set to begin, the Jaguars resigned their ultimate depth player back to the roster. The sixth-year lineman has appeared in 94 games and made 25 starts during his six-year career in Jacksonville.

Biggest question facing position before the draft: Will they stock up for the future?

Linder and Shatley more than have the position handled. However, they’re also in their sixth years each. While offensive linemen have a longer shelf life than say, running back, they’re not quite spring chickens any longer either. The only lineman the Jags drafted last year was Ben Bartch and he’s more suited to guard.

Furthermore, Shatley’s new deal is only for one-year. Linder’s contract runs through 2022. With the draft capital the Jags own this year—10 picks—and knowing they’ll need to set up protection for (presumably) No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, a late round pick up at center could be a nice addition for the future.

Draft prospects who fit: Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma), Landon Dickerson (Alabama), Josh Myers (Ohio State)

Myers actually isn’t the best fit, at least right now. He’s a big bodied center who’s an excellent run blocker. He has trouble protecting the edge however, something that will be necessary as the Jaguars shift to a more spread offense under Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence. Additionally, Myers has worked in college as a center. He hasn’t exclusively played guard since high school. So Myers doesn’t provide a ton of versatility to be viable in other areas while biding his time and learning under Linder and Shatley.

Humphrey is projected to be a mid-second rounder which means the Jaguars could take him at pick No. 45 if they felt he was worth an early selection. And as Jaguar Report’s John Shipley wrote in his draft profile of Humphrey, he could very well be worth the pick.

“Humphrey has the instincts, smarts, experience, and strength to be a starter in the NFL from the jump…While Humphrey only ever played center for Oklahoma, he has the frame and strength to suggest he could also hold his ground at either guard position. Because of this, his fit with the Jaguars is actually an intriguing one despite the presence of Brandon Linder already at center.”

Dickerson’s best asset is his ample experience. He could benefit from time learning under a veteran like Linder, especially after coming off a knee injury in Alabama’s SEC Championship win. But his five years at the college level at both Florida State and Alabama have given him ample reps. A team with a more immediate need at center could be a good fit for Dickerson.