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Centers and guards to watch for the Falcons at the NFL Combine

With the 2022 NFL Combine coming soon, we’ll be breaking down the players to watch at every position. We continue with center and guard, two positions where the Falcons desperately need improved play in 2022.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Iowa v Kentucky Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Combine is fast approaching, with workouts kicking off on Thursday, March 3. To prepare Atlanta Falcons fans and fellow draft enthusiasts for the “underwear olympics”, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch at every position heading into the event. In case you missed any of my previous entries, you can find them all listed below:

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

OFFENSE: QB | WR | TE | RB | OT | C/G

Today, we continue on offense with the interior offensive line: center and guard. The Falcons are in a tricky spot at these positions. Chris Lindstrom at right guard is terrific, but left guard and center are question marks despite Atlanta dumping three picks into them in the last two drafts. Matt Hennessy was a good run blocker but an inconsistent pass blocker at center, and Jalen Mayfield had one of the worst seasons ever for an offensive lineman after being thrown to the wolves in his rookie season.

The need for improved play at these spots is significant, but what remains unclear is where Atlanta will try to find those upgrades. Free agency coupled with hoping for improvement from one of those young players might be the best plan, but we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of adding another prospect in the draft.

Read on for some of the top centers and guards to watch in Indianapolis.

Kenyon Green, Texas A&M

The biggest and nastiest of the three first-round interior offensive line prospects, Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green is a physical tone-setter. A dominant run blocker and quality pass protector, Green has the look of a high-end starter—particularly at guard, though he has experience at tackle, too. Here’s how I described Green in a previous mock draft:

Green is a massive (6’4, 325) lineman with absurd strength, a nasty temperament, and standout athleticism for his size. He is an absolute mauler in the run game and a stone wall in pass protection on the interior. However, Green does offer a great deal of versatility: he’s played LG, RG, LT, and RT during his time at Texas A&M. While I think Green projects best as a guard—where he has an All-Pro ceiling—he can potentially start at right tackle if needed. His lack of elite mobility and length on the outside does limit his upside there, but he’s more than capable of manning the position.

Ed Ingram, LSU

If the Falcons are looking for a versatile, pro-ready guard prospect who won’t require more than a Day 2 pick, LSU’s Ed Ingram should be high on their list. Ingram checks a lot of boxes: he’s got good size (6’4, 320), possesses sufficient athleticism for the wide-zone blocking scheme, and has experience at both left and right guard. Ingram is strong and physical at the point of attack, making him a plus run blocker. He uses that strength well in pass protection, too, and couples it with a lot of experience and a controlled style of play. Ingram doesn’t have the All-Pro ceiling of some of the players drafted ahead of him, but he’s a high-floor prospect who can be relied upon to start in his rookie season.

Zion Johnson, Boston College

Boston College’s Zion Johnson proved himself as the most versatile offensive lineman in the class after showing he could play center at the Senior Bowl. While I think he’s best at guard, where his athleticism and size can really shine, Johnson played tackle successfully and could potentially transition to center in time. Here’s what I wrote about Johnson in my Senior Bowl preview:

A top guard prospect in the 2022 draft class, Zion Johnson has spent time at both left guard and left tackle during his three years as a starter at Boston College. Despite playing very well at LT, Johnson lacks high-end length at 6’3, 316 and is best served on the inside in the NFL. An athletic and physical blocker, Johnson is a strong fit in a zone scheme attack and he’s already a technically-refined pass protector.

Darian Kinnard, Kentucky

There are a lot of questions surrounding Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard and his best NFL projection. At the Senior Bowl, he played both guard and tackle, and acquitted himself well. The length certainly doesn’t appear to be an issue, as he measured in with over 35 inch arms and an 83 inch wingspan. Kinnard is a project due to some technical flaws, but will be tempting to teams on Day 2. Here’s how I described Kinnard in my Senior Bowl preview:

Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kinnard is a bit of a challenging evaluation. Kinnard spent his entire college career at right tackle, where he played very well. It’ll be a tough decision whether to stick on the outside or move inside to guard, where his 6’5, 345 frame would be even more imposing. Kinnard is a mauling run blocker and solid pass protector who offers scheme versatility in the run game.

Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

The unquestioned top center prospect in the class, Tyler Linderbaum joins a long list of high-end offensive linemen to come out of Iowa. Brandon Scherff, James Daniels, and Tristan Wirfs all went in the first round in recent years and went on to have exceptional careers. Linderbaum is an incredible athlete with tremendous football IQ, and he pairs it with surprising strength and anchor ability for his size. Speaking of size, that’s the chief complaint with Linderbaum: he’s listed at 6’3, 290, which is on the border of acceptable for the NFL. Linderbaum is likely a center-only prospect—but a good weigh-in and testing at the Combine could help him go in the first half of Round 1.

Alec Lindstrom, Boston College

If the Falcons are looking to add another center to the mix without spending a premium pick, Boston College’s Alec Lindstrom would make a lot of sense. The most notable connection would be the family one, as Alec is Chris Lindstrom’s brother and you’d love to see that reunion. Lindstrom is likely a center-only player due to his lack of ideal size and length at 6’3, 300, but he offers plus athleticism and advanced technique that helps him overcome some of his physical limitations. Lindstrom is not a power player and wins with his athleticism, hand placement, and football IQ as a run blocker and pass protector. Still, for a Day 3 pick, Lindstrom offers starting upside in a zone-heavy scheme like Atlanta’s and could be good value.

Thayer Munford Jr., Ohio State

Ohio State’s Thayer Munford Jr. was considered by some to be in the first-round conversation after a standout 2020 season at left tackle. Munford moved to left guard this year to accommodate Nicholas Petit-Frere at LT, but didn’t have the dominant season some were expecting. At 6’6, 320, Munford offers a lot of versatility as a tackle and guard prospect. Munford has solid athleticism and strength, but he didn’t dominate in either area this season. Based on his 2020 tape, there’s potential for a bounce-back year from Munford and his ability to play multiple spots makes him a tempting depth target if he’s still around on Day 3.

Dylan Parham, Memphis

Dylan Parham answered a lot of questions about his size—or lack thereof—with a very good weigh-in and performance at the Senior Bowl. Coming in at 6’2, 313 and with over 33 inch arms, Parham more than checked the minimum thresholds for most teams—particularly at center. He also acquitted himself well against a very good defensive line group, showing off his athleticism. Parham has played both guard spots and also spent some time at tackle, though he might be best as a center in the NFL. I like Parham as a high-upside interior player in a zone-blocking scheme like Atlanta’s, and he should be available late on Day 2.

Jamaree Salyer, Georgia

Georgia’s Jamaree Salyer proved himself as one of the best interior offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl, which tracks with his high level of play in college. He did measure in at just 6’2, 320 and with 34 inch arms, which all but eliminates any potential for him to play tackle in the NFL. Still, he’ll be one of the top Day 2 guard prospects and could be a strong fit for the Falcons. Here’s what I wrote about Salyer in my Senior Bowl preview:

One of the best offensive linemen in a stacked unit at Georgia, Jamaree Salyer has played a versatile role over the years. At 6’4, 325 and without standout length, I personally see Salyer as a better fit at guard, where his athleticism and strength could be huge assets for his NFL projection. Salyer is a road grader in the running game who plays with a nasty edge, and he pairs it with a strong anchor and good hand technique in pass protection. As a Day 2 option, Salyer could be a possible fit for the Falcons.

Tyler Smith, Tulsa

One of the biggest risers in this class, Tulsa’s Tyler Smith has a lot of fans in the draft community. It’s easy to see why: Smith is a very fun film watch, as he plays with a non-stop motor and a high level of aggressiveness and physicality. If you enjoy pancake blocks—which, of course you do—Smith might have the most of any prospect in the class. He’s listed at 6’5, 332, but there are concerns about his overall athleticism and length that lead many to project him as a guard at the NFL level. Smith is a dominant run blocker and wins in pass protection by being more physical than his opponents, but technically he’s still quite undeveloped. He’ll need time to adjust to the NFL, particularly if he does move to guard, but Smith has a very high ceiling for a Day 2 prospect.

I hope you enjoyed this NFL Combine prospect preview! Stay tuned for our next position group tomorrow.