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2021 NFL Draft Preview: Center sleepers and Broncos fits

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos found their center last year when they selected Lloyd Cushenberry out of LSU in the third round. This year, they won’t be looking for a starting center but adding quality interior offensive linemen is always a good idea.

The center is the quarterback of the offensive line, and so many teams’ offensive identities begin with the center position. A quality center calls out line checks and works together with the quarterback to ensure the right blocking scheme is called for the defensive front that is shown before the snap. This class features a lot of talent and there is more depth than in previous years.

In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the center position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2021 NFL Draft.

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Market Watch

We should see Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma) go off the board late in the first round or early in the second round. He may be the highest-graded center we’ve seen come into the league for a few years. His wrestling background immediately makes me think of Alex Mack, and if Humphrey can turn into a Pro Bowl player like Mack (a former high school wrestling champion) did when he came out of Oregon, then some team is going to get a steal.

Centers who have wrestling backgrounds understand leverage in a way that others don’t. Humphrey has been wrestling since he was four years old, so he knows how to control his man with balance and strength. His hands are like vice grips. Once he gets ahold of his opponent, it’s game over.

He’s a “knee-bender” with snap-to-step quickness that may be unrivaled in this class. Humphrey is not overly athletic, but he could work in a zone system because of his quickness after the snap. He’ll add even more strength in an NFL weight program and looks like a starter from day one.

While not a first-round pick, Josh Myers (Ohio State) is not a sleeper, either. I have him graded as a second-round talent with upside. Myers plays with better “angular capture” than any prospect in this group. By that I mean he understands blocking angles and can be what scouts call a “sticky blocker” at the linebacker level. He is technically sound and could play inside at guard as well as his value as a center prospect.

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Sleepers

Drake Jackson (Kentucky) leads my sleeper list. He’s a player who lacks elite strength but gets by on intelligence, athleticism and guile. For 305 pounds, Jackson is light on his feet and doesn’t look out of place when he must get out and block in space. He’s not an “Earth Mover” inside, but he is technically sound and incredibly durable (44 consecutive starts).

Jimmy Morrissey (Pittsburgh) was a player I got to watch during the week of practice for the Senior Bowl earlier this year. He is a read-and-react type of center who lacks overwhelming strength or athleticism for the position. Morrissey makes up for that with high football intelligence and a great understanding of the offensive line’s responsibilities and what a defensive front is showing him before the snap. I like his hand-fighting ability and willingness to get out and block in space.

Drew Dalman (Stanford) may not be a household name, but in the scouting world, he’s no sleeper. He does a good job of keeping his feet underneath him after contact, and even though he played for the Cardinal it looks like he knows how to walk like a duck (there’s some football humor for you there). Dalman is capable of making all the calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage. His frame does look maxed out at 300 pounds, so larger nose tackles in the NFL could give him problems. A zone-blocking team should be looking at Dalman on the last day of the draft.

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Broncos Fits

Landon Dickerson (Alabama) would be going a lot higher in the draft if it wasn’t for his long injury history. He’s a prototypical center and one of the nastiness players in this class. He loves to punish defenders and toys with would-be blockers. He’s a high-character prospect with toughness and work ethic. Dickerson also has “violent striking hands” and a violent punch that can stun and stunt an oncoming rusher.

Multiple knee injuries, including one in December, will have some teams take him off their board. If he falls too far (day three), then the Broncos could take a chance just like they did on talented but oft-injured Netane Muti last year.

Another player the Broncos should keep an eye on is Trey Hill (Georgia). He’s a knee-bending road grader who plays center and plays it well. Hill has length and width which makes him difficult to get by or get around. He’s incredibly bright and has no problem with calls at the line. Hill is a nasty player who wants to “posterize” an opponent, especially when that player is engaged with a guard.

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