Sean McVay has never really expressed much urgency at the center position since the Los Angeles Rams hired him in 2017. There was the signing of 32-year-old John Sullivan in McVay’s first year, but the Rams have since gone with Brian Allen in 2019, then Austin Blythe, then back to Allen.
Blythe was not a notable addition when the Rams picked him up and he wasn’t even able to find a starting job when he became a free agent in 2021. Allen was a fourth round pick in 2018 who struggled so badly in 2019 that no fan expected him to triumphantly return to the top of the depth chart two years later.
L.A. did reward Allen with a new contract when he became a 2022 free agent, but his first season on that deal, with 10 games missed, was about as disastrous has initial campaign as the starting center. The Rams are only paying Allen a modest $3 million cap hit in 2023, making him rather comfortable and assured as a player who will make the final roster, but drafting Steve Avila at the top of the second round could signal that an upgrade is finally coming to the center position.
Though Avila has most often been cited as a guard prospect coming out of TCU, his noted versatility as someone who played tackle and center in college, including 17 starts snapping the ball to the quarterback. He was the AP’s first-team Big-12 center in 2021 and it’s something he addressed in his meeting with the media after being drafted by L.A.:
Will Avila have more value at center than guard?
Financially, there’s no doubt that Avila could help the Rams by taking over for Brian Allen at center. If L.A. is to release Allen in 2024, they will save $4.9 million, which is much more than they’re currently paying any guard. That $4.9 million could go a long ways towards adding necessary help at key positions during the next free agency period and Allen could be playing for his job and roster spot this season.
Avila could replace David Edwards as the left guard this season and then transition to center in 2024. Or the team could let him compete to be the center right now and let Logan Bruss, Coleman Shelton, Tremayne Anchrum (if his leg is healed) and Allen compete for the two guard positions.
There’s reason to argue that center is a more valuable position at guard and if Avila is going to be best at calling out protections and guiding the offensive line, then the Rams must do everything in their power to protect the quarterbacks in 2023.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler posts a scouting guide each year and his notes on Steve Avila are some of my favorite to read.
G/C Steve Avila, TCU
Avila was Brugler’s third-ranked guard in the 2023 class and at 332 lbs, he carries a lot more meat on his bones than top-ranked guard Peter Skoronski, who is 313. Despite the 20 lbs difference in weight, Avila was only .05 seconds slower in the 40-yard dash. Avila also has longer arms than Skoronski at 33” (compared to 32.25”, which is why few people project him as a tackle) but not as wide of a wingspan. Avila is also two years older than Skoronski.
O’Cyrus Torrence, who was the second-ranked guard, is 330 lbs, but was .10 seconds slower in the 40-yard dash and .03 seconds slower in the 10-yard split, both notable differences. Where Torrence wins is in length and the biggest hands (11.25”) in the class—two inches bigger than Avila.
But it’s all how you use it.
Brugler compliments Avila on “engulfing” rushers at the point of attack, keeping a solid base, knocking back opponents with “brick hands”, and not getting any holding penalties in 2022. He’s a good processor and plays at attitude, with position versatility to play center in the NFL.
His weaknesses include not being explosive enough, “forgetting his feet once engaged”, playing tall, and needing to improve as a puller and second-level blocker. He also had three false start penalties last season. Here is Brugler’s summary on Avila:
SUMMARY: A three-year starter at TCU, Avila started all 15 games at left guard as a senior in former offensive coordinator Garrett Riley’s RPO-based offense. A left tackle in high school, he played every offensive line position except left tackle at TCU, moving from center to left guard in 2022 and leading the team in snaps (1,020). He was an unsung hero on an offense that reached the National Championship Game. A wide-based and powerful blocker, Avila collects a body count with his heavy hands to make early contact in pass pro or drive block in the run game. Though he stays controlled in his initial mirror, his countering footwork and handwork will be the keys to his next-level success. Overall, Avila needs to better understand his biomechanics to access his explosive power, but he plays with a strong base to anchor and control at either guard or center. He fits both zone and gap schemes and should be an immediate starter as an NFL rookie.
We know that Avila is going to start in Week 1. What we aren’t sure of yet is the position, but center might be so inevitable that there’s no reason to wait.