Centers are rarely drafted in the first round anymore. For some reason, it has not been treated as a critical position in the past, even as the game has become more focused on the passing game. Yet, when it does happen, you can believe there’s a good reason for it.
Alex Mack was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2009 with the 22nd pick in the NFL draft and he’s been living up to that draft position ever since. Between 2009 and 2015, his time in Cleveland was marked by stellar performance, recognized with Pro-Bowl berths in 2010, 2013 and 2015 and a prestigious 2nd team All-Pro selection in 2013.
Meanwhile, after the retirement of Todd McClure after the 2012 season, the Falcons struggled to find a suitable replacement. Peter Konz never lived up to his draft billing while promising young players like James Stone ended up being nothing more than bench warmers. One could argue that the struggles of the offense between 2013 and 2015 were due - in part - to some inconsistent (and often horrid) play at the center position.
After watching the 2015 season fall apart with the center position being a liability yet again, the team opted to spend big to lure Mack away from the team that drafted him. With a 5 year deal worth $45 million and over $28 million guaranteed, Alex became a Falcon and has continued to be one of the best centers in the league during that time. Since coming to Altanta, he’s been selected to the Pro-Bowl all three years in Atlanta and added two more 2nd team All-Pro selections to his resume in 2016 and 2017.
Maybe more importantly, he took leadership over an offensive line unit that was one of the best in 2016. That critical role has undoubtedly helped Matt Ryan as well, allowing the star QB to focus on his job more knowing that his experienced center will worry about the trenches for him.
Mack turns 34 in November, but has not shown any signs of slowing down significantly. Even though his 2018 season wasn’t one of his best, he was still easily one of the best centers in the league. The team may need to start thinking about his long-term replacement very soon, but this free agent signing has been worth every penny and then some. Let’s hope his next couple of years are just as good.