All About Schmitz
Let's take a break from the RB prospects and instead study the top ranked center in this draft. After all, Rams fans seem to be way more interested in interior offensive linemen than reading about RBs.
I wish I could tell you that there were multiple sure fire future HOF centers in the 2023 draft. We could say that so-and-so was going to be the next Jason Kelce, but this other guy might be the next Travis Frederick, and neither of those two are as good as the 3rd guy, who was a spitting image of Bruce Matthews, but that's not very realistic. Before we even begin researching any of the 2023 centers, just looking at boards by the draft experts, this appears to be a very weak center class. On top of that, few centers get selected even in a normal year.
Since 2010, there have been an average of approximately 7 centers drafted each year. That comes out to one center per round. If we assumed that about half of those guys are later round prospects projected to only be backups, then maybe 3 or 4 centers in each draft were viewed by NFL teams as future starters. That's a very small number.
Moreover, it is rare for the top center in the draft to come off the board outside of the top 50 selections. In the last 21 drafts, this has only happened 4 times. In one of those weak center drafts, the top center taken was Peter Konz, a 2nd round pick, who is one of the more notorious center draft busts in the last 15 years.
To illustrate further, let's take the draft that happened 10 years ago, the one where Travis Frederick was selected at the bottom of the 1st round. The other guys were Brian Schwenke (liked him, but he didn't have that great a career, was frequently injured), Khaled Holmes (well regarded prospect, but played very poorly for the Colts) Eric Kush (great athletic testing, but a journeyman backup) and TJ Johnson (a backup for a few years). Even though he was listed as a guard, you could also throw in Barrett Jones, taken by the Rams in the 4th round. There was only one good center drafted that year and he was a 1st round pick. All the other players, for a variety of reasons, never turned into even average starters.
In 2017, the Rams could have drafted Pat Elflein in the 3rd round instead of Cooper Kupp. Some fans even wanted the team to draft Elflein in the 2nd round. Going with CK over a center was a franchise defining decision by Snead. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb by saying that the Rams likely wouldn't have won the Super Bowl without Kupp and I also doubt that Matthew Stafford would even be on the team today if the Rams hadn't taken Kupp. The Rams wouldn't have been as attractive a destination for him.
In 2018, I considered both Frank Ragnow and James Daniels to be 1st round level center prospects. Billy Price was a 1st round pick that year as well. So, it was an abnormally strong center draft. Connor Williams (a left tackle in college, but who played well at center for Miami this year, the 4th ranked center per PFF) was the 50th overall pick that year. The other 3 were top 40 selections. Out of those 4, Price was the only draft bust. The Rams showed considerable interest in him prior to that draft.
In April of 2018, the Rams acquired Brandin Cooks from the Pats, trading away their 1st round pick, which effectively took all of those centers off the table. Imagine if the Rams had never traded for Cooks and Billy Price had still been on the board. Not quite as bad as Elflein over Kupp, but the Rams taking Price in the 1st round that year would have been a critical mistake. The Rams wouldn't have gone to the SB with Goff if Cooks hadn't been on the team. Kupp was injured that year and wasn't available in the playoffs. Not only was Cooks a primary weapon on offense, but he made a critical heads up play by intentionally dropping a pass at the very end of the NFC Championship Game, keeping the Rams in FG range for the game winner.
In 2020, both Cesar Ruiz and Lloyd Cushenberry were highly ranked center prospects. Neither of those players have become elite interior linemen. Cush had a 56.2 PFF grade this year, one of the lowest graded centers in the NFL.
I took the prospect rankings from 7 major draft boards to see how they ranked the center prospects this year. On nearly every board, Schmitz is the top ranked center prospect. Yet, on 6 of those 7 boards, he's ranked outside of the top 50. His average board ranking on those boards is 67th, which would be early in the 3rd round. In other words, the 2023 draft has the potential to be one of the weakest center drafts in the last 20 years. Of all the years to push for the Rams to draft a center, the 2023 draft is the wrong one to bang that drum.
If Pat Elflein and JMS were in the same draft class, which one do you think would be ranked higher? Chew on that for a moment.
My NFL comp for JMS is Tyler Biadasz of the Dallas Cowboys. The 2 players are very similar in most respects. Like Biadasz, one of JMS's best traits is his football IQ and on field awareness. Biadasz was beat up in college, including hip surgery his final year in school and shoulder surgery prior to the draft. JMS has rarely been injured, so the edge goes to JMS in durability. On the whole, however, I feel that Biadasz was the better prospect and I'll discuss why when we break down JMS's game in more detail.
