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The Bills have set us free, so now what do we do at center

Cody Tewmey

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Until Russel Bodine was officially signed by another team, thanks again Bills, we all were in fear of his return. With all of the options that the Bengals are “familiar” with off the table, what is next? The free agent pool that the Bengals might have considered are all signed now, or they won’t be signed until after the draft, so that leaves us with one main option draft our new center in April. There are multiple options in this draft that would be upgrades to Bodine in the upcoming draft and I will cover those in a bit. The Bengals are very fortunate to have this draft have three top tier options at center for them to choose from and with the trade down to pick 21 they are right in the spot where teams would start considering the position.
 
James Daniels – Iowa 6’3″, 305 lbs
The only player I’d consider at pick 21 is Daniels. I can already feel the OSU fans scrolling to the comments section to tell me about Billy Price, but please just hear me out. In Frank Pollock’s wide zone scheme (ZBS) athleticism at the center position is critical. The last time Pollock had a shot at a center like this, his name was Travis Frederick and he took him at pick 31, after a trade down. Since then interior offensive line has gained some value, but at pick 21 he is still going to be in rare air for a drafted center. With Daniels you are betting on his ceiling, not his floor as the better floor player is Billy Price, for those OSU fans still reading. I’ll get to him soon with more detail though. Having a center that is athletic enough to pull and get to the second level, and actually block his intended linebacker, will be a huge benefit to Mixon/Gio. This won’t help as much with the 3-8 yard runs, but will provide more opportunities for home runs if Daniels can clear out the second level it’s the RB versus the DBs with a full head of steam. Make one man miss and you’ll hear Lap all the way in Covington from the booth on the call; I’ll take those odds. Does Daniels have some issues, sure all players do, but if I’m taking a center in the first round I want the chance that at some point of his career he’s the best in the NFL, Daniels gives you that. For those that want a guy with local ties, Daniels fits that as well. He played high school football in Ohio and actually against Billy Price, who he claimed to have pancaked twice at an interview during the NFL Combine. Daniels can sometimes get overpowered by bigger guys, but he has already added weight since the seasons end and if he can carry that weight well it will help with that. He’s is great at controlling the quicker 3T defensive tackles to seal off running lanes. 
Bodine upgrade Rating 4X
 
Billy Price – OSU 6’4′ 306 lbs
Let the heavy breathing begin for the Buckeye faithful. This is one of those rare times where a huge need in Cincinnati matches up with a top flight prospect from Columbus and thus the excitement begins. Would Billy Price be a terrible pick at 21, not really, but he is likely reach there so I wouldn’t do it, now at 46 that’s a solid pick. As they say in the scouting world “you don’t get fired for hitting doubles,” and Price is likely that, his floor is solid, but he doesn’t have the athletic upside that Daniels does plus he just doesn’t have the wow plays. Is Price athletic enough to run Pollock’s system, yes he is, but is he such the prospect that Pollock will stand on the table at 21 for him, I’m not sure. People will talk about his size, but Daniels has put on nearly 15 pounds in the draft process so I expect them to have similar playing weights in the NFL. People will talk about his leadership and his grit/heart, well a lot of players play hard in the NFL, but that doesn’t make them great. Price was a vocal leader on the offense, super durable (starting every game in his career), and has played both guard and center, so that is a big bonus. Price is a very powerful blocker, so that is useful attribute in this division with all the big NT that they will face, but he can get too aggressive and miss at times. I think the Bengals are going to go a different direction at 21 with this center class, although I would say it is a mistake just take your top guy and start off this draft well. I have a feeling they will see it is so deep, so they will likely just wait until pick 46 and take the best guy in their board between Daniels (5% chance he’s there), Price (60% chance he’s there), and Frank Ragnow (85% chance he’s there). It very well end up that the Buckeye faithful go to bed unhappy on Thursday night only to be filled with joy early into day two of the NFL Draft.
Bodine upgrade rating 2.5X
 
