Positional Value: Talking Center
Tyler Linderbaum is a polarising figure for the Jets, but would taking him with a top 10 be a waste?
Good morning Jets fans and welcome to our first Monday edition where we don’t have a Jets game to talk about. If you’re like me, you took great pleasure in seeing the Patriots bounced in the Wild Card game. They weren’t just beaten, they were absolutely pulverized by Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, lovely.
Twitter is often the inspiration for these newsletters, and today’s is no different. Over the weekend there has been a lot of conversations around Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum. Some see him as a generational center who is worth a top 10 selection, some see him as a luxury the Jets can’t afford. Which got me thinking about the top centers in the game and where they were drafted.
For the sake of today’s newsletter I’ve charted the top 20 centers in football from the 2021 season, all of the players listed have played at least 700 snaps or more, so it’s a very good sample size. The first thing I wanted to know is where those centers were drafted. When we talk positional value and people talk about center being way down the list, does that ring true in the management rooms around the country?
I would say this is pretty conclusive. The vast majority of the best centers in football are taken in the third round or later. The only center to be taken in the first round who appeared in the top 20 this season was Alex Mack in San Francisco, and that pick was made back in 2009.
Of the 10 best centers in football last season, only one was taken before the 3rd round (Creed Humphrey #63 in 2021) and if we narrow it down even more to the 5 best centers in football, Creed was the only one taken before the 4th round. It seems clear that NFL general managers seem to believe that value can be found later in the draft, and the statistics (at least from 2021) would seem to indicate they’re right.
One argument that I often here is that if Tyler Linderbaum became an All-Pro nobody would care if he was taken in the top 10, so I thought I’d take a look at All-Pro teams from the last 10 years to see where the first-team center was taken in the NFL draft. Here are the results: (for fairness I’ve only counted each player once, so as not to skew the results, so Jason Kelce has made multiple All-Pro appearances but his draft position has only been counted once).
Not the most comprehensive argument, but you’ve got just as big a chance of having an All-Pro center if you draft them later than if you take them in the first round. It’s probably key to note that none of the first round centers to make an All-Pro over the last decade have been taken higher than pick #20, so will Tyler Linderbaum really be a top 10 pick?
On Friday I sent a tweet out that basically asked if fans would be happy trading down and taking Tyler between picks 15-25, which tends to be where the very best centers have been drafted in recent history. I got more than a few responses which basically said that there was no chance that Tyler would be there because he wouldn’t fall out of the top 10. Most people suggested the Giants would take him.
I thought I’d take a look at the numbers. Over the last 24 drafts, only 14 centers have been selected in the first round, so using some rudimentary maths only 14 of 768 players taken in the first round over that time frame have been centers, the highest being Damien Woody who was taken 17th overall by the Patriots back in 1999. So if Linderbaum does go in the top 10, it would be first time in NFL history that’s ever happened. So while not likely, the old saying that there is a first for everything was created for a reason.
Looking specifically at the Jets. Would it actually make sense when you consider where the Jets are as a franchise and how we’re currently set up at the position? I took a look at Connor McGovern and compared him to NFL centers in some key metrics:
Snaps played: 973 (19th)
Sacks: 4 (24th)
Total pressures: 19 (14th)
Pass Blocking Efficiency: 98.1 (18th)
PFF Run Blocking Grade: 78.7 (8th)
PFF Pass Blocking Grade: 68.0 (13th)
Overall PFF Grade: 75.8 (9th)
Penalties: 3 (3rd)
This largely matches up with the eye test, McGovern is a fairly decent guard. He’s much better in the run game than he is in the passing game, but he’s by no means the biggest problem on this team, you could argue that he’s not even the biggest problem on the offensive line. Now you could draft Tyler and move McGovern to guard, he has played 8 career games at right guard while in Denver.
It’s arguable that he’s a top 10 center in the league, just because PFF say so doesn’t make it so. However, I would say by the eye test he is certainly around average, to slightly above average. The Jets have a lot of players who are significantly below average, and the argument that the resources should be focused on other areas where a bigger jump in quality is needed makes sense.
* Courtesy of Over The Cap
Connor McGovern is entering his age 29 season in 2022, not very old for an offensive lineman, and he’s coming off his best season as a Jet, it also happens to be the first year in a new system that suits his playstyle more. Saying that he’s also entering the last year of his contract with the Jets, and if the Jets did draft Tyler Linderbaum, they could free up $9 million to improve the team in other areas. The Jets don’t necessarily need that cap space, and free agency is pre-draft, but it’s something to keep in mind.
I love Tyler Linderbaum as a player, he’s as close to a perfect center as I think I’ve ever seen. He has allowed 2 sacks and 19 total pressures over 3 years and 1201 pass-blocking snaps, that is elite. I fully expect him to become an All-Pro and if the Jets decide to take him you won’t hear any complaints from me, but taking him in the top 10 where the Jets currently sit would be a bold and historic move. I’m not saying it would be wrong, just historic.
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