Biadasz was the very last pick in the 4th round in 2020. To this point in his career, Biadasz is arguably not even as good as Brian Allen. It depends what metric you look at. In 2021, Allen supposedly had a really good year per PFF, with a 80.2 grade, way ahead of Biadasz at 64.8. If we went by SIS scoring, Biadasz was actually better than Allen in 2021. In 2022, SIS ranked Biadasz the 11th best center in the NFL. Per SIS, 2022 was a "breakout" year for Biadasz. Since Brian Allen has been hurt so much, he's never had a good SIS season, his best ranking was 19th in 2021.
Still, for sake of discussion let's just give the benefit of the doubt to PFF and assume that a healthy Brian Allen would be better than Biadasz. And let's assume that my evaluation is fair in projecting JMS to not be as good as Biadasz. The logical conclusion is that JMS might not even be an upgrade from Allen, he might be a step backwards. So, why would the Rams use a high 2nd round pick to get worse at the center position?
Don't allow perceived team position need to alter the way you view a prospect. Yes, I wasn't happy in 2021 when the Rams passed on Josh Myers, Creed Humphrey and Quinn Meinerz to draft Tutu Atwell. In 2020, I would have been happy if the Rams had taken Jonah Jackson (even though he plays guard, he played some center in college and I bet he could handle that spot in the NFL, he just happens to be on the same team as Frank Ragnow), Matt Hennessy or Biadasz. In 2022, I would have been happy if somehow Zach Tom had ended a Ram, even if it meant losing out on Cobie Durant. Tom can probably play all 5 positions, but he's on the same team as Josh Myers.
There are plenty of center prospects the Rams have passed on in recent drafts that I thought were very good prospects. Compared to that frustratingly long list, where does John Michael Schmitz rank? Honestly, I'd probably put him at or near the bottom of the group. If he's really the best center available in 2023, this might be the wrong draft for the Rams to prioritize center.
Name: John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (Jan Michael "Airwolf" Vincent. That's not it either? George Michael W. Smith. John Michael Montgomery Ward. James Tiberius Kirk. Are we getting any warmer?) Turns 24 years old in March.
School: Minnesota. 6th year bonus redshirt senior. Studied sport management.
Size: Per SI 6'3'' tall, 315 pounds, 9 5/8'' hands, 32 3/8'' arms, 78 5/8'' wing. Per NFLDB 6'4'' tall, 320 pounds, 9 3/4'' hands, 32 3/8'' arms, 79'' wing, 5.20 sec (40 time). The key measurement is his arm length. If the number is accurate, his arms are exactly the same length as Brian Allen's.
Played left tackle in high school in Illinois. 3 star recruit. Also was a wrestler.
Redshirted in 2017. Played special teams in 2018. Made 4 starts 2019, 6 starts 2020, 13 starts 2021, 12 starts 2022, for total of 35 career starts. Opted out of the bowl game, but was on the sidelines to support his teammates.
The only notable injury I could find info about was from their bowl game in 2021, lower leg injury when Daniel Faalele fell on him. He was unable to finish the game.
Per NFLDB, didn't give up any sacks in 2019, 2020 or 2021 and only gave up 2 sacks in 2022.
Academic all conference team at least 4 times.
In interviews, he is mature, even keeled and team oriented.
ESPN 40th overall (2nd rd)
PFN 53rd overall (2nd rd)
Shane Hallam 70th overall (3rd rd)
Brian Bosarge 72nd overall (3rd rd)
Drafttek 52nd overall (2nd rd)
PFF 55th overall (2nd rd)
NFLDB 52nd overall (2nd rd)
CBSSports 129th overall (4th rd)
Sports Illustrated in August gave him a 3rd round grade. Sustains blocks, impressive anchor, blocks with tenacity and violence. Doesn't always look pretty, but gets job done. Great pad level, excellent at 2nd level. Lacks size and length, can get overwhelmed by bigger and stronger DTs. Lacks elite physical tools.
PFN in August had him as a day 2 prospect (Ian Cummings): Good size, near elite strength. Immense upper body strength, stifling core and grip strength. Lacks elite length. Steady and urgent leg drive. Great initial knock back power. Impressive flexibility. Well leveraged and balanced. Good awareness, scans well. Wide base. Relentless finisher. Average length, sometimes lurches. Not an elite athlete. Lacks elite power. Sometimes plays too tall. Hand placements sometimes too high or wide.
NFLDB: outstanding reach blocks. Quick to recognize twists, good timing on combo blocks. Mauler in run game. Explodes off LOS and does damage at the 2nd level. Strong leg drive, good size and power. Could be liability against speed-to-power pass rushers early in pro career. Bad habit of panicking, lunging and grabbing could lead to frequent holding penalties. Not great feet, dealing with edge speed likely will be a problem. Pass protection is potential issue, heavy footed, tends to stop feet upon contact, struggles to mirror quickness.
