When talking about the offensive line, the discussion tends to center around the offensive tackles. It used to be the left tackle was considered to be the most important position on the line by far, but that perception is changing. But the tendency to focus on the tackle positions still holds, and has generally dominated the conversation for the New York Giants.
But there is an argument to be made that the center position is almost as important as the tackle positions. The center is generally responsible for calling protections, he helps out the guards with double teams, has to deal with some of the most powerful players on opposing defenses, helps set the depth of the pocket, and plays a huge role in the success of running plays by working to the second level or creating a numbers advantage for the offense by pulling.
LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry III came on in the second half of the season as the Tigers tore through the SEC and the College Football Playoffs, and has made waves in Senior Practices. The Giants have tried to save money at the center position in recent years by letting Weston Richburg leave via free agency, trading Brett Jones, and trusting the position to journeymen Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley.
The fourth overall pick might be a bit high to draft any of the top centers in the draft, but could Cushenberry be an option later on?
Prospect: Lloyd Cushenberry III, OC, LSU
Games Watched: vs. Ole Miss ‘18, vs Texas ‘19, vs Auburn ‘19, vs Alabama ‘19
Red Flags: None
Games Played: 33 (27 starts)
Best: Athleticism, Attitude, Run blocking, Play in space
Worst: Hand quickness, Awareness
Projection: A starting offensive center in a zone or man scheme
Lloyd Cushenberry III is an athletic, smart, and experienced offensive center with a great combination of mass and length, as well as a nasty demeanor when blocking. Cushenberry is active before the snap, helping to identify pressure and communicating protections. His shotgun snaps are crisp and accurate, and his under-center exchanges are easily handled by the quarterback. Cushenberry is highly athletic for a bigger center, moving easily after the snap to mirror defenders in pass protection. He plays with a wide base, good ankle and knee flexion, and generally low hips to establish leverage. Cushenberry is able to keep up with speed rushers as well as drop his hips and absorb bull rushes. He consistently looks for work when not engaged with a defender and works to the second level well off of combo blocks. He moves easily when blocking at the second level or in space on screen passes. He shows a mauler’s mentality when blocking downhill in the run game, driving his legs and playing with good pad level to generate movement. Once engaged, Cushenberry shows good competitive toughness, torquing defenders and consistently looking to deliver the last shove or finish the play with his man on the ground.
Cushenberry can struggle with his hand usage immediately after the snap. There is a noticeable delay after snapping the ball in which he has to “reload” before firing his punch. Cushenberry struggled to anchor against and control defenders when he wasn’t able to make first contact. When his hands were slow he often found them outside defenders’ framework. In pass protection he can be slow to pick up late pressure from stunts and blitzes. Cushenberry also showed some issues with balance when torquing defenders.
Overall Grade: 6.3 - Has the traits to become a starter early in his career. Good value on Day 2 with starter upside. [Grading Scale]
Lloyd Cushenberry projects as a starting center at the NFL level. He shows the football IQ to handle protection calls before the snap and the athleticism to play in zone blocking schemes and pull in man schemes, as well as the power to create movement downhill. He is at his best when able to use his athleticism to stay in front of defenders in pass protection, working to the second level, or blocking for screen passes or able to drive downhill as a run blocker. Cushenberry’s struggles come when matched head-up on a defender and he isn’t able to quickly transition from snapping the ball to firing his punch. Though this improved over the course of the season, it will have to be a point of emphasis going forward. He also has experience at guard and the frame to play the position if necessary.