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Is it reasonable to expect the Rams to be able to draft a starting center for 2021?

Recent history suggests an emphatic answer

NFL: SEP 29 Buccaneers at Rams

Could the Rams draft a center this year and expect him to start next season?

Since 2010, eight players listed as a center at Pro-Football-Reference have been drafted in the first round. I can’t account for the small possibility that some players were drafted at another position and then moved to center, but even a smaller number of those players would be ready to immediately transition to snapping the ball in year one.

This is not a concern I have with the reporting, but I am getting ahead of any potential comments regarding the draft and the center position.

Of the eight first round centers, five became immediate starters at center but three did not or were quickly benched:

  • Cam Erving, Browns, 2015
  • Billy Price, Bengals, 2018
  • Cesar Ruiz, Saints, 2020

While Erving and Price proved to be busts, Ruiz went to a team that had recently drafted a center in the second round of the 2019 draft. We could say that the success rate here is a rather decent 75%, if we include Ruiz.

Since 2010, nine centers have been drafted in the second round. Of the nine, the number of players who immediately became starting NFL centers may come as a shock to you: One. It was Erik McCoy, the aforementioned center for the New Orleans Saints who forced Ruiz’s transition to guard.

  • Austin Corbett, Browns, 2018: Started one game as a rookie, was traded to Rams after one season, has only played guard since.
  • James Daniels, Bears, 2018: Guard.
  • Elgton Jenkins, Packers, 2019: Guard.
  • Stefen Wisniewski, Raiders, 2011: Guard as a rookie, then fours years at center, then moved back to guard. Jumped around the league.
  • Rodney Hudson, Chiefs, 2011: Started one game as a rookie, injured in second year, not becoming a starting full-time center until year three.
  • Peter Konz, Falcons, 2012: Started 10 games at guard as a rookie, moved to center in year two, out of NFL by year four.
  • Ethan Pocic, Seahawks, 2017: Started 11 games at guard as a rookie, didn’t become a center until 2020.
  • Ali Marpet, Bucs, 2015: Started at right guard for first two years, then one year at center, and now the last three back at guard.

Some of these players are excellent guards (Marpet, Jenkins) and Hudson could be a Hall of Fame center talent. But without debate, McCoy is the lone center drafted in the second round in the last decade to actually start multiple games at the position as a rookie. And McCoy, for what we know so far, may only be “decent.”

Since 2018, 10 centers have been drafted in the third round. Of those 10, a surprising six started at center as a rookie. Whether or not that was out of desire or necessity is a different question.

  • Pat Elflein, Vikings, 2017: 14 starts as a rookie and 13 starts in year two, but moved to guard in year three and then playing for the Giants in year four.
  • J.D. Walton, Broncos, 2010: 16 starts at center in each of his first two seasons, injured year three, missed year four, with the Giants in year five, out of the NFL a year later.
  • Mason Cole, Cardinals, 2018: Started 16 games as a rookie, demoted in year two to a reserve role, back at center in 2020 out of necessity.
  • Lloyd Cushenberry, Broncos, 2020: There’s some thought that Cushenberry was the NFL’s worst full-time center last year.
  • Hroniss Grasu, Bears, 2017: Started eight games at center as a rookie and has started eight games total in the five years since.
  • Marcus Martin, 49ers, 2015: Some felt he could have been a first round pick but “slipped.” Martin started eight games at center as a rookie, 16 games in year two, bouncing around the league since.

Now the four who didn’t play at all at center as a rookie:

  • Max Tuerk, Chargers, 2016: One career game. Total. It wasn’t with the Chargers. Tuerk had a rather tragic career and life.
  • Travis Swanson, Lions, 2014: Started 5 games at guard as a rookie. Has been a center since, but by many accounts not a good one and rarely active for more than 11 games.
  • Matt Hennessy, Falcons, 2020: I remember some talk about Hennessy before the draft last year. He snuck in two starts at guard in Atlanta.
  • Graham Glasgow, Lions, 2016: 11 starts at guard as a rookie, 16 starts at guard in year two, then one full year at center, which caused him to be moved back to guard.

So let’s add all of these up:

Since 2010, 27 players have been drafted as a center in the first three rounds. Of the 27, 10 started at least 10 games at center during their rookie season. Of those 10, five were in the first round. Of the five who were not in the first round, the best we can say is that Erik McCoy seems stable at the position and that Cushenberry hasn’t been benched yet. But given how many centers were permanently moved to guard, it would be more surprising if he kept his position than if he lost it.

And as I wrote in Austin Blythe’s free agent profile, centers are being paid much more than guards these days. So it’s not a small deal.

The Rams do not have a first round pick in 2021. Their highest pick is 57th overall, which is even below the “McCoy/Hudson” line, as those players were picked 48th and 55th overall, respectively. And yes, that’s within Les Snead’s total range, but let’s keep in mind that is an average of one starting center every five years.

And Hudson didn’t become a full-time center until his third season in the league.

Is it reasonable to expect the Rams to draft a starting center this year for next season? What did you see here that should lead us to believe that it is?