Very good awareness. Takes the gameplan and applies it on the field the way the coaches drew it up. One game, the defense repeated tried to use a 3 man loop to confuse the pass blocking. On a 3rd down, they try it, but JMS is ready, he knows the scouting report. When the DE crosses behind the first DT, many centers would think it was a basic twist and try to block the DE. Not JMS, he's too smart. Not distracted by the DE, his head immediately turns to locate the 2nd DT, he gains enough depth and the proper angle to stop that DT, freeing up the other guard to get the DE. That is outstanding. C is double team pass blocking when way off in the B gap his RG is badly beaten, difficult to see in your peripheral field of view unless you turn your head in that direction, because it is so far off, but the C leaves the double team and comes to the rescue to save his QB. 3 man loop, this time the LG messes up and doesn't pick up the DT. The C knows the LB is coming around on the loop, but he stays on the DT a split second longer to cover up for the G, then finally slides over to pick off the LB, not pretty, because the C doesn't have enough length and agility to make a clean block, but I'm still giving him credit for making a heads up play on the fly when presented with a tough situation. Snapped ball when DL jumped offsides.
Consistently aware to blitzing LBs while he's engaged in blocking DL. Pushed DT's arm up to disengage, then stuffed run blitzing LB, then throws LB to the ground.
On combo blocks, he doesn't leave the DT too early. He stays on it long enough to give his guard time to get into position to pick up the DT prior to climbing up to the LB. JMS is the type of center who makes his guards look better, because his sense of timing and awareness makes their blocks easier. He understands that the OL has to work as a unit and he does his job in such a way that it makes the unit stronger.
Difficult reach block, because the DT is slanting away from the C. Not only does JMS get in front of the DT, but he sustains the block while running laterally, shoves off the DT to help the G, then climbs up and shoves the LB at the 2nd level. Really nice.
Reliable zone blocker, sound technique. Enough flexibility to adjust when the DT tries to slant inside, able to turn and seal the defender.
Bullies LBs. Aware to LB run blitz, stuffs it, then buries the LB into the ground. Sees run blitz coming on zone run, intercepts the LB and drives him wide, out of the gap. Latches onto LBs and drives them into the ground. Gives defenders "a little extra" on some plays, has a physical edge to him on the field, seems comfortable and in his element in trench warfare.
When on move, able to run his legs through blocks to generate power. Consistent with his blocking angles.
Capable hand fighter, can knock DL's hands away. Has solid recovery ability. When his outside edge is stressed by a good pass rush move, power or quickness, frequently he shows very good lateral foot movement while battling hard with his upper body and can salvage the block.
Good build for a center, has a low center of gravity with thickness in his lower body. Decent mass to anchor.
Pretty good short yardage blocker. Can fire out with low pad level and plow forward. Can generate good leverage by getting under the pads of the DT and generating power on short yardage runs.
Some centers are technicians. Some centers are undisciplined brawlers. JMS is both a technician and a brawler, which an OL coach probably will love. Proper mix of brains and toughness.
Durable, seems to have very little injury history, very experienced starter. Intelligent and has leadership ability. Professional personality and strong football character. He has the right intangibles to have a long and successful career in the NFL, fits the mold of what you're looking for in a center who can captain the OL group.
His lack of effective length is a considerable problem.
On pass block, NT grabs his chest and violently flings him sideways, going right by him to the QB as the C stumbles off balance. Same type of thing happened repeatedly. NT rips him to the side and the C leans forward losing balance as the NT gets around the side. DT throws him to the side, then crushes the QB.
NT controls the inside gap on zone run, because center's arms are too short, the NT is able to extend his arms and control the C, freeing up his inside arm. DE pulls him down and swims over him. DT bench presses him, then discards on run play.
NT pulls him down, then puts his arm up to try to deflect the pass. JMS's inability to control pass blocks could lead to some batted balls at the LOS.
DT rips under him, gaining advantage to inside. After initial contact, JMS doesn't have the length or active hands to consistently disrupt pass rush moves, which creates issues trying to sustain blocks.
Average athlete with limited quickness and speed. Not able to climb to the 2nd level fluidly or with short area explosiveness. Instead of getting out to the LB, often he'd meet the LB "halfway", closer to the LOS than optimal. Can almost be "clumsy" going to 2nd level, with lumbering, heavy feet. Easy combo, because the C can climb directly to the LB and what the C has to do is engage or cut off the LB so he can't flow laterally towards the RB, but the C doesn't get far enough past the LOS, so when the LB pursues, the C is caught behind the LB and can only deliver a gentle shove from the side, there were multiple plays similar to this. A lineman needs "tennis feet" to move in a short area and get their hips and shoulders to the proper angle, but sometimes JMS is just too slow and ends up chasing the defender.
Not a good screen pass blocker. Doesn't have enough speed and short area burst to get out in front quickly.
