The center position isn’t exactly held in high regard for its difficulty, but it’s a very deep position in the league today with plenty of impressive veterans. Thus, there were a number of difficult cuts, as Brian De La Puente, Nick Hardwick, Dominic Raiola, and Evan Dietrich-Smith could have easily snuck into the top ten. If you have any of these players in your top ten, then I’m definitely not going to argue against that, especially since I crossed off Raiola at the last second.
After once being a big weakness, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line just might be the team’s biggest strength with a solid offensive tackle bookend, rookie guard Zack Martin, and one of the best young center’s in the game. Travis Frederick vindicated the Cowboys in a huge way after their controversial decision to pick the Wisconsin product in the first round, and they taught us a valuable lesson: don’t be too quick to call a pick a reach. Frederick looked like a rookie in pass protection at times, but he is already a fearsome run blocker and helped pave the way for DeMarco Murray‘s best season. The Cowboys were one of the best teams in the league at running it up the middle, and Frederick is a huge reason for that success on the ground.
When Dan Koppen went down before the start of the season, I’m sure almost nobody could have imagined that Ramirez would end up asserting himself as one of the top players at the position. In fact, I have him a bit low on my rankings, but that’s because I opted to give a boost to a number of centers who simply had a down year in 2013 after consistent dominance in previous years. An amazing run blocker, Ramirez has the ability to take control of the point of attack and maul defensive tackles with reckless abandon. In the Broncos loss to the New England Patriots in the regular season, Ramirez played the best game of any center last year by pretty much pounding overmatched rookie DT Chris Jones into submission. He paved the way for a monster game on the ground for Knowshon Moreno, and Ramirez should once again be one of the best run blocking centers in the league next year, which wil undoubtedly be a big plus for breakout candidate Montee Ball. The Broncos had a historically great passing offense, but they could also smash the ball up the middle with Ramirez and Louis Vasquez anchoring a stout interior.
The off-field stuff gives me pause, but it certainly doesn’t prevent him from being one of the league’s top ten centers. Mike Pouncey is significantly better than Maurkice, and I think he’ll be in for a huge 2014 season with much better talent around him (that is, after he recovers from an injury). He was the only offensive lineman who pulled his weight for the Dolphins last year, as he wasn’t a turnstile in pass protection and managed to generate positive push in the running game for Lamar Miller. In fact, Pouncey was quite steady in pass protection, and the fruits of his labors in the running game will be easier to see next year with Branden Albert, Shelley Smith, and Ja’Wuan James in the fold. Pouncey plays with a real mean streak, and he’s one of the strongest offensive linemen in the league today.
Max Unger is one of those veteran centers who had a disappointing 2013 season, and he finished the year by being the only Seahawks play not to shine in their blowout Super Bowl victory, as Terrance Knighton was too much for him to handle. But I don’t think Unger’s subpar campaign was his fault, because he clearly didn’t look himself while admirably slogging through nagging injuries. He knew his team needed him after other Seahawks offensive linemen went down, as even an injured Unger is still good enough to hold things together. I get the feeling that Marshawn Lynch will have a more efficient year on the ground next season, because his best run blocker should get back to his old ways with better health on the way. In 2012, Unger was easily one of the best centers in the league, and he could get back into the top five with a bounce-back season on its way.
Kalil is the rock of the Carolina Panthers offensive line now with Jordan Gross retired and Travelle Wharton‘s career still uncertain. Once a sure-fire, top-three center, Kalil missed the 2012 season with an injury but followed that up with another steady season in 2013. His consistency in both the passing and running game is incredibly impressive, and it will be all the more critical next season for the Panthers offense.