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NFL Draft 2018: Billy Price can’t walk on water, but will keep you afloat

The four-year starter will be in the NFL for a while, but don’t expect him to be the next Nick Mangold.

To be quite honest, I don’t know a lot of college players before the NFL season is over.

If I were to tune into ESPN2 on some Saturday in early October and two ACC teams were playing, most of the players may as well be the guys in NCAA Football 07 whose identities are complete mysteries to me. While I took the time entering the names of players who I knew of a la Patrick Willis, Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden, the rest were just WR_#82.

I don’t even know the vast majority of the football roster at my own school, though they haven’t been any good since the coach left for Tennessee and has capped his success at nine-win seasons.

Living in Cincinnati, with family whom are Ohio State alumni and die hard fans of the Scarlet and Gray and Orange and Black, I was bound to hear about Ohio State center and captain Billy Price sooner than I expected to.

It seems every year, there’s one player that the Bengals fanbase clings to for them to draft, typically in the early rounds. Last year, it was Reuben Foster, the talented Alabama linebacker whose future with the 49ers is more up in the air than a Kevin Huber coffin corner.

But in years past, you could always count on Buckeyes being the prospects the Bengals HAVE to draft. This year, it’s the 2017 Rimington Trophy winner Price, and it has been for several months.

I expanded on Ohio State’s reputation and ability to develop draft picks on its offensive lines in my Jamarco Jones scouting report. Two of the players I mentioned were the two of the previous three starting centers for the Buckeyes in Corey Linsley and Pat Elflein.

Both were not only drafted, but started for their respective teams from day 1. But Linsley wasn’t drafted until the middle of the fifth round and Elflein waited until the third round to hear his name called.

Both were good prospects in their own right, but not good enough to warrant high selections. Is Price significantly better than his predecessors to warrant a significantly higher investment? The film is where we’ll find these answers about one of the Bengals’ top targets in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The first word that came to mind with Price was scrappy. I didn’t want it to be, but that’s what happened. Racial stereotypes prevail. Even Price has said the best way to describe his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio is “gritty”.

Price is a fighter and quite honestly reminds me of Russell Bodine (in the best way possible) but unfortunately also shares a weakness with Bodine; less than ideal length.

In the first play of the clip, Price and the left guard are protecting the right a-gap from the nose tackle. Price’s set takes him back almost behind the guard and the nose tackle attacks the left a-gap that now is wide open.

Price is unable to recover in his set and ends up tripping on his own teammate’s feet, and even when he had his footing, his reach was not enough to keep the nose tackle from pressuring the gap.

But Price bounces back two plays later. As with any center, waiting to engage a shaded tackle isn’t really an option. The quick set must be fast and the center must explode out of his stance and get his hands up in an instant.

Price is very quick with his hands and almost always initiates contact first. That’s his counter to his less than ideal length. He also finishes, if you’re into that.

From the snap, no time is wasted in getting his hands right in the nose tackle’s chest. He gets stood up for a quick second but resets his hip bend well and re-plants his anchor foot.

Once again, 32” arms aren’t going to do much when the defender is able to transfer power into movement, but Price opens his hips and flows with the defender to seal off the gap.

Price’s hands are persistent and always active, but his hips and feet sometimes underwhelm in comparison. If he can’t stonewall the defender and anchor down, he doesn’t always open his hips and establish half-man relationship.

This will get him into trouble especially against a defender who not only has a length advantage, but knows how to use it.

Maybe his most impressive rep in pass protection from last season, the a-gap rusher gets a great jump off the line, but Price drops a fantastic anchor to nullify his bull rush. His hips are sunk and his bend in his knees are able to compensate for his back being straight up. Still, his pad level is great and out-leverages the rusher.

My primary fear with Price is plays like this. In the grand scheme of things, Price didn’t allow the pressure, and wasn’t the culprit of the pocket collapsing. But the NFL has some freaks playing along the interior of the defensive line; guys who are long like tackles, or quick like edge rushers. In some cases, both of these qualities exist in the same body.

Price anchors fine, but is so easily tossed off balance and manipulated by length. In the run game, Price has to master his timing and mechanics in order to not get rag-dolled at the point of attack.

Here, the delayed blitz by the MIKE linebacker is the hammer of this twist. Price needs to absorb this in its tracks and not let himself get too deep, because when he gets taken back a couple yards, that’s all the space the defensive tackle needs to find the quarterback. Price is taken off his feet and vacates his gap.

This is the second clip of where Price put himself in a position to get tripped by his left guard. He has to understand his depth better when handling the twist, and react/open his hips a lot quicker so his short reach doesn’t get exploited like this. For Price, things have to be perfect, or the pass rusher can take advantage.

Price’s footwork in run blocking was much more consistent and his core power was impressive in redirecting. On this read option, Price and the guard work on a combo block on the nose tackle, getting vertical movement as a result before the guard moves onto the linebacker.

With the nose tackle locked in his grip, Price is able to force him back out of the gap and open the hole for J.T. Barrett.

Price was asked to pull around the formation, not just short pulls, in pass protection and out in front of outside runs like this and did it fairly well. The play design got the force player to collapse further inside to get him sealed out of the play, but Price still does well in getting there and turning upon engaging, completely taking the edge out of the play.

Quickness out his stance, efficiently folding around the down block, and locating the linebacker. More importantly than anything, he targets and strikes the inside shoulder to open the hole and clear even more space for the running back.

This run put the nail in the coffin for Michigan, who else to run behind than Price, who once again gets out in space and strikes the inside shoulder clean and drives his assignment scrapping over the top out of the play. Ballgame.

It’s okay to like Billy Price, the Ohio native who switched from defensive tackle to guard upon arriving at Columbus, and a two-time team captain and leader in the locker room. Price has all the intangibles that makes for a sharp player who will last long in the NFL. His versatility at both guard and center will also boost his resume. So what’s the downside?

While it may not matter for centers all that much, age is still an important factor to a player’s potential. Price will be 24 years old in October, most of the tape in this article is Price at 23 years old against players who are between 1-3 years younger than him.

Price can improve mechanically a little, but physically, he’s maxed out and won’t get any more athletic or flexible. I wouldn’t consider him an upper tier athlete like James Daniels is (who is 3 years younger) and doesn’t have the frame that Daniels has either.

What you see is what you’re going to get from Price for the beginning to the prime of his career. What I see is a solid but not great prospect by any means. Is that worth a first-round pick? No. Factor in no athletic testing thanks to a pectoral injured suffered at the combine, and that risk factor is even greater in selecting him in the top 50.

Price is a lot like the Ohio State centers that have come before him. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as that’s the ceiling we accept, and nothing more.