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NFL Combine Prospect Preview: Center & Guard

The Falcons have some significant questions on the interior of their offensive line with Alex Mack’s contract expiring after 2020 and a hole at LG. We take a closer look at some of the top centers and guards at the 2020 NFL Combine.

2015 NFL Scouting Combine

The NFL Combine officially kicks off on February 24, and all eyes will be on Indianapolis to see which draft prospects are able help or hurt their stock with their performance. We’ve already covered the wide receivers and tight ends. Next up will be the running backs and offensive linemen, who will participate in on-field workouts on Friday, February 28.

To prepare everyone for the flurry of activity that is the NFL Combine, I am back to once again provide you with my Combine Prospect Previews—brief summaries of some of my favorite prospects in each position group. These are players who I believe the Falcons will be most interested in come draft day. Hopefully, these names will give you a little bit of guidance about who to watch when the players hit the field.

If you missed any of the other prospect previews, you can find them below:

WR | TE | RB | C/G | EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

For added context, I’ll be incorporating player rankings from The Draft Network. This way you can have a general idea of where a current consensus of scouts ranks a particular player. We’ll be skipping the OT group, as it’s one of the only positions where the Falcons appear to be almost completely set with Jake Matthews on one side and Kaleb McGary on the other. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the center and guard positions, where the Falcons—depending on who you ask—have a pretty significant need.

Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin

C/G | 6’3, 321

TDN Prospect Rank: 109 (4th Round)

One of the biggest fallers over the course of the 2019 season, Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz had a down year after a dominant 2018. A significant injury clearly hampered his play, and he simply didn’t display anywhere near the same level of play over the course of last season. However, he has had several years of good tape in the past, and teams may decide to take a gamble on him returning to full strength in a year or two. I previously had the Falcons taking Biadasz in the third round of my most recent mock draft:

Biadasz has good size for a center at 6’3, 321, and has showed off some impressive athleticism in the past. As a three-year starter at Wisconsin, Biadasz has extensive experience and has shown well-developed technique in both pass protection and run blocking. However, his play suffered considerably this season—he just didn’t look like himself for much of the year. It seems pretty clear to me that this is a consequence of his injury and not a drop-off in actual talent. Drafting him is a gamble, as he may never return to his previously dominant self, but I think it’s a gamble worth taking for the Falcons in the third round.

Ben Bredeson, Michigan

G | 6’5, 316

TDN Prospect Rank: 89 (3rd Round)

There’s always a chance that the Falcons decide to punt on their need for at minimum a backup/developmental center and decide to once again target the guard position in the draft. In that case, they’ll have a few options for potential starters on Day 2. Michigan’s Ben Bredeson could fit the bill, as he has extensive experience starting at left guard—where he’d likely join a competition with Jamon Brown and James Carpenter.

Bredeson has prototypical NFL size at 6’5, 316, and is capable of handling the big bodies that the league is likely to throw at him. His strength, toughness, and mean attitude as a blocker are all attributes that will appeal to NFL teams looking to get nastier in the trenches. Bredeson is a functional athlete capable of surviving in either scheme, but he’s not going to blow anyone away in this area. He’s also only spent time at guard in his career, which limits his appeal as a versatile interior backup should he lose the starting competition. Bredeson is an intriguing addition, particularly if he’s still available in the fourth round.

Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU

C/G | 6’3, 312

TDN Prospect Rank: 39 (2nd Round)

My favorite center prospect for the Falcons in the 2020 class, LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III checks all the boxes for a team like Atlanta. Unfortunately, Cushenberry’s electric Senior Bowl performance—where he was the only offensive lineman to stonewall DT Javon Kinlaw—has lifted him into late first-round consideration for some teams. That’s likely too expensive for the Falcons, but there’s always a chance he falls into the early second. I had Atlanta drafting Cushenberry in the second round of my first offseason mock draft, and here’s how I described his skillset:

LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III is a rare athlete on the offensive line who also doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s got the competitive fire you love to see from your center (and potential future leader) on the offensive line, and he’s got good size (6’4, 315) to go along with it. While Cushenberry is a better fit in a zone-scheme offense, he’s got enough versatility to survive in power too. Cushenberry’s athleticism can often be a double-edged sword, however, as he has a tendency to overshoot second-level blocks and get too far ahead of his RB. His footwork and hand usage could also stand to improve, particularly against bigger opponents.

Jake Hanson, Oregon

C/G | 6’5, 295

TDN Prospect Rank: 226 (UDFA)

If the Falcons miss out on the top center prospects, or simply decide to go after a guard early in the draft, they’ll still need a long-term backup/developmental center. Oregon’s Jake Hanson has had one of the biggest drops in stock of any player in the class due to a disappointing 2019 season. I personally think his current TDN ranking of a UDFA is way too low, as Hanson has a great chance of sticking as a long-term backup at worst. I had the Falcons selecting Hanson in the fourth round of my Week 10 mock draft—though they may be able to add him significantly later now. Here’s how I described his game:

Hanson has a large build for a center at 6’5, 307, which means he can easily transition to guard if needed. His hand technique is one of his biggest strengths, and he’s got enough mobility to survive in a zone scheme. However, Hanson will struggle when asked to execute reach blocks and other second-level blocks. He’s solid, but not an overly impressive athlete overall. Still, as a potential developmental center and a long-term interior backup at worst, Hanson is a good value for the Falcons at this spot in the draft.

Nick Harris, Washington

C | 6’1, 293

TDN Prospect Rank: 70 (3rd Round)

One of the most polarizing interior prospects in the 2020 class, Washington’s Nick Harris had a chance to cement himself as perhaps the top center with a strong Senior Bowl. Instead, Harris’ weaknesses were confirmed as being significant issues, and his strengths didn’t stand out nearly as much as I’d hoped.

