When the Dallas Cowboys traded down in April’s NFL draft and selected center Travis Frederick from Wisconsin, they did so primarily for two reasons. The first being the gaping hole at center that has handicapped the team for some years now. But the second reason the Cowboys decided to draft a center in the first round is due to the relative safety of the position. First round centers have a very low bust rate in the NFL. In the last eight NFL drafts, there have only been six centers drafted in the first round. But those six players are as follows:
2006 – New York Jets’ Nick Mangold – 29th overall selection
2009 – Cleveland Browns’ Alex Mack – 21st overall selection
2009 – Buffalo Bills’ Eric Wood – 28th overall selection
2010 – Pittsburgh Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey – 18th overall selection
2011 – Miami Dolphins’ Mike Pouncey – 15th overall selection
2013- Dallas Cowboys’ Travis Frederick – 31st overall selection
The first five on that list have all been productive, solid players in the NFL. None of them have busted. Nick Mangold and Maurkice Pouncey have both been All-Pro players, while Alex Mack and Mike Pouncey have both made it to the Pro Bowl. So does this mean that Travis Frederick will have an All-Pro career like these other centers? No. But what it does mean is that highly thought of centers like Frederick seem to fare well in the NFL. There is a sense that in the NFL community that drafting a center in the first round is a “safe” decision. And with the amount of early round picks that haven’t panned out for Dallas (Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, Bobby Carpenter, Martellus Bennett, etc) the team decided to swing for a double instead of a home run. Too often teams decide to “swing for the fences” in the draft by selecting players with enormous upside instead of solid, unspectacular football players. Far too often in years past, the Cowboys have been guilty of doing this.
Through the first two games, Travis Frederick played more snaps than any other Cowboy during the preseason. And according to Pro Football Focus, he graded out much better in the pass game (0.2) than in the running game (-1.2). I don’t always agree with PFF’s metrics, but this is one I do happen to agree with. Frederick does an excellent job at using feet to stay in good position and not allowing to himself to be pushed back into the face of the quarterback (The metrics for the Arizona game were not available during the release of this article.)
The very first thing you notice about Frederick when scouting him is how strong of a player he is. Once Frederick gets his hands on a defender, it’s practically over. He is such a strong player that he has his way with defensive lineman once he gets them in his grasp. And I believe he does all this with only average hand technique. He is an old fashioned offensive lineman that loves to maul people like he is in a backyard brawl. If Bill Callahan can perfect his hand placement, we might be looking at one of the meanest centers in the game. Frederick does an excellent job at turning defenders to create lanes for the running backs. This was one of the things he excelled at while at Wisconsin. Frederick needs to continue to work on his balance and footwork in the NFL. If he can clean up these two areas of his game, he can become a dominant run blocker in Dallas’ zone blocking scheme. The potential is there for him, he just needs to work at his craft and go out on the field and do it.
One of the knocks against Frederick coming out of school was his athletic ability. After his poor testing at the NFL combine (5.58 40 yard dash), many scouts wondered if he had the athleticism and quickness to stick at center in the pros. And at times, you can see that his athletic ability hinders his play. A few times a game he is a split second slow at getting to a linebacker, causing the play to go for less yardage than possible. Another thing that worries me about Frederick is that he is on the ground too much for my liking. I saw him fall to the ground multiple times in the Miami game. If he could have just stayed on his feet, Lance Dunbar would have had multiple huge gains. When he struggles in the run game is when he leaves his feet to try to make a block or when he tries to reach the linebackers. Too often he lunges when he is trying to get to the second level. We also haven’t seen Frederick play against any uber-elite pass rushers and I have a feeling he could struggle with quickness. When teams like the New York Giants slide a defensive end like Justin Tuck inside, there could be some problems. Will his lack of elite level quickness nullify his strength? We will very well find this out in the first week of NFL season against Giants.
Travis Frederick lacks the elite athleticism of a Maurkice Pouncey or a Mike Pouncey and that could cap his ceiling in the NFL. He may never become one of the best centers the league has to offer, but there is no a doubt in my mind that he will become a productive NFL player. Frederick may never make it to the Pro Bowl, but what he will be is part of a solid foundation in the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Travis Frederick might not be anyone you ever notice on Sundays and if that’s the case, then that is something fans could get used to. Frederick will be solid and steady for the Cowboys in 2013. I believe the Cowboys did indeed hit a double here.