The recent signing of center free-agent J.C. Hassanauer by the New York Giants did nothing to change the team’s needs in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft. The Giants still obviously need to address the center position, where they have not had a multi-year starter since Weston Richburg from 2015-2017.
Should the Giants do that in Round 1, where they have the 25th overall pick?
There are a lot of ways to look at that question, so let’s break it down.
What will happen in picks 1-24?
This is not like a year ago, when the Giants had picks Nos. 5 and 7 and could be reasonably certain they would have many of their preferred selections available to them. If Joe Schoen sits tight at No. 25 he will have to wait and see who remains after the first two-dozen players come off the board the night of April 27.
Mock drafters and many national draft analysts remain honed in on the idea that the best way for the Giants to improve quickly would be to add a play-making wide receiver or a difference-making cornerback with their first selection.
Unfortunately for the Giants, there have also been indications that the top four cornerbacks and wide receivers — the ones assumed to be potential Giants’ targets at No. 25 — could be off the board by the time the Giants get to select.
That would leave the Giants with the possibility of choosing from what many see as the second tier of receivers or cornerbacks, or turning their attention to another position.
Do teams select centers in Round 1?
Not in the top half of the first round, but it has become common for teams to select a center in the middle to bottom portion of Round 1.
- 2022 — Tyler Linderbaum was selected No. 25 by the Baltimore Ravens.
- 2020 — Cesar Ruiz was selected No. 24 by the New Orleans Saints. Ruiz to date has played far more guard than center for the Saints.
- 2019 — Garrett Bradbury was selected No. 19 by the Minnesota Vikings.
- 2018 — Frank Ragnow and Billy Price were selected 18th and 19th, respectively, by the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals.
- 2016 — Ryan Kelly was selected No. 18 by the Indianapolis Colts.
- 2015 — Cameron Irving was selected No. 19 by the Cleveland Browns.
- 2013 — Travis Frederick was chosen No. 31 by the Dallas Cowboys.
So, a center has been taken in the bottom portion of the first round in seven of the last 10 drafts. Eyebrows were raised when the Cowboys took Frederick at No. 31 in 2013, but five Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro honor for Frederick during a seven-year career anchoring a terrific Dallas line was perhaps part of the impetus for the changing perception.
What do the analytics say?
The tackle positions, particularly left tackle, are considered the most important on the offensive line. Anecdotally, the center position, played by the person responsible for snapping the ball to start each play and for handling the communication of the five players along the line (plus the inline tight ends) would seem to be the next-most important.
Do the analytics agree?
Here are the PFF Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stats for 2020 (the only ones readily available):
- QB: 53.3
- CB: 26.9
- S: 25.3
- WR: 21.0
- LB: 9.86
- Edge: 7.46
- T: 6.00
- TE: 5.37
- G: 4.89
- DI: 4.31
- HB: 2.99
- C: 2.53
PFF uses a stat called Pro Adjusted Wins Above Average (PAWAA) to judge value coming out of college and adjust for draft value. That metric definitely does not agree with the idea of drafting a center. Using data from the 2020 season (that is what I could find via PFF), center is listed with the lowest PAWAA of any position.
I think we can safely extrapolate that the data hasn’t changed much from 2020 to 2023. The 2020 PAWAA numbers by position were as follows:
- QB: 17.5
- CB: 9.36
- WR: 7.97
- HB: 6.54 (That’s a surprise, since PFF shows HB as second-lowest in traditional WAR at 2.99).
- S: 6.24
- LB: 5.86
- Edge: 4.07
- TE: 3.24
- T: 3.20
- DI: 2.48
- G: 2.35
- C: 2.02
Neither of these measures would lead to the belief that center would be a true value play at 25. By PAWAA, cornerback, wide receiver, safety, edge and even linebacker would be value plays if there is a player or players the Giants have graded as deserving of that pick.
33rd Team has created a metric it calls Second Contract Pay Ratio (SCPR) that puts centers middle of the pack in terms of second contract values and concludes “when you focus on first round only, wide receivers, cornerbacks, tackles and centers appear to be the most likely to earn good money by their second contract relative to their first.”
There is a study from Kevin Cole that indicates you get peak value from interior offensive linemen when you draft them in Round 2.
The conclusion? Whatever your position, you can probably find the numbers to support it if you dig hard enough.
The 2023 draft class
Giants fans know the names of the players considered the top centers in the 2023 draft class. John Michael Schmitz of Minnesota, Joe Tippmann of Wisconsin, Luke Wypler of Ohio State, Steve Avila of TCU (if you consider him a center), Ricky Stromberg of Arkansas, Olusegun Oluwatimi of Michigan, Juice Scruggs of Penn State, Alex Forsyth of Oregon.
Schmitz is generally considered the top center in the class, although that opinion is hardly universal.
There has been buzz about Schmitz as a potential first-round pick since an impressive Senior Bowl performance. The Giants are among the teams doing due diligence on Schmitz.
The Jets & Seahawks have been all over Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz as the #NFLDraft nears— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) April 10, 2023
A Vikings top 30 visit is on deck this week for a prospect who also has spent significant time with Steelers, Giants & more
Likely late 1st round/early 2nd at latest for JMS https://t.co/7meOEKGbFn
In our most recent mock draft tracker, Schmitz was the player most often chosen for the Giants. The NFL Mock Draft Database lists Schmitz as the consensus No. 47 prospect and the mock draft consensus choice for the Giants at No. 25. In that same database, Tippmann is the 63rd-ranked prospect and the consensus choice for the Giants at No. 57.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic recently released his annual draft guide, titled ‘The Beast.’ Brugler’s guide is generally the most widely respected media guide in the industry. So, what does ‘The Beast’ say about the centers in this draft class?
Brugler’s guide says there is not a single center in the class with a first-round grade, or even a first-second round grade. Tippmann, with a pure second-round grade, is the highest-ranked center.
“Tippmann must be mindful of his body leverage/balance to match up versus NFL defenders, but his quickness, strength and vision are all plus traits for a starting interior lineman. He projects as an NFL starter (either center or guard), ideally suited for a wide-zone scheme.”
What about Schmitz? Brugler gives him only a second-third round grade. He says:
Schmitz must do a better job keeping his feet, hands and eyes on the same page, but he has the play strength and finishing attitude to execute at the NFL level. With improved consistency, he can be a functional pro starter.
An example of the wide disparity of opinion about the center class is that Sports Info Solutions ranks Schmitz as its No. 14 overall prospect and says he “should be as close to a plug-and-play starter as there is in this draft.”
Here are Brugler’s grades for other draftable centers:
Stromberg — Round 4; Wypler — 4-5; Forsyth — 4-5; Scruggs — 5-6; Oluwatimi — 5-6; Jarrett Patterson — 5-6; Jovaughn Gwyn — 6-7.
What does it all mean?
My takeaway from all of this is that in the right circumstance the Giants could take a center. That would certainly be understandable. If they do that, however, it feels like a ‘need’ pick and not a ‘value’ one. In all honestly, I think the preference would be for best value in Round 1 and not simply biggest perceived need.
Could the best play for the offensive line be to draft a guard like O’Cyrus Torrence and allow Ben Bredeson to play center? Or, someone like Avila or Cody Mauch in Round 2 — again allowing Bredeson to slide to the center spot?
Picking a center in Round 1 — whoever their favorite might be — could work out just fine. With the exception of Price, all of the centers listed above have played well for the teams that drafted them.
It just feels like the best value play, especially considering the lack of consensus that any of these players is actually a Round 1 talent, might be to find a center on Day 2 or early on Day 3.