Packers draft preview: Need at center could be addressed late

May 7, 2014
Green Bay Packers 2014 draft preview: Offensive li...
Green Bay Packers 2014 draft preview: Offensive li...: Pete Dougherty and Weston Hodkiewicz look at the offensive line prospects for the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFL draft. (May 4, 2014)
Florida State center Bryan Stork, left, could be a late-round option for the Green Bay Packers. / File/Getty Images

RISING STOCK: Tennessee State guard Kadeem Edwards didn’t dominate at the FCS level in college but had a strong Senior Bowl that convinced some scouts he’s worth a later-round pick and can play in the NFL once he’s in a pro training regimen.

FALLING STOCK: Miami tackle Seantrel Henderson has the size, build and ability of an NFL left tackle, but he was an underachiever in college and then the NFL recently notified teams that he tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine, which is a major red flag because the players know they’ll be tested.

SLEEPER: Clemson guard-tackle Brandon Thomas was a likely third-round pick but sustained a torn ACL during a workout for the Saints in early April. Any team willing to wait a year and feeling OK about Thomas’ reconstructive surgery can pick up a highly rated player late in the draft.


With Evan Dietrich-Smith off to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, the Green Bay Packers don’t have an incumbent starting center and appear likely to draft for that position this year.

But two points are worth remembering about general manager Ted Thompson pulling the trigger at center.

First, the Packers feel good enough about 2013 fourth-round pick JC Tretter as their likely starter to not sign a veteran fallback this spring. That doesn’t mean they won’t sign one later, but it wasn’t a high enough priority to address before the draft.

Second, center isn’t a difference-making position, and some teams are averse to spending high-round picks there. A look at the projected starting centers in the NFL as of this week tells that story.

Of the 32, fewer than half (14) were drafted in the first three rounds. Only six were first-rounders.

That means the other 18 were drafted in the fourth round or later, or weren’t drafted at all. In fact, more were undrafted (seven) than selected in any given round.

The highest pick Thompson has used on a center in nine previous drafts was a third-rounder in 2006 on Jason Spitz, who also played guard. The only other center Thompson has drafted was Junius Coston in the fifth round in 2005. (Tretter was a tackle in college, but the Packers picked him knowing they might move him to center.)

So though center, at least a developmental one, is probably a need for the Packers sometime this weekend, Thompson’s history suggests he’s among the GMs inclined to wait until the late rounds to draft for a position where savvy, quickness and toughness matter more than pure athletic talent.

“I never thought you had to (draft a center) in the first round unless he’s a dominant guy that can play center and guard,” said a high-ranking personnel executive for an NFL team. “Just a straight center, you can find a guy that’s smart and can move a little bit, you feel good about him.”

The top two centers in this year’s draft are USC’s Marcus Martin and Colorado State’s Weston Richburg, who both probably will be picked Friday in the second or third round. Arkansas’ Travis Swanson probably will come off the board next, most likely also in the third round.

Two later-round prospects mentioned by several scouts in recent interviews as potential developmental prospects were North Carolina’s Russell Bodine and Florida State’s Bryan Stork.

Both consistently were described as smart and tough. Both also have good size for the position — Bodine is 6-feet-318 and 310 pounds, Stork 6-378, 315 — but need more playing strength.

If the Packers drafted either, Tretter would remain the front-runner to start, though the rookie likely would get a decent look. Right now, Tretter’s competition is third-year pro Don Barclay, who played some center in training camp last year but primarily has been a tackle and guard, and Garth Gerhart, who was on their practice squad for parts of the past two seasons.

Bodine, a fourth- to fifth-round prospect, rates a little higher than Stork in part because he played some guard in college and probably can in the NFL.

“He’s smart as (heck), I just don’t think he’s as athletic as those other guys (ahead of him),” a scout for an NFL team said last week. “I saw him play some guard and center. He’s a swing guy that’s smart and could learn your system. Not a starter right away, but maybe learn a little bit and quicken his feet up and he’d be fine.”

Stork more likely is a fifth- to sixth-round prospect and appears to be strictly a center.

“He’ll probably end up starting in the NFL,” another scout said. “But I wouldn’t spend a lot, he’s not a great investment. You take him in the fifth round, he might end up being your starting center for 10 years. You’re getting value. He’s very durable. Not great, but he gets the job done.”

— pdougher@pressgazettemedia and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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