Frank Ragnow – Arkansas 6’5″ 315 lbs
If there is a prospect that Bengals fans will love, not named Billy, that they aren’t talking about it’s Ragnow. Were you a fan of Russell Bodine, if so Ragnow is not your guy. They couldn’t be more different in their on field play/demeanor. When Bodine would whiff on an block, fall to his keister, then clap his hands angrily at his mistake. Ragnow will quickly get to his feet and try to “find some work” to get some payback. Want a guy that “plays through the whistle,” then buckle up for some Ragnow kill shots. He’s got a mean streak and likes to finish dudes, and is pretty successful at it. The biggest issue with Ragnow will be one that no one will have an answer to until draft night. He had an ankle injury and a few other nagging ones that he played through could be a cause for some concern, but he is tough as nails and played through them. The Medicals for his injuries will largely determine some of his draft slotting, but those things we won’t know about until we see when he is picked he could go round one or as late as early round 3. He is the type that always wants to finish guys off, and somewhat surprisingly testing great athletically compared to other centers. He was a captain in his final year and was known to push his teammates to get better, something this offensive line room can use. His second level blocking is really good, so I think Pollock will really want him if Daniels is gone. He was the top rated center by PFF last year, yet another stark difference from what we have seen at that position the last four years. I thought with him playing through injuries and a slightly down 2017 year because of it he might be a target for pick 77, but more and more I’m hearing that might be his draft floor I’d bet he is gone somewhere before pick 55 now. Thus, hoping for him to be available in the third round might leave you holding the bag, so as I stated before I think the Bengals need to take their center at 21 or 46. If they pass on center at 21 & 46 then be ready to trade up from 77 to the 50s if only one center of the top three is left because Buffalo and Minnesota are both in that range and possible landing spots for a center. When it comes to early plans at center, these three guys are the only real options that are not reaches at 21 and 46.
Bodine upgrade rating 3X
 
Plan B, the later round options
 
Mason Cole – Michigan 6’4″ 310 lbs
Cole is a polarizing prospect, some love him some don’t, but the tape says to me he’s a quality player. For the same reasons that Price gets a slight boost in our area, I’d say Cole gets a bit of a bad shake, but that’s human nature it’s okay. Michigan didn’t do Cole any favors either, moving him from center to left tackle and back and forth did not help his development, or draft stock. I think Cole is likely in the same conversations as the other three guys if he plays at center his whole career at Michigan, but he didn’t and here we are. When we look back at the centers’ in this draft we very well may look back and see him as a better player then one or more of the top three and say he was the best value. I could see the Bengals using him as their parachute at center, knowing he’s most likely there at 77 and possibly even at 100, so they wait early to get maximum value if they miss on the others. He also has played some OT, so they’ll like his versatility/smarts too, as it’s not as easy to move around the line as Madden leads us to believe. I think I heard a recently signed free agent guard describe moving from one side to the next as learning to wipe with your other hand, now that’s a visual that we can all relate to, but please do not attempt this at home and tweet me the outcome. My point is playing center and left tackle are so different, which is why his development might have been slowed and his NFL upside has some added potential. Even right now, as he is he would still be an upgrade over what Bodine was, I know that’s a low bar, but think about how a fringe 4th rounder could be an immediate upgrade, that’s a good thing. If the Bengals decide to wait and the top three are gone at 77, I don’t think that they will risk it and will go with Cole at that pick to be safe. 
Bodine upgrade rating 2X now potential 3X with development
 
Will Clapp – LSU 6’5″ 310 lbs, & Scott Quessenberry- UCLA 6’4″ 310 lbs
 
These are the extreme last options for an upgrade for the Bengals. The problem is if we get to this point we should all be dissatisfied with this outcome. They is still an upgrade, but with this class you can get a guy that is a 4-5x upgrade over Bodine, yet these guys are is more like a 1.5x upgrade. That is missed opportunity, when the draft lines up with needs, you pounce and improve your team as much as possible, because the end result is felt much stronger. Having a center that can do the line calls and take that burden off of Dalton is a huge benefit to him and the offense.
Bodine upgrade Rating 1.5X
It would be hard pressed with this draft for the Bengals not to improve on what we have had at center for the last for year, but that cannot be the standard. The Bengals would be foolish to think there is a lot of value at this position and try to wait on what might slide to the middle rounds. Look at the draft with Kevin Zeitler as an example, they could have waited on that position, but they didn’t they took one of the top guys and it really paid off for this offense. I think that they should do the same thing with this center class there are three guys that can make an immediate impact and really change the landscape of this offensive line going forward. If they want to move down before picking one of them because they have similar grades on Price, Ragnow, and Daniels I am okay with that too. It worked for them the year they got Zeitler, and it worked for the Cowboys when they did it with Fredrick. There is something to just taking your guy at pick 21 and running with it, but as long as we have one of the top three by pick 46 it will be a big win for all Bengals fans.

Salesman by day, DraftTwitter by night, I’ve been working on film study of Draft prospects, and mocks for about 5 years now. Feedback and debate are healthy and it’s how we get better, so let’s engage.

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