In free agency, we watched the Jacksonville Jaguars sign two new faces along the offensive line. First, Mackenzy Bernadeau was signed from the Dallas Cowboys to provide solid depth along the interior offensive line, followed by left tackle Kelvin Beachum to compete with Luke Joeckel for the starting position.
Both players have proven their worth over their careers, but there is still work to be done along the interior, at center in particular.
The Jaguars haven't had stability at center since Brad Meester retired in 2013, although centers Luke Bowanko and Stefen Wisniewski held down the fort over the last two years. Both players were average at best at center, but Bowanko has been kept around as solid depth at all positions across the line.
The upcoming NFL draft shines a light, with loads of talent at both center and guard. My favorite prospect is Alabama center Ryan Kelly, who has performed extraordinarily well in a pro-style offense as a starter for the past three years, and is the best senior prospect in the entire draft class.
Kelly is a big center, standing at 6'4", 311 lbs, and although he is big, he is very quick, as seen by his 5.03 40 yard dash. He has the communication skills of Paul Posluszny to help lead the offense as well as the toughness and grit of Bryan Walters to be a physical, mauling center in the NFL -- all in all, solidifying the middle of the line.
Offensive lineman don't usually have highlights, but here are a couple of clips that I could find of Kelly (No. 70) during his time at Alabama:
This play against Clemson displays Kelly's physicality and durability to finish the play, while quarterback Jake Coker made moves in the backfield trying to complete the play. He begins the play with a Clemson rushing linebacker (I believe it's B.J. Goodson) in his face, but is able to push Goodson back to the line and continues to push him around until the whistle blows.
Kelly takes the role of the bully out at recess. He will always be in your face, pushing you around, and knocking you down until play time is over -- in the case above, the "playground" was the national championship.
The next play highlights Kelly's ability as a blocker, where he opens a hole, tight and perfectly timed, for running back Derrick Henry to stomp his way to six:
This kind of toughness and ability as a blocker is what the Jaguars need in the middle of the offensive line. The bully threw the Texas A&M defensive lineman around until he took his opponent's lunch money -- in this case, an open hole to lead to one of Derrick Henry's many touchdowns.
Personally, I think Kelly is the best center prospect to come out in years, probably since Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. Kelly is listed as a late first round/early second round pick, and if I were Dave Caldwell, I honestly would find a way to move up from 38th overall to select him if I know he will be gone before our second round pick..
Here are some other roads the Jaguars could take to fill the gap along the interior offensive line:
Cody Whitehair, OG/OC, Kansas State
Whitehair is another mauler, standing at 6'4", 301 lbs, and is versatile along the line. While he admittedly favors playing guard over any other spot on the line, he is open to playing any position, including center and left tackle, where he spent some time playing at Kansas State.
Whitehair's coaches praise him for his toughness and leadership abilities, and he brings a certain nastiness to the guard position to shut down interior rushers and open running holes. He could certainly fall into the Jaguar's lap at the 38th pick, but I'd expect that to be the farthest he'd drop in the draft.
Nick Martin, OG/OC, Notre Dame
Nick Martin is the younger brother of Dallas Cowboys all-pro guard Zack Martin, and shares his brother's toughness as a blocker. He stands at 6'4", 299 lbs, and brings versatility to the table, as he is capable of excelling at both center and guard as a mauler in the running and passing game.
Martin is likely to be an early/middle second round pick, so he should be available when the Jaguars select at 38th, or maybe even later if the Jaguars decide to trade back in the second round.
Jack Allen, C, Michigan State
Allen would, in my opinion, be a nice 4th round pick, but no higher. While he is an effective blocker around the line of scrimmage in both the running and passing situations, he is on the shorter side -- standing at 6'1", and bears short arms -- 32 1/4 inches long, which makes it difficult for him to lock onto defensive linemen.
Size aside, Allen is a tough blocker in all situations. He carries the role of "the lowest man wins" and physically beats defensive lineman in protection by attacking them low. While Ryan Kelly is the bully around school, Jack Allen is more of the shy-guy who takes a stand against the bully. He may not be the greatest threat to the bully's triumph, but he certainly has the guts to make an impact.
If Allen can continue playing effectively as the "lowest man" he can be a solid center in the NFL.
We've seen players come and go along the middle of the Jaguars offensive line, and it's time that the team finds some stability. Ryan Kelly can be a day one starter in the NFL and I think he is the perfect piece to complete the offensive line puzzle.
Kelly is a ringleader, the bully that everyone is afraid of when they're going out to play, and he would bring that mentality to the Jaguars offense for years to come. However, if the Jaguars don't share the same enthusiasm that I do for Kelly, there are plenty of other options throughout the draft to solidify the middle of the offensive line.