Do the Rams Still Want Small Centers?
In football terms, West Virginia center, Zach Frazier is like Creed Humphrey's little brother. He's a smart and technical player who is a former wresting star. The problem is that he's too small. I imagine some NFL scouts and GM will "flunk" him, saying that he won't hold up against NFL sized defensive linemen.
This brings up an age old debate in the draft. Should teams focus on pursuing prospects who "look the part" and value players who are tall, fast, athletic and strong? Are Combine measurements and testing scores more important than college production and technical proficiency?
If Frazier were a linebacker, he might be Malcolm Rodriguez, who played at Oklahoma State and was drafted in the 6th round by the Detroit Lions. Rodriguez made some splash plays as a rookie and got some early media buzz, but after the Lions drafted Jack Campbell in the 1st round this year, Rodriguez has been buried on the depth chart. Recently, the Lions have been using him as a fullback. Rodriguez has a 48.5 PFF grade this season. Rodriguez is a crafty and physical player, but he's very small, so will he ever be anything more than a utility backup and special teams player?
Frazier's draft stock is further complicated by a "significant" lower leg injury he suffered in the final game of the regular season. He won't play in WVU's bowl game and it is unknown whether he'll be able to participate in pre-draft activities. Prior to his injury, Frazier was nearly unanimously ranked by draft boards as a 4th round prospect. If NFL teams back off further, Frazier might not get picked until the middle or end of Day 3. I don't know any details about the nature of his injury, so I'm assuming without more information that he'll be able to play in 2024.
I wonder if Frazier might even stay in school, because he does have a bonus 5th year of eligibility, due to covid. He is a West Virginia kid and playing for WVU was his childhood dream. If he's not going to get picked early, why not continue to live out that dream instead of being a backup on the bench in the NFL? Luke Wypler was an undersized center from Ohio State and widely projected to be a Day 2 pick in 2023, but he wasn't selected until the 6th round, by the Browns. The Rams play the Browns next. Wypler has only played a small number of ST snaps and zero offensive snaps. He's often been inactive on gameday, a "redshirt" rookie season. Is Frazier a better prospect than Wypler? If not, maybe he'll be a 6th rd pick as well and become a seldom used backup in the NFL.
Name: Zach Frazier
School: West Virginia. 4th year Junior. Sport Management major. 3.88 GPA. First Team Academic All Conference in 2022 and 2021.
Size: Listed 6'3'' tall, 310 pounds.
3 star recruit from Fairmont, WV. Mary Lou Retton is from Fairmont. 4 time state wrestling champion in HS, 159-2 record as wrestler. Has one brother. Married. One of 16 finalists for the Campbell Trophy (the "Academic Heisman".) Humble and grounded personality in interviews.
Started 37 straight games. 9 starts in 2020 (zero sacks allowed), mostly at LG. 13 starts at C in 2021 (3 sacks allowed), 12 starts (1 sack allowed) in 2022. Had a leg injury, limiting him in spring 2023 practices.
PFF board 2nd ranked center, 94th overall (late 3rd rd)
Josh Edwards (CBSSports) 103rd overall (early 4th rd)
PFN board 2nd center, 88th overall (their 3 analysts rank him 52nd, 75th and 106th)
NFLDB 132nd overall
Buffalo Fambase 126th overall
Steve Shoup 101st overall
NFLMDD 130th overall
Filled out frame. Thick arms, "Popeye" muscles with big forearms.
Legitimate wrestler traits on the field. Can turn plays into a wrestling match. Violently throws opponents to the turf. Powerful torque in his hands to turn defenders and put them on the ground. Immense upper body grappling strength. Firm grip strength. If he gets knocked down, has athleticism to quickly get back on his feet in the middle of the play.
Aggressive and physical with good play strength. At home in trench warfare.
Coordinated, balanced footwork. An OL coach's model to create a teaching tape of proper technique. On combo block, made lightning fast hop step to get to 2nd level, can slide step to climb to 2nd lvl.
Technically advanced. Very experienced starter. Ready to play now, not a project who needs substantial coaching on fundamentals. Doesn't need a reshirt season.
Good zone blocker. A bus driver who latches on and washes DL down the LOS and out of their gaps. Generates very good movement on zone combo blocks. Going laterally, plays low to high, loads up energy and delivers it into defender with force and authority. Can send smaller DTs or opponents who play with high pad level flying sideways. Urgent leg drive, aggressively finishes blocks. Good contact balance, keeps feet moving after engagement to move laterally and protect blocking angle or drive forward to move the DL wider.
Super patient in his pass set. Head up, eyes up, balanced over toes. Doesn't lunge early or get baited by initial fakes. Reacted to quality spin move and stuffed it. Staying balanced allows him to switch off to a 2nd defender if it is a twist.
While he gets driven back by bull rushes, he understands how to try to settle, salvage the block and stay on his feet.
Patent and balanced off the snap on both run and pass blocks, able to read the post-snap movement of the DL and make small adjustments to respond. Doesn't get caught out by quick moves, slants, twists or fakes. Shaded NT slants away when ball snapped, C snaps his eyes immediately the other way and smashes the DE with a shoulder charge.
Quick hands, fast reloading his hands. Repositions hands to try to improve his hold.
