May 10, 2012
Lost in all of the hype and debate about which NFL prospect is the next Joe Montana or Jerry Rice, is which prospects could become Pro-Bowlers on the interior of the offensive line (or at least Pro Bowl caliber, if there is no Pro Bowl). This year’s Draft showed how lightly NFL teams value interior lineman, specifically centers. Peter Konz, the #1 rated center according to many draft sites, fell all the way to the Atlanta Falcons at #55. But when you look at teams that have been successful over the last decade, they all have had very good, if not elite, centers.
THE PATRIOTS – DAN KOPPEN
Dan Koppen started 119 games from 2003-2010 for the Patriots. He was injured early in 2011. During his tenure as the Patriots center, New England won two Super Bowls and started another season 19-0. Koppen may not be as important to the team’s success as Tom Brady or Bill Belichick, but he has been an important cog on the offensive line for a long time.
THE COLTS – JEFF SATURDAY
Saturday started 188 games for the Colts from 1999-2011. Anyone who thinks that the Colts’ offense is completely run by Peyton Manning has never seen Saturday argue with him on the sidelines. Saturday was out there for all of those years calling protections and identifying linebackers for the Colts’ offensive line. He is a major reason that Peyton Manning started every game for 13 years in a row. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact Jeff Saturday can make in Green Bay now that he has signed with the Packers.
Maurkice Pouncey, David Haas, and Scott Wells have all been on Super Bowl teams in the past two seasons. The Steelers went against the grain and drafted Pouncey 16th overall in 2010. He has more than lived up to the selection by earning a selection to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. Scott Wells went from the Packers’ 7th round draft pick in the 2004 NFL Draft to the starting center in Super Bowl XLV and a Pro Bowler in 2011. He recently signed a contract with the Rams. Before the 2011 season, David Haas left the 49ers and signed with the Giants in free agency. The Giants had not made the playoffs in two years, but won the Super Bowl last year with Haas manning the pivot. The list does not end there. The Bears’ Super Bowl run in 2006 featured team captain and perennial Pro Bowl Center Olin Kreutz. The Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl team had Shaun O’Hara, who made three Pro Bowl teams and one All-Pro Team.
Poor play at center can bring a team down as well. Would the Cowboys have had better records in recent years if they had gotten more consistent play from center Andre Gurode? Gurode, at times, struggled with shotgun snaps, and, on a few occasions, had multiple bad snaps in the same game. The Cowboys chose not to resign him following the 2010 season, and, while he signed with Baltimore for the 2011 season, he started only five games for the Ravens.
Recent history has shown that the most successful teams in the league have to-of-the-line centers. A poor center can bring down an otherwise talented football team. So why do NFL teams seem to overlook this position in the draft? It is one of the greatest mysteries in pro football.