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Matt Hennessy scouting report

Sorry, I don't have any good Snoop Dogg jokes or any other way to make light of Hennessy's name, so let's just dive into the football relevant information instead.

Background

Starting center for Temple for 3 years. Redshirt junior early entrant. In an interview, he said the NFL College Advisory Committee informed him that of 9 teams surveyed, one had him as a 2nd round pick and the others graded him as a midround pick. He decided to enter the draft, because he was confident that he could improve his stock as the process went on. Early rankings by CBSSports and Drafttek had him as a round 4 to 5 player. Walterfootball has him as a round 5-7 player.

Brother is a long snapper for the Jets. Matt Rhule, the new Carolina Panthers head coach, was once his coach at Temple. Graduated with a degree in finance. Will be 23 years old in November.

Had a concussion in 2019 that caused him to miss a game. Also had a knee injury in 2018.

Was on the North team at the Senior Bowl. Practice reports say that he was very good in one on one drills playing center, but that he had big struggles in those reps when placed at guard. His strong play overall generated buzz for him as a draft riser and coming out of Senior Bowl week the talk was that he was considered a 2nd to 3rd round player. If true, this would put him squarely in the range for the Rams first pick in the draft.

Size Measurements (at Senior Bowl)

6'4'' tall, 302 pounds, 32 3/8'' arms, 79 5/8'' wingspan, 10 1/8'' hands

Hennessy has an odd looking build for an interior offensive lineman. He looks to me almost like a big TE. Some people have compared him to Jason Kelce, the athletic center for the Eagles.

Could the Rams trade for Matt Paradis? Should they?

I like Matt Hennessy. I think he has the potential to be a good starting NFL center. The problem (or opportunity, depending on how you look at it) is that other NFL teams might see him the same way. One of those teams could be the Carolina Panthers, even though they already have a veteran center, Matt Paradis.

Due to the prior connection between Matt Rhule and Hennessy, I wonder if Carolina would be interested in reuniting the two? If so, what would they do with Paradis, considering both players are "center only" type linemen? Carolina just signed Paradis in free agency from Denver this past year to a 3 year contract with a $9 million average salary. Paradis didn't have the worst year. He had big struggles early on, but improved as the season went on and finished with a 63.5 PFF grade. However, this was by far the lowest PFF grade of his career, he turns 31 in October, he has an injury history (he had hip surgery in 2017 and broke his leg in 2018) and the way his contract is structured, there is flexibility to move him if the team wants to shed his salary for cap room. With Luke Kuechly retiring and Cam Newton possibly on the way out, maybe the Panthers would want to go into rebuild mode and get younger and collect more draft picks to help reload the roster.

In the previous post I did about Jake Hanson, the Oregon center, we saw that in the 2015 draft, a number of late round and UDFA centers have arguably produced just as well as the centers taken in the first 3 rounds of that draft. That surprising result also characterized the 2014 draft, which included Matt Paradis.

Paradis had great tape in college, playing for Boise State. He's a quick and strong player with good technique. But, he wasn't the biggest lineman and playing for a smaller school didn't help. He measured 6'3'', 306 pounds with 32 3/8'' arms. He wasn't taken until very late in the 6th round (just a few slots before the Rams drafted Garrett Gilbert at QB). One of his best traits was his fast shuttle time of 4.46, which is very good for a center.

The supposedly top center prospects in that draft have not done well. Weston Richburg in the 2nd round had a very good 2nd season for the NY Giants, but injuries and inconsistent play have hampered his career since that time. He's with SF, but won't be playing in the Super Bowl, because he's on IR. Marcus Martin and Travis Swanson (both 3rd rd) were players many experts hyped, but both flopped. My recollection is that injuries spoiled Chris Watt's (3rd rd) career. Bryan Stork (4th rd) was a big name, but he didn't work out for the Patriots. Russ Bodine (4th) started many games for the Bengals, but was consistently a poor performer. Spencer Long (3rd) entered the NFL with durability problems and injuries have continued to follow him as a pro.

The best centers from that draft were not as highly regarded. Corey Linsley was a 5th round pick by the Packers and has been a very good player. John Urschel (5th) showed some promise early, but he retired to pursue a graduate degree in math. Justin Britt (2nd) was a tackle in college and I was surprised he was taken so early, because I didn't think he was a good tackle. He was moved inside to guard and then center by the Seahawks.

Brandon Linder (3rd) is one of the better centers in the NFL. I'm not surprised that he's a good player, but I'm surprised that he's at center, because I projected him to be a guard as a pro. Wesley Johnson (5th) was a player that I liked that year, but he never amounted to anything in the NFL. Luke Bowanko (6th) started 14 games as a rookie, but hasn't been a starter since that season. Zach Fulton (6th) was a good late round pick by the Chiefs and started multiple years for them. The Rams also drafted Demetrius Rhaney in the 7th round.