At 6’1, 293, Harris is locked into a center-only projection. That lack of ideal size was always going to make life difficult at the NFL level, but Harris managed to make up for it with exceptional athleticism, technique, and a nasty attitude in college. He’s always going to be a player who struggles with power and size, but I still believe Harris can be a strong interior backup—particularly if he can get his weight up above 300. The third round is a bit too risky for my tastes, but if Harris lasts into Day 3, he might be worth a shot for the Falcons.

Matt Hennessy, Temple

C/G | 6’4, 302

TDN Prospect Rank: 63 (2nd Round)

One of the biggest risers on the offensive line from the Senior Bowl, Temple’s Matt Hennessy established himself as one of the top C/G prospects in the 2020 class with a dominant performance. He’s one of the most consistent, accomplished pass protectors in the draft, and showed off some improved size and power in Mobile. I had Atlanta selecting Hennessy in the second round of my Senior Bowl mock draft, and here’s how I described his play:

At 6’4, 302, Hennessy has the size to play both center and guard and the leadership qualities you want from Mack’s successor. He’s a good athlete and is smart with his hand placement, making him an ideal fit in the zone scheme. Hennessy wasn’t an elite run blocker and lacks plus power, but his excellent pass protection ability, size, and athletic traits outweigh that—particularly for a team as pass-heavy as the Falcons.

Robert Hunt, Louisiana-Lafayette

G/T | 6’5, 336

TDN Prospect Rank: 74 (3rd Round)

If the Falcons are truly looking for a more permanent move to the “big and athletic” mold on the interior—a la Jamon Brown and James Carpenter—the closest fit to that archetype in the 2020 draft class is Louisiana-Lafayette’s Robert Hunt. Hunt is a massive player at 6’5, 336, and he pairs it with standout athletic traits for such a big man. Despite spending the majority of his college career at tackle, most scouts seem to be projecting Hunt as a better long-term fit on the interior.

Hunt is a tone-setter on the offensive line who wins with dominant power and overwhelming size. His attitude reflects that, too: he’s a nasty player who loves nothing more than to lay the wood on the opposition. Despite his size, Hunt is more than capable of playing in space and hitting reach and second-level blocks. He’s still got some technical issues to clean up with balance and leverage, and it’ll take time for him to readjust to life on the interior. I view Hunt as a potential high-end starter at guard for the Falcons, but probably not until 2021.

Jonah Jackson, Ohio State

C/G | 6’4, 310

TDN Prospect Rank: 158 (5th Round)

If the Falcons are looking for a versatile interior lineman who can pass protect at a high level and they also don’t want to spend a premium pick, Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson could fit the bill. Jackson has spent time at both center and guard, and his pass protection is his calling card: he’s technically sound, quick to read defenses, and effective at anchoring and stonewalling opponents.

At 6’4, 310, Jackson also possesses plenty of size for either spot on the interior. He’s athletic enough to mirror and match defenders and adjust to blitzes, twists, and stunts. However, Jackson is a pretty significant liability as a run blocker at this point, which likely caps his ceiling as a backup—or perhaps a starter on a pass-heavy offense like the Falcons. Still, it’s usually a lot easier to teach run blocking technique than pass protection, so Jackson could be a low-risk, high-reward developmental addition on Day 3.

Solomon Kindley, Georgia

G | 6’4, 336

TDN Prospect Rank: 131 (5th Round)

If the Falcons are looking to improve their depth at guard later in the draft, Georgia’s Solomon Kindley could be a fit. Kindley’s got great size and strength, and certainly looks the part of Atlanta’s new archetype on the interior: big and athletic. Kindley has played on both sides of the offensive line, but has no experience thus far at center—so unless the team works to develop him there, he’s not going to fill that particular need. I had the Falcons adding Kindley in the third round of my Week 14 mock draft, though his stock seems to have settled more in the mid-Day 3 range since then. Here’s how I described his skillset:

Kindley is a scheme-versatile interior prospect with the size (6’4, 336) to survive at either center or guard. He’s got a ton of power, making him a strong run defender with a good anchor in pass protection. Kindley’s mobility is surprising for his size, and it’s good enough for him to be effective in a zone-scheme rushing attack. I like Kindley as a player who could potentially upgrade one of Atlanta’s guard spots in 2020 before transitioning to center later on.

Cesar Ruiz, Michigan

C/G | 6’4, 319

TDN Prospect Rank: 38 (2nd Round)

Perhaps the biggest riser in the 2020 interior offensive line class over the course of the season, Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz has the makings of a high-end starter at either center or guard. He’s currently the top C/G prospect in the TDN rankings, just edging out Lloyd Cushenberry III by one spot. It’s easy to see why he has his fans: at 6’4, 319, he’s got prototypical size and is also an incredible athlete.

Ruiz pairs his size and mobility with excellent power and anchor ability. As a run blocker, he’s downright dominant at times and is capable of overpowering opponents with raw strength. His ability to get out and make blocks at all levels is impressive, and he pairs that with strong hands and body control. I don’t have any major issues with Ruiz, although there are some technical problems in pass protection that still need work before he can be considered truly elite there. If the Falcons are looking to transition from a great center in Alex Mack to another potentially great center in Cesar Ruiz, they should jump at the opportunity to add him if he’s still around in Round 2.

What are your thoughts on the interior offensive line class participating in the 2020 NFL Combine? Just how big a need do think center and/or guard is for the Falcons? If you were the GM, which prospect would you want to see in Atlanta?