Under the Microscope: Travis Frederick

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Background

Travis Frederick was selected in the first round (pick 31) of the 2013 NFL Draft surprising nearly every analyst as well as Frederick himself. Six of the top 11 picks in that draft were offensive linemen, and Frederick was the ninth OL drafted in the first-round.

Since that surprising selection in 2013, Frederick has developed himself into one of the premier centers in the NFL. This is despite his below-average testing results from the NFL Combine (including the slowest 40- and 10-yard dashes among starting NFL centers), causing many to wonder if he possessed the necessary athletic ability to succeed long-term as a pro:

This should serve as yet another reminder that athletic testing from the NFL Combine generates little value in projecting on-field ability for interior offensive linemen.

Here are the 32 projected starting centers in the NFL and how Frederick stacks up to them regarding physical measurements, athletic testing, and college experience:

Measuring below average in nearly all of these categories makes Frederick’s story especially impressive, and the Cowboys bold selection of Frederick at pick 31 stands out even more.

Upon arriving to the team as a rookie, Frederick stepped in and displayed the ability to play with excellent technique and nuance. He naturally aligns his hips and elbows at the point of attack (POA) with good hand usage to generate impressive power, torque, and movement in both the running and passing game. These traits have been on consistent display since his rookie season with Dallas, and have improved over his four-year career. Here is a sampling of Frederick from his rookie season showing off the traits mentioned above:

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Not only are the previously mentioned traits consistently on display, but his square power and grip strength are repeatedly demonstrated as well. Very few OL make sustaining and controlling look this easy, but even as a rookie Frederick was showcasing it.

The 2014 season put the Cowboys OL on the map nationally when RB DeMarco Murray won the rushing title by amassing almost 500 more yards and 80 more carries than the runner-up. Frederick put together back-to-back seasons without missing a start, making his first Pro Bowl in the process.

Frederick quickly developed and built off of his rookie season to become one of the premier combo blockers in the NFL at the center position. Working in unison with linemates both to overtake and release in a timely fashion, Frederick displayed outstanding efficiency out of his stance (maintaining very good pad level and balance throughout each rep) coupled with very good hand placement and grip strength, allowing Frederick to generate elite power from the ground through his hips and hands.

There is often a jolt on contact whenever Frederick initially engages, and it provides Frederick with the upper hand in the leverage battle. Being able to generate as much initial pop and movement on contact as he did in 2014 was remarkable given the sheer consistency in which it was displayed for a second-year player. Frederick’s overall hand usage to include placement, power, and grip strength to create torque, sustain, and control is a defining trait of his game.

Here’s a compilation of these traits on display throughout the 2014 season primarily out of inside and outside zone blocking schemes, with some gap / man principles mixed in:

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Next, I will be showing you another area Frederick excels in and displayed a high level of efficiency during the 2015 season: pass protection.
What makes Frederick so good in pass protection is a continuation of what makes him great in the run game: a consistent base, very good square power, ability to align hips / elbows at the POA, elite hand usage, and as a result, explosive power from the ground up to jolt and stun defenders. His anchor is stout and rarely does he give up ground against power rushes, a crucial skill for a center, the man responsible for blocking the shortest path to the QB.

Additional traits to notice in these clips:

– Frederick re-leveraging his hands and sinking his hips in his anchor to sustain and control pass-rushers.

– Maintaining levels when uncovered, showing very good spatial awareness when looking for work. Finds work and clears passing lanes efficiently.

– Good mental processing; deciphers stunts and late-loopers quickly, passes them off, and rarely allows leakers through either A gap:

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Additional examples of Frederick looking for work, power, and mental processing in pass protection from 2015:

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]2016 Film Breakdown

Frederick finished the 2016 season without missing a snap, and earned his first selection as a first-team All-Pro after two consecutive years as a second-team All-Pro. After reviewing every Cowboys game from 2016 with a focus on Frederick, his skill set remains the best I have seen from any center in the NFL last season.

First, here are two of the most impressive reach blocks from any OL in 2016, both coming against Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce:

Frederick demonstrates very good initial quickness out of his stance to open up his playside hip, taking a lateral step while simultaneously creating leverage with excellent hand placement. As he works his hips around the defender he shows elite body control, use of leverage, and footwork to allow the defender’s momentum continue upfield while sealing him out of the play:

This second clip shows the same initial quickness, use of hands, and footwork as above, but also displays his balance and posterior strength to brace and maintain the alley despite Pierce’s best effort to knock him into the runner.

The most impressive part of this play isn’t the finish, but rather how Frederick climbs to the second level. Frederick takes a similar lateral step as the previous clip, opening up his playside hip and expanding his base laterally with very good quickness, capturing nose tackle Letroy Guion’s outside shoulder in the process. Immediately after, he wins outside leverage and uses a violent rip with his inside arm to clear the NT as he opens toward the flowing LB Clay Matthews. Once Matthews over pursues the ballcarrier, Frederick has him lined up for a strong finish, providing a lane for RB Ezekiel Elliott to gain additional yardage.

Working through the first level for a center often involves sifting through tight quarters where a high level of physicality, leverage, and power is required to get things done. Frederick shows off that and more on this single clip:

Here, the Cowboys run outside zone and Frederick has rookie NT Javon Hargrave aligned over the top of him. The technical proficiency on display here is the primary focus.

At the snap Frederick attempts to work around for the reach block, but Hargrave does a nice job of flattening it out and expanding. Frederick immediately repositions his backside hand, working underneath to gain leverage followed by a smooth transition that uses Hargraves’ momentum against him, pushing him right out of the play.

Frederick keeps his shoulders pointed upfield until the last possible moment prior to running Hargrave out of the play. This provides the RB with more options to read and cut off, as opposed to if Frederick allowed his shoulders to turn too soon, limiting where the RB could go. The hand usage and use of leverage here to gain control, sustain, and steer on the fly is rarely seen, even on NFL film.
Another example, against one of the premier nose tackles in the NFL: the Minnesota VikingsLinval Joseph:

Seeing Joseph put on the ground as cleanly as he was here rarely happens, but Frederick is able to accomplish the task through outstanding hand placement, use of his backside hand to create leverage, and a consistent base throughout the rep. By maintaining his balance and a strong base, Frederick is able to generate force through the ground, culminating in the rotational strength through his core for a strong finish.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten are the names most associated with the Cowboys’ success, at least offensively. LT Tyron Smith and RG Zack Martin are typically mentioned next. Few outside of One Cowboys Way place emphasis on the center’s importance, but after studying their 2016 tape it became clear that Frederick’s presence was the most underrated aspect of the Dallas’s offensive success. Frederick exemplifies elite traits and has incrementally improved his game each of the last four seasons. At 26-years-old Frederick is signed through 2023, with an option to opt out after the 2019 season. The Cowboys have ensured that the top center in the NFL will remain with the team through the bulk of his prime, providing a key cog in the offense’s identity for the foreseeable future.

Whether outside / inside zone, gap/man schemes, space blocking, or pass protection, Frederick possesses the necessary skill set to excel in any scheme and in all facets of playing OL. While Frederick’s name recognition among the mainstream media will continue to lag behind names like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, few are more important to the offense’s flexibility to run multiple schemes and keep the defense on their toes.

Follow Brandon on Twitter @VeteranScout. Read more of his work here, including his 2017 NFL Draft Under the Microscope pieces on Pat ElfleinEthan Pocic and Cam Robinson.

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