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Is drafting a center in the first round worth it?

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The Bengals have a good chance of drafting a center in the first round of the NFL Draft. Will the pick be a good investment? What are the bust odds? We evaluate the last 20 years of evidence.

NFL Combine - Day 1 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Bengals have desperately needed a center ever since Kyle Cook last played for the team in 2013 and they haven’t haven’t had a truly great center since Rich Braham’s career ended in 2006. With Russell Bodine no longer on the team, it’s no surprise the Bengals need a center – they have for some time.

A lot of the NFL Draft buzz surrounding the Bengals revolves around the position. Dave Lapham just made his prediction that the Bengals will draft Arkansas center Frank Ragnow in Round 1 and Dan Hoard predicted a center, too, though his pick was Billy Price out of Ohio State.

Over the past 20 NFL drafts, 10 centers have been selected in the first round. Of those, the highest drafted center was Damien Woody, selected 17th overall by the Patriots back in 1999. The other nine centers have been drafted anywhere from 18th thru 31st, with an average pick of 23. Suffice to say, centers rarely go early in the draft, and on the random year when a center does get selected in the first round, somewhere like #21 overall (where the Bengals are sitting with their first round pick) would more than likely allow a team like the Bengals to select the best center in the draft

Assuming that the 2017 NFL draft is like 16 of the past 20 drafts, where the top center is still on the board at pick #21, the question then becomes, should the Bengals draft the top center in the first round?

Here is a look back at the first round centers drafted over the past two decades:

ELITE

Travis Frederick, #31 overall, 2013 (Cowboys)

Interestingly, Travis Frederick was actually considered by some to be a “reach” at #31 overall after a disappointing combine made people forget about his great game film. Although, the drop on Frederick may have been a little excessive, as NFL.com listed him as their listed him as their 11th highest rated offensive line prospect, for example. Frederick has silenced any critics he may have had during the draft, by dominating opposing defensive tackles on his way to a first team All Pro selection, as well as four Pro Bowls.

Nick Mangold, #29 overall, 2006 (Jets)

Mangold, who just announced his retirement from the NFL, has been nothing short of dominant at any level of football – whether it be his days with the Kettering Alter Knights, Ohio State Buckeyes, or New York Jets. His multiple first team All Pro awards, multiple Pro Bowls, and much love from PFF will all attest to this. He was certainly worth the pick. Of course the funny thing is, as decorated as Mangold is, it might be his Olympic power lifting sister who has the most athletic awards in the family.

GREAT

Alex Mack, #21 overall, 2009 (Browns)

Mack has five Pro Bowl nominations to his name, and probably deserves more, if it weren’t for the fact that he was a member of the league’s perennial bottom-feeding Cleveland Browns for much of his career.

GOOD

Ryan Kelly, #18 overall, 2016 (Colts)

Ryan Kelly had a very good rookie season, going the entire season without allowing a sack, and only allowing a few hits on his quarterback. His run blocking was solid, and overall it’s difficult not to call the selection of Kelly as a good move by a Colts franchise that frequently squanders its first round picks on guys like Phillip Dorsett, Bjoern Werner, Donald Brown, and Trent Richardson (via trade).

Maurkice Pouncey, #18 overall, 2010 (Steelers)

PFF was not a fan of Pouncey in 2017, giving him a “poor” rating, but Pouncey does have six trips to the Pro Bowl and a pair of first team All Pro awards. And while some of those may have been based more on reputation than ability, it’s hard to dismiss all of those awards. Pouncey has been a good player, and one well worth the first round pick by the Steelers.

Eric Wood, #28 overall, 2009 (Bills)

Cincinnati’s own Eric Wood was productive for nine years as a starter for the Buffalo Bills before recently announcing his retirement. He was something of a surprise in the first round, as many expected Oregon’s Max Unger to be the second center drafted in the 2009 NFL Draft, after Alex Mack. Wood was never elite, but was a very solid player who earned a Pro Bowl trip a couple years ago.

Damien Woody, #17 overall, 1999 (Patriots)

Woody was the model of productivity and versatility, playing a dozen seasons in the NFL, playing center, left guard, right guard, and right tackle. He reached one Pro Bowl along the way as well.

ADEQUATE

Jeff Faine, #21 overall, 2003 (Browns)

Despite what Bengals fans saw from Faine in his last NFL season of 2012, he managed to carve out a long, if unspectacular, career.

Chris Spencer, #26 overall, 2005 (Seahawks)

The same can be said for Spencer, although to a lesser degree. His 10 year career included six years as a starter, bouncing between center and guard. Neither player proved to be worth a first round pick, but neither was truly a bust, either.

BUST

Cameron Erving, #23 overall, 2015 (Browns)

Erving is the lone bust in this list. And even though his selection at #23 overall was considered a little high by some, it really wasn’t seen as too bad of a pick. Despite making his second position change in a few years (defensive tackle to offensive tackle to center), Erving was a very athletic lineman who was coming off a great combine and oozing with upside “potential”.

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Ultimately nine of the 10 centers selected with a first round selection over the past 20 years have become solid, productive NFL players. And seven of the 10 were very good players worthy of a first round selection, based on their productive play and long, solid careers.

With many positions, the player you select at #21 overall may be the third, fourth or fifth best player at that position. But at center, you are likely getting the top player at that position in the draft. That may help explain why first round centers are generally very productive NFL starters, with only one bust coming in that group - from the Browns, of course.

Poll

Should the Bengals draft a center in Round 1?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Yes! Absolutely, yes.
    (487 votes)
  • 33%
    Yes, but only if it’s the center that I like best.
    (307 votes)
  • 12%
    No. Just no!
    (115 votes)
909 votes total Vote Now