Although Cincinnati Bengals starting center Russell Bodine improved in 2016, in comparison to his prior two years in the NFL, his lack of consistency and inability to keep pass rushers out of the pocket was a big drag on the Bengals’ 2016 season. The Bengals’ biggest problem on the offensive line was at right tackle following the departure of Andre Smith, but Bodine’s performance at center wasn’t much better and his faults were overshadowed by the issues at right tackle.
Behind him, the Bengals seem to like T.J. Johnson as a backup. But, Johnson has rarely shown much potential or ability to compete with Bodine for the starting spot. At best, it seems like a very thin position.
To fix that problem, the Bengals might want to take Mel Kiper’s top 10 centers in the 2017 draft into consideration. The team has the No. 9 overall pick — though the team isn’t going to spend its first round pick on a center — and is expected to have 11 picks to make. That’s enough to select an entire starting offense or defense, so the Bengals might as well consider these players at some point during the draft. Not all of the top 10 centers are expected to get drafted, so the group of draftable guys is small but strong.
1. Ethan Pocic (LSU)
Imagine the intelligence and strength of Russell Bodine, but much bigger, more athletic, and possessing a notably developed hand technique. That’s Pocic, the best center in this year’s draft in both Kiper’s opinion and my own. He is also a very versatile player, so he could move outside to guard if there is not a spot immediately available at center, or even to tackle if the need arises. However, centers don’t typically receive the same kind of buzz that guys who play on the outside receive. He could be as high as a late first round selection, but he could also fall all the way to the third round, based on current projections. Personally, I think he would be a solid pick for the Bengals in the second round. But, if the team picks someone else and he is available in the third round, it would be foolish to let the opportunity pass them by.
2. Pat Elflein (Ohio State)
Although Elflein doesn’t have quite the same versatility as Pocic, he is versatile enough to play anywhere on the inside while possessing some of the same work ethic and leadership traits that scouts love about Pocic. But, he could use a bit more refinement on his footwork and doesn’t have the same athleticism as Pocic. Still, he has the ideal build for a center, takes down defenders like a wrestler, and finishes off opponents with relative ease. His draft window is likely the late first round to second round.
3. Tyler Orlosky (West Virginia)
Orlosky has a vicious mentality that pairs well with his notable awareness. He always seems to always know what is happening and can break down a blitz with the best of them. He is both aggressive in his blocking and supremely confident in his abilities. He will need to refine his technique to make an impact at the NFL level, but he has all of the base qualities you look for in a prospect. The Bengals could probably pick him up in the third round, but teams might find issue with his average athleticism, which could cause him to fall to Day 3 of the Draft.
4. Jon Toth (Kentucky)
If the Bengals are looking for a true sleeper in this draft, Kentucky’s Toth fits the bill. He is criticized for his corralling technique and his eagerness to move to the second level makes you question whether center is the absolute best position for him in the NFL. But, there is nothing wrong with versatility. From a size and build standpoint, there is no question that his best fit is at center. Unlike most of the other players on this list, Toth is a brilliant technician who might be the most complete center in this year’s draft were it not for his ‘tweener’ mentality. Because of that, he could last on the board until the sixth round, where the Bengals could pick him for an absolute steal.
5. Cameron Tom (Southern Mississippi)
Rounding out the top five is Southern Mississippi’s only real NFL caliber player in this year’s draft class. Tom contributed in all four of his years in college at Southern Mississippi and made a name for himself as one of the unsung heroes of the school’s stellar 2015 season. He earned All-Conference USA first team honors in three of his four seasons and started in a team-best 47 straight games. His talent coming into the NFL is raw and as such, he is expected to be taken in one of the later rounds. There’s also the possibility that he goes undrafted, in which case, the Bengals could look to pick him up in college free agency.
Here’s the rest of Kiper’s top 10:
6. Chase Roullier, Wyoming
7. Kyle Fuller, Baylor
8. Jay Guillermo, Clemson
9. Lucas Crowley, North Carolina
10. Riley Sorenson, Washington State