NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 SAFETIES

Game changing safeties are rare and special in the NFL. The ability to be a ball hawk that can read the quarterback’s eyes but also impacting the run defense is a combination scouts are paid to find in draft prospects. In 2014, experts are debating between two players that are competing to be the first safety taken off the board.

1. CALVIN PRYOR (LOUISVILLE) 5-11/207

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Calvin Pryor hits like the late Sean Taylor. I have not seen a safety bring that much contact in a while, especially out of a 5-11 frame. He can play free safety or strong safety and plays with great instinct. His coverage will improve in time but I have seen some splash plays from Pryor in the secondary. The only red flag is the amount of aggressiveness he brings with his hits. It is clear that he will be called for unnecessary roughness and helmet to helmet contact by referees. Those hits will also take a toll on his body but if he can learn to play within the rules, his career will last long.

2. HA HA CLINTON-DIX (ALABAMA) 6-1/208

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For some reason I don’t trust Alabama defenders as pros. There are some good ones…but there are some really bad ones (see Rolando McClain). Maybe it’s because these players come from a star-studded defense in college and make each other look better than what they really are. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix may prove me wrong and he is the top safety on many experts’ rankings. He is rangy and athletic with a lanky build but he isn’t afraid to tackle. Clinton-Dix will lead with his shoulder at times which can cause injuries and is overly aggressive so he may be fooled by misdirection plays. Overall, he is coming out of a Nick Saban defense and should be fine with defensive Xs and Os, plus his ball skills are above average.

3. JIMMIE WARD (NORTHERN ILLINOIS) 5-11/193

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Last year we saw Johnathan Cyprien (Florida International) represent a small school and still be drafted way higher than many thought. In 2014, we may witness Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois be taken in the first round. Don’t be surprised. Ward is a wiry and aggressive strong safety that can help in run support but also stay on top of receivers. He has logged many starts during his college career and finished 2013 with 95 tackles and seven interceptions, one of those picks went 62 yards for a score against Purdue. Stats and big plays against big competition have made Ward’s stock skyrocket in the past week.

4. LAMARCUS JOYNER (FLORIDA STATE) 5-8/184

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Lamarcus Joyner is a poor man’s Tyrann Matheiu. Joyner was an elite defensive back recruit that is scrappy and plays with special instincts. His intangibles are traits that coaches will fall in love with but what they won’t be fond of is his size. At 5-8 he is a tiny safety that won’t be able to go up with the big body receivers but he can carve out a career like a Bob Sanders who was productive at strong safety for years. With that said, being that small will cause more damage to his body over time. Bottom line, Joyner is a steal in the mid rounds and will fight for playing time.

5. DEONE BUCANNON (WASHINGTON STATE) 6-1/211

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NFL-sized safety with big hit radius. Compares to Brian Dawkins and has that crazy look in his eye that will intimidate receivers after the first time he contacts them. Have not seen him truly excel in coverage so that will drop his stock. Put him at strong safety and you basically have an extra linebacker roaming around. Three-time captain shows that he is a trusted teammate and loves the game. Started all 13 games in his last season and led the team in special teams tackles. Bucannon will have to earn his spot on a squad first by covering kicks.

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 CBs

Finding a shutdown corner in the NFL Draft is a science. The receivers in the game today are so dynamic, explosive, and talented that the players who will be covering them have to almost be an identical mirror image, physically. This draft class is not only deep in wideouts but there are also gifted athletes at the cornerback position.

1. KYLE FULLER (VIRGINIA TECH) 6-0/190

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Like fellow draft guru Mike Mayock, I do not have Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert ranked as the top guy at the cornerback position. Watching Kyle Fuller’s film is a treat because his game is made up of both Gilbert and Dennard’s strengths. Fuller can play man to man, zone, hit hard, and also closes on the ball excellently. Alabama QB A.J. McCarron said Fuller was the best DB he played against this season. Comes from a football family and loves the game. I believe his size is adequate and he uses his eyes well in coverage. This player can potentially play 6-7 years at corner and move to safety like Charles Woodson. His versatility will absolutely upgrade any NFL secondary and I expect him to go earlier in the first round than most experts predict.