Great awareness against twists and DL games. Scans and protects inside gaps against 2nd level blitzers. Sees through DL after engagement, consistently able to see and react to movement of 2nd defender. Handles 3 man games. Sees delayed blitzes. Not fooled by mugging rushers dropping into coverage.
Aware even if twists is delayed. Good at reading the body movement of defenders, shows recognition and anticipation to adjust on the fly and stuff DL games.
On reach block, swung his hips around to seal DT, then LB tries to backdoor and attack on opposite side of the DT, but somehow the C recognizes what is happening and slips away from the DT to try to pick off the LB and prevent a TFL, very impressive considering he doesn't have a clear view of the LB since the DT's entire body is in the way.
On short yardage and GL runs, tries to make himself wider to prevent interior penetration. Comes out low and tries to surge forward (though he doesn't have optimal size and bulk.)
Smart judgment knowing when to leave DT early to climb directly to the LB. Good body control going to 2nd level.
Excellent quick shuffle steps backwards to remain in proper relation with his guards to help them in pass protection.
Very smart both in the classroom and on the field. Coach praised his football IQ on play he got injured, because Frazier limped off the field to keep his team from incurring a 10 second runoff on the clock. Has an excellent understanding of blocking angles and how to position himself in relation to the runner and the defender to make an effective block.
Composed, never seems to panic or be stressed on the field. Has an even keeled personality both off and on the field.
Snaps are accurate.
Has played both C and G. While he's very undersized to play G (he's already marginal for C), he probably could fill in at G at least as a backup if a team had injury problems. Candidate to be an interior swing backup, not just a "center only" prospect, which could boost his draft value.
Scheme fit is a key difference between Frazier and the UGA center, Van Pran, because Frazier is a better fit for a zone or gap scheme team, while I see Van Pran as a better fit for a power scheme. So, which player a team ranks higher likely depends on the type of run scheme they want to use. For McVay and the Rams, I think that Frazier is probably the better fit.
Appears to have very short arms. Effective arm length on field is T-Rex, Austin Blythe type arms. Curious what his measured arm length will be. Doesn't always use his limited length on each play.
Insufficient size to "slam the door" on defenders invading interior gaps. Over and over, Frazier sees blitzers attacking or feels pass rushers going towards his outside shoulder, but despite mentally knowing where he needs to be, he can't physically secure the block and win the rep. He's too small to cut them off and can't slide his feet fast enough, so he'll get a little piece of them, but not enough to prevent them from slipping by him.
Sometimes will reach and lunge to try to compensate for lack of length. He didn't get beaten on push pulls in the games I watched, but defenders can get into his chest and grab his jersey. Sneaky, cheating DTs can grab him to prevent him from climbing to the LB at 2nd level.
Hand placements not always accurate, get wide and outside the frame, hugging the defender.
Doesn't have a wide body frame, so his wingspan is very small.
Has short, stubby legs in relation to his torso. On one hand, this gives him a naturally low COG, helping him gain leverage and get under the pads of his opponent. The bad thing that I don't like is he takes small steps, he can't cover enough ground with each step, a limitation on his blocking range both when sliding laterally and when running forward.
Average lateral range in pass protection when sliding his feet sideways.
Limited COD athleticism in space. Struggles to adjust to fast moving 2nd level defenders, misses blocks in space if he has to change direction.
Average effective blocking range in space. Doesn't have enough speed on screen passes to reach distant landmarks.
Unable to generate enough power blocking straight ahead, heads up on DTs to drive them back off the LOS. Gets stacked and shed at the POA by bigger and longer DTs when he's heads up with them.
Vulnerable and below average anchor on both run and pass blocks. On seal blocks, can be driven backwards into the running lane, constricting the space for the RB. Shaky anchor in pass pro, can be driven all the way back to the QB by good bull rushes, collapsing the front of the pocket.
Aggression to pull and throw defenders to ground flirt with potential holding infractions.
While he's very good at keeping track of 2 defenders, if there is delayed movement by a 3rd defender, he can be late reacting. I'll cut him some slack, because how is a person supposed to watch 3 different things simultaneously? Still, his limited recovery range due to size and athletic limitations leaves him vulnerable to getting attacked by more exotic blitz designs that are used in the NFL.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
4th round grade. (Brian Allen, 4th round 2018, Rams, Michigan State)
Zach Frazier has some similarities with Ricky Stromberg, a 3rd rd pick by the Washington Commanders in 2023, out of Arkansas. IMO, Frazier is a better prospect than Stromberg. We haven't seen Stromberg play much, because he's on IR with a knee injury. He played part of one game vs the Giants and has a 44.5 PFF grade.
Some draft observers believe that Frazier is the best center prospect in the 2024 draft. That is a fairly reasonable take if we only look at college centers, but I imagine that the best C in the draft probably is a guy who played either LT or G in college (for example, Graham Barton of Duke might end up playing center. The G from Ohio State, Donovan Jackson, he probably could play C.) It doesn't appear to be a stellar draft in terms of "official" center prospects.
While some of Frazier's play traits remind me of Creed Humphrey, I struggle to get over the fact that Frazier's arms are so short. I like this player and I believe that he can perform at a Brian Allen level and become an eventual NFL starting center, but his ceiling is probably just an average starter.