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What makes a great center? Who are the better ones in the league today? Who's in the next crop? Our experts are ready to tell you.
• NFL Live: Dilfer on value of centers
• Scouts Inc: Best centers
• Kiper: Top 5s by position
• 2010 Draft Index
|Jason Brown has yet to make the Pro Bowl, but he's valued so much the Rams made him the highest-paid center in the NFL ($37.5 million).|
“ Fullbacks used to be at the bottom and the center was right there with them. If you had a small guy who could get people lined up, that was enough. There just wasn't a premium on talent at the position. ” -- Rams general manager Billy DevaneyWhat many people can't do, however, is explain why the value on the position declined so much prior to this decade. Keep in mind, there wasn't one center listed among the NFL's 25 highest-paid players in 2000. While Faine ranked 14th last season with a salary of $13.1 million, New York Giants guard Chris Snee and Dallas Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams were the only offensive linemen who made more in 2008. Offensive tackles and, more recently, guards have seen their salaries explode over the years. Meanwhile, the center largely had been treated like the kind of sensible purchase that could be found at the local Wal-Mart. Part of the problem was that left tackles became more valuable -- basically because edge pass-rushers became more dangerous -- and that meant teams placed less emphasis on what happened in the middle of the offensive line. But outright neglect also factored into the issue. "There were great players who played the position before I came along, guys like Mick Tingelhoff, Jim Otto and Mike Webster," Stephenson said. "But the position also got to the point where some teams thought you didn't need to be a great athlete to play it." Added Devaney: "When you went into the offseason in years past and looked at what you needed to build a team, you placed a priority on every position. Fullbacks used to be at the bottom and the center was right there with them. If you had a small guy who could get people lined up, that was enough. There just wasn't a premium on talent at the position." That attitude changed as the 1990s neared an end.
|Dwight Stephenson and Dan Marino were a Hall of Fame center-QB combination, but they were not immune from painful mistakes.|
“ You can not be a mental midget and play this position. These guys can determine where the blitz is coming from on one day and then they can do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle after that. ” -- Titans C Kevin Mawae on his fellow centersBrown's peers agree. "When I first started playing, it used to be that a 3-4 team stayed in that all game long and a 4-3 team did the same," O'Hara said. "Now they mix things up all the time." Added Mawae: "You can not be a mental midget and play this position. That's why all the guys I know who play center are smart. Jeff Saturday is bright. Shaun O'Hara is bright. Matt Birk is a Harvard graduate. These guys can determine where the blitz is coming from on one day and then they can do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle after that." Just as critical to a team's success is finding a player who can deal with all the oversized interior linemen in today's league. Last year's Pro Bowl roster alone revealed the challenges that centers face. It included: 350-pound Shaun Rogers from Cleveland; 350-pound Albert Haynesworth from Tennessee (who now plays in Washington); 360-pound Kris Jenkins from the New York Jets and 317-pound Pat Williams from Minnesota. Their objectives might best be summed up by Williams: "I'm a straight a------ when I'm out there because it's my job to take the center out of the game." To understand how hard it is to block these players, consider what happened to the 6-4, 289-pound Mawae in a matchup with Jenkins on Sept. 27. Jenkins charged into Mawae with such a fury on one pass play that Mawae was 10 yards deep in the backfield after it ended. The major reason the Rams went after Brown was to avoid those kinds of moments. As Rams guard Richie Incognito said, "Jason brought a physical presence to our offensive line. You can have two good guards but if your center isn't strong, you won't be successful." The role that centers play in helping their teammates also is an easy thing to miss.
|The great minds of Colts QB Peyton Manning and center Jeff Saturday think alike here.|