2. JUSTIN GILBERT (OKLAHOMA STATE) 6-0/202

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If you want a flashy cornerback, meet Justin Gilbert. I like him more than Dennard because I believe Gilbert brings more to the table. Besides playing defense he is an explosive kick returner, taking six kicks to the house during his college career. Gilbert led the Big 12 in interceptions with seven and two of those picks went for scores. Gilbert is a fluid athlete with loose hips who can change direction easily, making man to man coverage a plus for him, especially against the deep ball. He is a pure cover-corner and is not a player to trust in run support or against the screen game. Despite those flaws, he will make his money taking the ball away and Gilbert’s ball skills are elite.

3. DARQUEZE DENNARD (MICHIGAN STATE) 5-11/199

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The 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner is a serious lockdown corner that fits a physical, pressure-packed defensive scheme. Leave Dennard one on one with a receiver and watch him work. He has long arms and brings the boom anytime he makes contact, forcing incomplete passes consistently. Dennard plays with confidence like great corners do and has been ranked as the consensus No. 1 DB in this draft. Here are my issues with Dennard’s game and they are not huge red flags. He plays sticky coverage which is a strength but grabs a lot and knocks hands down when he doesn’t even have to. When the ball is thrown, especially deep, Dennard’s head won’t be looking at the ball but he is usually caught with his back turned. This is an equation for defensive pass interference and in the NFL, it’s a well known penalty we see A LOT. At the end of the day, Dennard will be a solid starter for years to come but he won’t be taking interceptions to the end zone very much.

4. JASON VERRETT (TCU) 5-10/189

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I’m in love with this kid’s game and think he is a sleeping giant while many scouts pick at his “small frame”. At 5-10 and barely 190 pounds Jason Verrett isn’t close to being Richard Sherman but he plays bigger than he looks. He knows how to read and react, undercut routes, and is basically a natural at covering wideouts. Verrett can be lined up in the nickel and cover deadly slot receivers while also being able to blitz the QB in a flash. Came back to TCU for his senior year so he could earn his degree and is a former JUCO transfer from Santa Rosa, CA. Bottom line, he’s had to work for his time on the gridiron and will do the same at the next level. Verrett has battled injuries and must prove durability but I like his upside. Earned Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors after shutting down the conference’s best receivers (CHECK OUT THE FILM VS BAYLOR ALL-AMERICAN ANTWAN GOODLEY, 1 REC, 12 YARDS). Can he go head to head with Megatron? At his size, most likely not. Compares to a small, tough corners like Cortland Finnegan and Brent Grimes.

5. BRADLEY ROBY (OHIO STATE) 5-11/194

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Bradley Roby was arrested recently and pleaded guilty to having physical control over a motor vehicle while being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This incident of course will bring Roby’s stock down even though he has obvious first round talent. He is a gifted athlete with elite speed (4.39 40-yard dash) and his agility helps him break to the ball. Consistency and focus is a problem for Roby and his worst game came against Wisconsin when receiver Jared Abbrederis obliterated him for over 200 yards.  The 2013 season was up and down for Roby and that to me is a red flag. The talent and skill set is there but can Bradley Roby be a true professional in the NFL?

 

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 ILBs

Inside linebackers have evolved in the NFL from larger, hard-hitting players to smaller, quicker, and more agile playmakers. As speed has increased at every position on offense, the defense has also had to adjust. Value in drafting an inside linebacker depends on how dynamic they are. Can this prospect play fro 1st down to 3rd down? Can he efficiently put the defense in the right formation and give the correct signals? If these traits aren’t checked off the list and a team reaches for a middle linebacker early in the 1st round, it’s definitely a wasted draft pick.

1. C.J. MOSLEY (ALABAMA) 6-2/234

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C.J. Mosley is a plug and play starter once he is drafted. He has played in Nick Saban’s diverse defense since being a true freshman and has not looked back. Experts say he has more of a narrow build but I don’t worry about that. 234 pounds is not tiny and Mosley uses his speed, agility, and keen anticipation to make plays in the backfield. One flaw he must correct ASAP, is shedding blocks. There were many times on tape I saw him get stuck on a block and essentially disappeared off the play. He will have to go head to head with stronger offensive linemen at the next level but I expect his game preparation to help him succeed. Mosley is the consensus No. 1 linebacker because he can play all three downs due to his pass coverage ability.

