Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
When the Dallas Cowboys traded down in last month’s NFL draft from the 18th selection in the first round to the 31st selection, they shocked a lot of people when they drafted a center with their first round pick – Travis Frederick out of Wisconsin. Frederick was widely regarded as the best center prospect in the 2013 draft but was widely projected to go in the 2nd or 3rd round. Not that interior line wasn’t a glaring need for the Cowboys – just ask Tony Romo. But, many fans and experts felt like they left a lot of other talent on the board when they went with a center. Because you might need a punter or long snapper, it doesn’t mean you use a first round draft pick on one to get “the best punter in the draft”.
So, I started wondering. How often in the NFL do you see a center selected in the first round? Where did other teams get their starting centers?
First, let’s just look at the NFC East – the division we must win to qualify for the post season. Since Jerry already proclaimed Frederick a “starter”, we’ll assume he starts at center in the season opener against the Giants. Here are the projected starters for the other teams and where and when they were drafted originally.
Dallas Cowboys – Travis Frederick, Wisconsin, 6’4″, 312 lbs., 1st round, 2013, 31st overall selection;
Washington Redskins – Will Montgomery, Virginia Tech, 6’0″, 300 lbs., 7th round, 2006 (Carolina Panthers);
New York Giants – David Baas, Michigan, 6’4″, 319 lbs., 2nd round, 2005, (San Francisco), 33rd overall selection after SF picked Alex Smith #1 overall;
Philadelphia Eagles – Jason Kelce, Cincinnati, 6’3″, 280 lbs., 6th round, 2011;
(For reference sake, Ryan Cook is listed at 6’6″, 325 lbs. and was originally a 2nd round pick out of New Mexico, the 51st overall selection, by Minnesota in the 2006 draft; Phil Costa is 6’3″, 307 lbs. and was an undrafted free agent out of Maryland signed by the Cowboys in 2010).
Several things stand out for me right away: 1) The Cowboys center will be the highest draft pick in the division (although David Baas was only 1 pick into the 2nd round), 2) despite the fact that guards are generally required to move and pull and get to the 2nd level more than centers, there is a great deal of transition between the two positions as the physical requirements seem to be similar, and 3) linemen move around a lot within the league before finding a situation that suits their abilities. Note both Baas and Montgomery ended up with different teams than the ones that drafted them.
An offensive line has to play as a unit, so I realize it doesn’t necessarily make sense to relate the quality of a center to where he was drafted and draw conclusions from their team’s win-loss record. BUT, those adamantly defending the Frederick pick in the first round seem to imply that he is the single missing link for the Cowboys and will push them into the playoffs. So, where did the centers from last year’s playoff teams come from?
I won’t go team by team, but the highest a center was drafted among the 12 playoff teams was the 2nd round: Max Unger, Seattle (drafted as a guard in 2009), Samson Satele, Indianapolis (drafted originally by Miami in 2007 and then traded to Oakland before landing at Indy), and Peter Konz, Atlanta (a teammate of Frederick’s at Wisconsin, he was drafted in 2012). New England, Cincinnati, and Green Bay all had starting centers that started out as undrafted free agents.
So, clearly, where a center is drafted doesn’t seem to be as important as some other positions. And, while he is considered the “quarterback” of the offensive line, it doesn’t take first round talent to be an effective center.
So, how many starting centers in the league currently were drafted in the first round like Frederick was? The answer is 5 and two of them come from the same family.
Nick Mangold – New York Jets, 2006, 29th overall selection
Alex Mack – Cleveland Browns, 2009, 21st overall selection
Eric Wood – Buffalo Bills, 2009, 28th overall selection (and TWO centers in the first 28 picks in 2009!)
Maurkice Pouncey – Pittsburgh Steelers, 2010, 18th overall selection
Mike Pouncey – Miami Dolphins, 2011, 15th overall selection
So, what does all that tell us? I admit, pretty much nothing. Frederick should by all accounts be a solid player, but where he was drafted doesn’t guarantee anything. He has been compared to Nick Mangold by some – let’s hope that is accurate. But, it is still incumbent on the Cowboys to surround him with enough talent for the unit to be effective – not by any means a given with the current group excluding Tyron Smith.
Time will tell if history judges this as a great move or another of the mounting front office blunders for the Cowboys. It will be interesting to watch Frederick’s development – he reportedly has a nasty streak on the field which is something this team needs badly. It would be great if he could get the rest of the offensive lineman to grow their beards out like his – might spawn a nickname like the Amish Assassins or Bearded Brawlers – anything but “Hogs”. No one needs to see fat men in dresses at Cowboys Stadium. Go Cowboys!