Average effective play strength. On combo blocks, he is unable to consistently move the DT. Sometimes, he's pushing against the DT, but to no effect and the DT holds his ground. When making solo run blocks on a big NT, he can't generate movement by himself.
Has a bad habit of leaning into the defender, like a tired boxer grabbing onto his opponent in the ring, instead of moving his feet to keep a stable base and sustain the block. Ducks head and gets cement shoes on run blocks after initial contact, leading to him getting shed.
Strong defenders occasionally push him backwards on wide zone runs, distorting the LOS.
Some of his blocks turn into wrestling matches, because the defender breaks free from his control, then JMS with his arms around them tries to pursue and get a takedown.
Played in RPO style offense that was OL friendly. Not required to take traditional pass block sets as often and there were very few plays where he had to solo pass block. Facing 1 vs 1 pass block, a big DT jolts him off his feet, forcing him to recover. I think he could have some issues with NFL level speed and power and his weaknesses were somewhat hidden in college.
Will miss some snaps high, not so high to fly over the QB's head, but there were times it messed up the timing of the play, because the QB had to reach up to catch it. Not many snaps under center, except for short yardage.
Debatable position versatility. He might have enough size to try at guard, but he has limited length and athleticism, which makes me question whether he would be effective there. I see center as his best position, maybe his only position. Playing him at guard might be comparable to using Matt Skura at guard.
Reputation partly build upon Minnesota's strong rushing attack, but I feel that Mohamed Ibrahim is an underrated RB prospect in this year's draft. Sports Illustrated only ranks Ibrahim as a 6th round prospect and he could end up an UDFA per ESPN's board. I have him graded considerably higher. I don't think Ibrahim's college production was all due to the OL, I think it also is a reflection of his individual talent as a RB.
About 2 years older than an average prospect.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
3rd round grade. Tyler Biadasz (compensatory 4th round 2020, Dallas Cowboys, Wisconsin)
Projects as an NFL starter, because he has high football IQ and awareness, is consistent, plays with good technique and has sufficient size. On the other hand, I have reservations about whether Schmitz will ever be more than an average starter.
JMS isn't really elite at anything. He's not a true power player like Meinerz. He's not as good a pass blocker as Creed. He's not as athletic at Myers or Hennessy. Yes, he doesn't have any huge, glaring weaknesses and he might not be woefully deficient in any of those departments either, but even that marginal difference is enough to ask what exactly there is about JMS that would justify drafting him inside the top 50 picks.
Biadasz at Wisconsin was a better combo, 2nd level and screen blocker than JMS. Both Biadasz and JMS have short arms and they both struggled with that limited length in similar ways. Biadasz would sometimes lunge and whiff on blocks. Biadasz also had limited lateral range, so I'd say JMS is the better player at making difficult reach blocks. JMS is better in short yardage situations. Biadasz was a better power generator, he could move guys on solo and double team blocks more consistently than JMS. When you put all the different pieces together, I see Biadasz as being the better overall prospect.
I don't have an issue with the Rams drafting JMS if the value is right. He's a smart and consistent player, with sufficient size and strength to be a starting center in the NFL. But, IMO taking JMS at slot 36 is way too early. Even the top of the 3rd round might be too early for him. I view JMS as the type of prospect who in a normal draft would be taken between the middle of the 3rd round to the middle of the 4th round. The only thing that pushes him up the board this year is there don't appear to be enough top center prospects ahead of him, creating the potential for a team to reach for him.
In the Peter Konz draft, John Sullivan as a 6th round pick turned out to be the best center in that draft. When it comes to centers and especially when we're not talking about a top 50 type center prospect, the best center in the draft isn't necessarily the first center taken in the draft. When the Rams drafted Barrett Jones, the other great center from that class besides Frederick wasn't technically even a center. JC Tretter played left tackle in college. A similar thing might happen in 2023. The best center could be a prospect listed as a G or OT on draft boards and didn't even play the position in college.
We can't go backwards in time and draft guys like Quinn Meinerz (77.7 PFF in 2022, the 5th best guard in the NFL) or Creed Humphrey. Meinzerz wasn't taken until very late in the 3rd round. I had a 2nd round grade on him. If the Rams made a mistake by passing on those guys, don't compound the error by making the exact opposite mistake in 2023 and reaching too early for the wrong guy.
In 2017, the Rams initially held the 37th overall slot. They traded down, taking GE in the 2nd round. The trade down landed them the pick that became John Johnson. Imagine if the Rams had drafted Pat Elflein 37th overall that year. Bad error, because not only do you lose out on GE and JJ, but you also lose out on the compensatory picks further down the road when those guys left in free agency.
John Michael Schmitz is a solid prospect, but I don't think he's a special prospect. He's not another Frank Ragnow. I feel the Rams would be best served looking at other options in the 2nd round and only circling back to JMS if he's still on the board later in the draft.