2. SHAYNE SKOV (STANFORD) 6-2/245

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Time and time again, Shayne Skov has made big plays in big games. Check out the tape vs Oregon in 2013 when Stanford upset the Ducks 26-20 but with the leadership of Skov on defense, the Cardinal had shut out Oregon’s high octane offense in the first half. Skov is an elite run stopper. He has excellent football IQ and is a vocal leader who leads with his character by example. Scouts note that ever since coming back from three leg surgeries (ACL, MCL, tibia), he has not had the same explosiveness. I disagree. Yes, his 2012 season was a step down from his usual play because his legs were getting acclimated to the game after rehab. At this moment, I believe he can be a 3-down inside backer, earn his spot in training camp, and eventually become a starter for years to come.

3. CHRIS BORLAND (WISCONSIN) 5-11/248

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Mike Mayock has this kid ranked second to Mosley but I have him third. He is a shorter inside backer at 5-11 and I don’t think that’s a big deal. Chris Borland is low to ground and bulky in frame, weighing close to 250. Having short arms (29 inches) is a red flag since he will have to shed blocks against linemen who can extend much longer than him. Borland was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year and racked up 112 tackles in 12 starts. He has totaled 50 tackles for loss in his career but will probably be a liability in pass coverage. Mid-round pick that will have to prove himself first on special teams.

4. MAX BULLOUGH (MICHIGAN STATE) 6-3/249

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Two-time captain with great football character who was born into a football family. Bullough’s father, grandfather, and two uncles all played at MSU. But coaches will ask why was he suspended before the Rose Bowl this past season (undisclosed). On the field, Bullough has the physicality and intangibles to lead a defense with seasoning. Not as explosive as you would like and is a bit stiff in the hips. Bullough is somewhat of an “old school” linebacker. Did not have to play zone coverage much in the Michigan State scheme.

5. PRESTON BROWN (LOUISVILLE) 6-1/251

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Maybe Preston Brown should surpass Bullough in these rankings but for now he is at No. 5. Brown is 2-down thumper who shows explosiveness to the ball and brings good contact. Brown was a three-year starter for Louisville and has a nice frame at 251 pounds and 33-inch long arms. This gives him the power to hit and also wrap up ball carriers. But just like these lower ranked backers, he does not excel in pass coverage. If he can improve on that aspect and show he can cover dynamic tight ends, he will be able to play for an NFL defense.

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 OLBs

This year’s crop of outside linebackers have the potential to be game changers. Explosiveness and the ability to rush the passer are what NFL scouts look for. This group definitely has that skill set and should be taken by the third round.

1. KHALIL MACK (BUFFALO) 6-3/251

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Some experts believe Khalil Mack is a better prospect than Jadeveon Clowney. He reminds me of Von Miller coming out of Texas A&M who was a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker. Mack would preferably be more productive in a 3-4 scheme being able to rush the passer and also drop in coverage. He has a high motor and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He hasn’t always been the anointed, elite prospect since high school a la Clowney. The only thing that scares me is that he did not consistently play against top competition but he did show his raw talent against Ohio State this past season.

2. ANTHONY BARR (UCLA) 6-5/255

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This former running back turned outside backer is an imposing figure at 6-5 and 255 pounds. Anthony Barr is still rough around the edges but he showed enough at UCLA to be a top 10 pick. What stands out is his closing speed and agility which helps him wreak havoc in the backfield. Stand him up in a 3-4 defense and turn him loose. Barr is still improving as a run defender but that will come with time. His running back days definitely give him a natural burst off the snap that is a plus. Bottom line, in three more seasons Barr can end up being the best outside linebacker coming out of this draft class.

3. KYLE VAN NOY (BYU) 6-3/243

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Put on Van Noy’s tape and you will witness an instinctive and explosive linebacker who knows how to bring down the ball carrier at all costs. His reaction skills are elite even though some scouts think his athleticism is not at the standard as some of the other prospects. I disagree. Van Noy can reads offenses well and can stop the run while being savvy in pass coverage. He earned even more respect by returning for his senior season and battled late season injuries to keep playing, an absolute leader on defense. Van Noy is a mid-round sleeper who will make an NFL team with no problems.

4. RYAN SHAZIER (OHIO STATE) 6-1/237

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Ryan Shazier looks like a safety but hits like a backer. He is undersized and his frame is leaner than most at his position. Despite his size, he makes plays and uses speed to get to the ball. Reminds me of Lavonte David who has been productive for Tampa Bay so far in his young career. David also has acceleration and burst which helps him blitz with ease through any gap. We will see how tough he is at the next level where blockers are much larger and more physical. Shazier’s stock has been soaring because of his impressive combine and pro day numbers.