A late bloomer was UDFA Trey Hopkins, who beat out 1st round pick Billy Price for the starting center job with the Bengals. He was rewarded with a new contract. In fact, of the top 16 highest paid NFL centers, 6 of them (nearly 40%) all come from this 2014 draft class. It ended up being a sneaky good draft for centers, even though the "upper class" of prospects failed to deliver on expectations.

Entering 2019, a candidate for being the best of all these centers from that 2014 class was Matt Paradis. As a rookie with the Broncos he failed to make the team and was waived, then placed on practice squad. Any other NFL team could have claimed him off waivers or signed him off of the PS to their regular roster. The next year, he was a breakout player as the starting center for the Super Bowl champion Broncos (ironically, they beat the Panthers).

In 2016, Paradis was even better. PFF graded him as the best center in the NFL with a 90.2 grade. More quality seasons followed, so even though he missed the 2nd half of 2018 with a broken leg, he was still a coveted free agent. There is about $7 million owed to Paradis for 2020. If the Panthers were willing to deal him, would the Rams be interested, considering 2019 was probably the worst year of his career? Such a move could either backfire or be an Alex Mack type boost to quickly turnaround an inexperienced and struggling offensive line.

Matt Hennessy evaluation

Strengths: Ultra athletic. I am very interested in seeing how he measures at the NFL combine, because in games he is very quick and explosive. Bursts out of his stance after the snap and covers ground immediately in any direction, forward, to the side or backwards in pass pro. Very good 2nd level blocker. Fast as a puller around the edge. Adjusts to defenders on the move. Should be able to adjust well to the speed of the NFL game, because in situations where he has to initially engage on defender, but quickly switch off and pick up a second defender he does this at an elite level compared to other college linemen.

Good hand placement to get under the pads of the defender and gain leverage, especially in pass protection. Understands how to anchor against bigger opponents, a good pass blocker. Quality technique on stretch zone run plays. Good hips to seal defenders. Seems to have good awareness and football IQ on the field, looks through his block to see movement by other defenders and adjusts. Maintains base well in pass protection, shuffling his feet effortlessly and balanced.

Weaknesses: No power as a blocker, his game is mostly finesse and positioning. Not a wide body, doesn't have an ideal build for center. A "wall off" blocker, not a people mover. Limited position flexibility, probably only a center. Has a habit of grabbing the jersey of the defender in the shoulder pad area to gain control of some blocks, which could lead to holding calls in the NFL. Good leadership traits, but doesn't come across as a glass eater or tough guy, a bit mild mannered and cerebral. Lacks core strength. When squared up on run blocks instead of moving laterally, sometimes he doesn't maintain contact balance. He gets over his toes or slides off and the defender goes by him. Consequently, he might be a zone scheme only center who won't be a good run blocker unless the team has a heavy diet of zone run plays. Doesn't drive his legs through contact. Injury history requires medical evaluation.

Summary: 3rd round grade. I think Hennessy is a better prospect than Ethan Pocic (2nd rd Seahawks 2017). I would take him ahead of Nick Martin (2nd round Texans 2016). Martin recently got an $11 million per year deal from the Texans.

I understand some of the Kelce comparisons, because Hennessy is an athletic player who has little power. He could be a polarizing prospect in NFL draft rooms, because there is both a reasonable argument that he is as good a prospect as Garrett Bradbury last year (the 18th overall pick) or that he's a 6th round pick like Kelce was, because he's really just a taller, longer version of Austin Blythe (I wouldn't agree with that, because I think he should be a much better pass blocker compared to Blythe).

Some aspects remind you of Max Unger (6'5'', 309 pounds, 32.5'' arms, 4.5 sec shuttle), but Unger had more power, more lower body mass, so I'm not convinced that the ceiling is as high as Unger (who was taken in the 2nd round 2009).

I like centers with quickness. Matt Paradis, Kelce (4.14 shuttle), Ryan Kalil (4.34), Nick Mangold (4.36), Unger, I think that attribute projects well to the NFL game. This is a key reason I like Hennessy. But, I don't like him enough to give him a 1st round grade. I had James Daniels (Bears) as a 1st round guy. Daniels is also athletic (4.4 shuttle) but he is more of a prototypical lineman who can play guard (which is where the Bears moved him after deciding he wasn't as good at center). Daniels had a 70.3 PFF grade this season.

Circle Matt Hennessy's name as a prospect to watch at the NFL combine.