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2013 Draft Preview: Guard/Center

Posted Apr 12, 2013

Alabama’s Warmak stands head and shoulders above the rest.


Interior offensive linemen don’t typically garner many headlines before the NFL Draft, especially in a year when there are some high profile tackles in the class. But the best offensive lineman on the nation’s best team, Alabama, just happened to be a guard in Chance Warmak, and the way he dominated in the BCS National Championship Game, at the Senior Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine and at his Pro Day only improved his draft stock

North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper also has first-round potential and leads the next level behind Warmak that includes Warmack’s teammate and center, Barrett Jones. Wisconsin center Travis Frederick had enough confidence to come out as a junior and Justin Pugh out of Syracuse helped protect quarterback Ryan Nassib as a tackle being viewed as an NFL guard.  

BREAKING DOWN TOP GUARD/CENTER PROSPECTS
(In Alphabetical Order)


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Nobody will question Jonathan Cooper’s strength after he hoisted 225 pounds in the bench press 35 times at the Combine. His quick feet also are an asset and he is athletic, running a 5.07 in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, so his mobility will only help him in a league that is incorporating more zone blocking and pulling. Cooper can be used effectively in the read option as the quarterback’s protector with the pocket moving and really came on strong as a senior by earning first-team All-American honors. Any concerns over his durability were laid to rest when it was revealed that he had offseason surgery on his left shoulder prior to last year, yet put together his best season. Cooper could become the highest-drafted Tar Heels lineman since San Francisco selected Harris Barton back in 1987 with the 22nd overall pick.

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Travis Frederick is projected to be the first center off the board by some, which would keep with the recent trend of Wisconsin offensive linemen making noise in the draft. His thick beard rivals that of New York Jets center Nick Mangold but Frederick is primed to carve out his own identity. Frederick started all 13 games last year at center for the Badgers and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, but he is versatile enough to shift to guard if called upon and is an excellent downfield blocker. Though his numbers at the Combine were nothing to write home about (21 reps in the bench press and 5.58 in the 40), it’s what Frederick put on film that has scouts excited, with his balance and strength against blitzers and bull rushers being the only real concern for teams.

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Next to Katharine Webb, Barrett Jones probably got more camera time during the BCS National Championship Game after his brief tussle with quarterback A.J. McCarron than anyone else. He already had cemented his place among the nation’s top linemen by winning the 2012 Rimington Award given to the nation’s best center, and that was after winning the 2011 Outland Trophy as a left tackle. Toughness is not an issue as he played the last half of the season with a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot, which prevented him from being able to do anything at the Combine and only the bench press at his Pro Day. Jones was still wearing a protective boot on his foot that day but managed 27 reps of 225 pounds, so his game film and performance in individual interviews will be key to potential suitors.

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Even though he earned his keep as an offensive tackle for the Orange and was tasked with protecting Ryan Nassib, Justin Pugh is seen more as a guard at the NFL level. His questionable reach thanks to his 32-inch arms stands out to scouts as being a potential problem if he tried to stay outside at the tackle position, which is why he seems better suited for a move inside. Pugh was pushed around a bit during practices at the Senior Bowl from his tackle position and that’s where the first murmurs about a position switch were heard and his mobility and starting experience could be seen as an asset to teams running a zone-blocking scheme. He has been compared to USC’s Sam Baker because of his size but Baker made the transition at tackle, whereas Pugh is better suited at guard.

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Chance Warmak opened holes for two first-round running backs in Trent Richardson and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram before doing the same for the best running back in this year’s class, Eddie Lacy. His unique combination of power and speed makes him one of the most intriguing guard prospects to come out in a while, as he is equally effective pulling on sweeps and drive blocking on inside runs. Warmak’s strong lower base allows him to fend off bull rushers in the passing game and Saban gave him the strongest endorsement. “I think people that have his kind of balance and body control and the kind of athleticism that he has at his size are rare commodities,” Saban said. “Everybody knows that those guys play 12, 14, 15 years. I think Chance has a chance to have that kind of career.”

OTHER TOP GUARD/CENTER PROSPECTS AT A GLANCE

G Alvin Bailey
Arkansas
6-3, 312

C Khaled Holmes
USC
6-3, 302

C Brian Schwenke
California
6-3, 314

G Larry Warford
Kentucky
6-3, 332

G Brian Winters
Kent State
6-4, 320

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