5. MARCUS SMITH (LOUISVILLE) 6-3/251

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Marcus Smith played quarterback in high school before converting to linebacker as a true freshman. Smith is raw and is a definite sleeper because of his pass rush ability. Racked up 14.5 sacks in 2013 and projects to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. His QB experience has helped him on the other side of the ball and must be coachable since he did change positions. Must get stronger to go against NFL offensive linemen so he may start out as a situational pass rusher. In this day and age, it doesn’t hurt to have a few of those on your depth chart.

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 DEFENSIVE TACKLES

1. AARON DONALD (PITTSBURGH) 6-1/285

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Put Donald at the 3-technique in a 4-3 front and you have a disruptive force a la Warren Sapp. He excels at leverage and a first step to penetrate inside the trenches. Quick enough and strong enough to hit the gap while using his hands violently. Yes, he is undersized at 285 pounds but that should not discount his strength at all. Bottom line, the kid has a motor and is deceptively athletic who is skilled at stopping the run. Aaron Donald also has upside rushing the passer because he already has sound technique and can afford to bulk up.

2. TIMMY JERNIGAN (FLORDA STATE) 6-2/299

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Jernigan is another prospect that I think would fare well as a 4-3 defensive tackle. He’s a bit bigger and thicker than Aaron Donald but still has good quickness. Does a good job of using his hands and shedding blocks while controlling the line of scrimmage. One knock is that he is still raw after starting his first season full time in 2013. I see him get driven back at times when he is head up on the center so nose tackle is probably not the best fit for him. Finally, he must learn more pass rush moves or he won’t be on the field every down.

3. RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN (MINNESOTA) 6-6/310

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Now here is a big man that can be a versatile fit on the defensive line with the right coaching. His size and frame allow him to be  3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 defensive tackle. Hageman can even be a nose tackle if he adds just a little bit more weight. I like that he has a nasty attitude to his game and puts an emphasis on finishing a sack or tackle. Hageman has a knack for getting after the quarterback and has a high ceiling for improvement. Physical specimen that has to polish up on his technique and use his hands much more.

4. STEPHON TUITT (NOTRE DAME) 6-6/304

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Tuitt has playmaking upside that could definitely boost his stock before the draft. He carries 300 pounds nicely on his frame and is explosive off the snap. Played defensive end in a 3-4 scheme at Notre Dame but can probably shift inside to the 3-technique at defensive tackle. You can see that he loves the art of pass rushing so he is not just a run stopper. The key is being consistent and accountable which was a problem for him in 2013. If a coaching staff can mold his combination of power, quickness, and range, Tuitt will be a absolute factor.

5. LOUIS NIX (NOTRE DAME) 6-2/331

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The first thing you notice about Louis Nix is his huge size. His frame allows him to fit in at nose tackle in a 3-4 defense by anchoring down and taking on double teams. His ability to drive blockers back will automatically improve a run defense. Athletic and moves well for his large size. Most scouts may compare to him to B.J. Raji from the Green Bay Packers. One red flag is post season knee surgery that could cause his weight to creep up. 

 

 

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 DEFENSIVE ENDS

One of the cornerstones of a strong, winning football franchise is the defensive end. This is the monster that lines up against the quarterback’s blind side and wreaks havoc. This draft class has some beasts with similar but different skill sets. You HAVE to hit on this pick if the opportunity for an elite pass rusher is present. It can make or a break a team’s future because in the end defense wins championships and there are too many amazing quarterbacks that must be contained.

1. JADEVEON CLOWNEY (SOUTH CAROLINA) 6-5/266

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I don’t know how a scout, GM, or head coach could NOT fall in love with Jadeveon Clowney. He is the most gifted athlete at the defensive end position since Mario Williams in 2006 who went 1st overall to Houston. The Texans are in the same position this year with the No. 1 pick and Clowney is arguably the best prospect in this whole draft. Clowney is an awesome combination of size, strength, and speed with a ton of upside. He uses his long arms to fight through blocks without using an array of moves. It almost seems as if he can knife through the inside of offensive tackles but also use the speed rush around them. In his last season at South Carolina, many teams were double teaming and sometimes triple teaming him, also running the ball the opposite way most of the game. If the right coaching staff and veteran leadership can guide Clowney onto the professional and mature path, he can be one of the best pass rushers to play in the NFL.

