The NFL is a passing league, and there’s no doubt that quarterbacks and wide receivers are the stars. But without the men in the trenches, few opportunities would exist for the QBs and WRs. Sam Gold examines one of the best centers in this year’s draft, Ryan Kelly.
Ryan Kelly was a three-star recruit coming out of high school in Ohio. He redshirted as a freshman, and then started three of his four eligible seasons at the University of Alabama. As a redshirt senior, Kelly earned consensus All-American honors and won the Rimington Trophy Award as the nation’s top center. He enters the 2016 NFL Draft as the consensus top center.
Many were critical of Kelly’s combine performance in Indianapolis, since he is not the largest nor the strongest offensive lineman, but he has surprising athleticism and plays with great hustle and toughness on each snap.
Below you will see the spider chart comparison from mockdraftable.com between Kelly’s combine performance against other center prospects since 1999:
Kelly has a quick snap-to-set motion and is immediately ready to initiate contact on his defender. He uses his hands well, absorbing the force of a delayed linebacker blitz in this first play. Kelly does a good job assisting the right guard before switching to the linebacker without any wasted steps.
Kelly is a patient blocker who mirrors his defender well in space. His lateral agility does not allow the defender to work back into the play allowing Kelly’s quarterback more time in the pocket.
Kelly’s less than ideal size and strength may cause him to struggle against larger nose tackles that have the length to get inside his chest plate and drive him backwards.
Alabama runs a zone blocking scheme that mixes in power concepts. The center is an important position in this offensive system because he is responsible for reach blocking the nose tackle to prevent immediate penetration.
In this zone stretch to the left against Texas A&M, Ryan Kelly reach blocks Myles Garrett to establish immediate positioning. This allows the running back to escape to the sideline with relative ease.
In the same game, Alabama runs inside zone to the right. Kelly explodes off the line of scrimmage to reach the weakside inside linebacker, while the running back takes the cutback lane on the left side of the line of scrimmage.
Kelly struggles in downfield blocks where he is overeager to initiate contact. This causes him to overrun defenders in space and miss them completely. Additionally, Kelly is not strong enough to execute a straight drive block. He is much more successful using angles to attack the defender.
Kelly is at his best when he can use his body positioning and hustle to seal defenders. He needs to add functional strength in his legs to fully drive block defenders in a man scheme. His ideal fit in the NFL is in a zone blocking scheme, but he has the versatility to play in a man-power running scheme as well.