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2020 NFL Draft Preview: Center sleepers and Broncos fits

(Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)

The Broncos are in the market for a center in the 2020 NFL Draft. Last year’s starter, Connor McGovern, moved on to the Jets in free agency, leaving the spot open for someone else this season. The Broncos did add Graham Glasgow in free agency and he can play center, but the plan may be for him to start at right guard instead. This means the Broncos should be searching for a young center to take over the position.

Finding a quality offensive lineman to make an impact early can prove to be difficult for NFL teams. A center is essentially the quarterback of the line and needs to be smart, tough and athletic. The Broncos will have some interesting choices in this draft and hopefully whatever player they add can come around quickly to the pro game.

In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the center position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Market Watch

We may not see much activity at the center position until we get to the second round of the draft. When we do begin day two of the draft, there are going to be two players who go off the board quickly. Cesar Ruiz (Michigan) and Lloyd Cushenberry (LSU) are largely regarded as the best centers in this draft class.

Ruiz is a player the Broncos had a formal interview with at the Scouting Combine earlier this year. There is a chance he is there when the Broncos pick near the middle of the second round, but he is a player who is worth moving up for. Ruiz has a great combination of size and athleticism, so expect many teams in the league to be targeting him in the late first or early second round.

One of my favorite terms is “fast hands” and Ruiz certainly has those. He quickly snaps the ball and gets to his man in a flash. Ruiz is a nasty player who blocks with tenacity to the echo of the whistle. While playing with great toughness, Ruiz plays with great discipline. He is fired up on the football field, but he does not let his emotions get the best of him.

Cushenberry was often asked to play on an island during his college days with the Bayou Bengals. Some in the scouting community think that he could be better at guard, but his film from LSU is going to get him a good chance at center in the pros.

The best part of his game is the core strength he plays with combined with the arm length and hand strength to make him truly dominant at the point of attack. Cushenberry is not as athletic as Ruiz, but he makes up for that by not wasting steps when getting to blocks at the second level. He understands leverage and knows how to stay low in order to control his man.

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Sleepers

My All-Star road trip kicks off every year with the East-West Shrine Bowl and this year I was able to watch a couple of sleeper center prospects the Broncos could have interest in. Luke Juriga from Western Michigan was a standout player during the week of practice, and I also liked what I saw from Zach Shackelford from Texas.

The best part of a practice at an all-star game is what scouts call “the pit.” This is the one-on-one blocking drill between the offensive line and the defensive line. It’s the closest thing we get to real football during the practice period and Juriga was flat-out dominant and incredibly fun to watch when working in this drill.

Juriga was throwing around defenders on multiple days. Not only was he throwing around defensive tackles, Juriga would land on guys sometimes to add that extra bit of ferocity to his block. Juriga did a good job of moving well when going up against defensive ends, too. His technique needs to improve when it comes to hand placement and proper footwork. However, he’s got the upside to be a quality starter if developed correctly. I’d love to see what Mike Munchak could do with talent like that.

Shackelford was not as dominant as Juriga at the Shrine Bowl, but he did turn in a solid week. He needs to put on some weight but the main thing I appreciate about his game is that he’s incredibly smart and rarely fooled by stunts or twists from defensive linemen. His toughness is unquestioned as he dealt with a foot injury during his last season with the Longhorns. Shackelford is a late-round prospect with intriguing upside.

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Broncos Fits

There’s a good chance the Broncos could be selecting a center with a premium pick (rounds 1-3) in the draft. The Broncos are running a power-gap scheme under new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, so they’ll be on the lookout for powerful players who can maul defenders.

Ruiz seems to be near the top of their list for reasons listed above. The Broncos interest in Ruiz is well known and if they selected him I would not be surprised. We don’t have any facility visits for these prospects due to the coronavirus pandemic, but I would guess Ruiz would have been one of the 30 players the Broncos would invite to UC Health Training Center.

Another player they could look to for added power at the center position is Keith Ismael from San Diego State. He takes good angles as a blocker at the second level and he’s athletic enough to be a sticky blocker when tasked with going after a moving linebacker. He’s versatile and intelligent, but Ismael has a little bit of an injury history to look in to. He also needs to add weight in order to hold up against larger rushers.

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