2. DEE FORD (AUBURN) 6-2/252

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Dee Ford can produce right away as a pass-rusher if he goes to the right team. Ford fits the 3-4 scheme perfectly as a stand-up outside linebacker. Defensive coordinators will turn him loose but I’m not sure if he’s an every down player due to his size. Ford did add 50 pounds to his frame since coming to Auburn so hopefully he will add more muscle mass at the next level. When he does put his hand on the ground, he is not as effective using a bull rush. Bottom line, Dee Ford has the high motor and burst to be a threat to the quarterback consistently as he matures.

3. KONY EALY (MISSOURI) 6-4/273

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Mike Mayock may not agree with me ranking Kony Ealy at No. 3 but I do see some flaws. Ealy’s awareness on the field can improve and he gets too high off the snap. His large frame and size will help him but he is still raw and unpolished. If he gets the right coaching staff to tap into his abilities, he can be a monster but I see that taking 2-3 seasons. One thing he does know how to do is close on the quarterback and that’s why he will be drafted earlier than he should be.

4. SCOTT CRICHTON (OREGON STATE) 6-3/273

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Pure pass-rusher with a knack for getting to the quarterback. Crichton’s motor will never be caught turned off and is an underrated athlete. Will probably fit a 4-3 scheme with his hand on the ground but some teams may experiment with him as a 3-4 outside backer. Brings the wood during contact and wraps the ball carrier up with his strong hands. Scott Crichton is still a little raw but has shown more than enough flashes to entice a coaching staff.

5. TRENT MURPHY (STANFORD) 6-5/250

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There was no way I could leave this prospect off this list. Trent Murphy was a two-time All-American at Stanford where some experts say he was surrounded by defensive talent. I won’t argue with that but I do believe Murphy was the best player on that defense, making the Cardinal unit tick against some of the best offenses in the Pac-12. He has perfect height and size combined with a high motor and use of hands. Plays with great instinct and toughness on every play. This is a blue-chip defensive end that also knows how to play in a 3-4 scheme. Mid-round pick with possibly no red flags at all.

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 CENTERS

The man snapping the ball to your quarterback may be in the next, most important position on the offensive side of the ball. Elite centers make the correct calls against a variety of defensive fronts and blitzes. They also have to be athletic enough to pull in the run-game and quick enough to get set for a bull-rush from a defensive tackle. This class boasts some adequate competition at the center position.

1. MARCUS MARTIN (USC) 6-3/320

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Marcus Martin has attractive upside and a solid skill set to start at center in the NFL for a long time. His size is stout and perfect for the interior of the o-line. He has just one year of starting experience at center but looks so smooth at the position. Quick feet and a solid anchor while always chopping his feet helps him produce way more positive plays than negative. Martin is physical and moves well at 320 pounds but can whiff on pass protection when he doesn’t stick to the right technique. Season this kid with some professional coaching and let him play the minute he’s ready.

2. WESTON RICHBURG (COLORADO STATE) 6-3/298

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Swanson is an undersized center, barely weighing 300 pounds but he is definitely durable. He has started 49 games during his college career so game experience would help him transition to the NFL. Swanson uses quickness and change of direction to make his blocks but he will need to get stronger to last at the next level. If he can handle professional defensive linemen, his intelligence and toughness will earn playing time.

3. BRYAN STORK (FLORIDA STATE) 6-4/315

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Bryan Stork has the perfect attitude to play center in the NFL. He’s aggressive in the run-game and has a strong motor. In his final season at Florida State, he led the protection for Jameis Winston and won the Remington trophy for being the nation’s top center. Stork has 40 career starts and has started six games at guard so he is versatile. I like his chances competing for a starting spot and being reliable when injuries occur.

4. TRAVIS SWANSON (ARKANSAS) 6-5/312

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Travis Swanson is a large-framed center from the SEC so you know he has went head to head with some of the toughest defensive tackles in college football. He has 50 career starts under his belt and was elected team captain twice, proving leadership and character. He has the explosiveness to get after defenders to seal them off but can also afford to bulk up and fill that frame. Could be a steal in the 5th-6th round.

5. GABE IKARD (OKLAHOMA) 6-4/304

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The last center on this list may not have the NFL athleticism that other linemen may have but Gabe Ikard does have the intelligence and character. His academic performance helped him graduate early (May, 2013) with a 4.0 and on the field he uses his brains to get the job done. Ikard started 50 out of 52 games and has an exceptional sense of position blocking. Again, you want a smart guy leading the o-line to keep all five bodies in sync and Ikard did that consistently, earning All-Big 12 three times at Oklahoma.