With the loss of Brian de la Puente going to the Bears the Saints need a center. Not that the Saints ever truly wanted to keep him as evidenced by the deal he received to be a backup. There is no way I can get on board with the notion that Tim Lelito is the starting center for the Saints in 2014. Even if he is, it would need to be by virtue of earning that distinction by beating out multiple competitors. I still believe the Saints need to create competition by both drafting a guy (preferably in the first five rounds) AND signing a veteran (preferably Jonathan Goodwin). We know the Saints already hosted Florida State center Bryan Stork for a private workout, so that position is clearly on the radar. In fact, it’s clearly the team’s biggest need. So who are the players they could draft? When looking at these players the Saints want a versatile guy that can do a little bit of everything, but pulling and pass blocking come at a premium over being an interior beast. A guy that can dominate in the trenches is nice, but the Saints will take on the project of developing power on a lighter frame guy that can move well and has good technique pass blocking because that fits their offense better. Here are the best centers in the draft:
1. Weston Richburg, Colorado State: Viewed by many as the best center in the draft. There’s a decent chance he’ll be available when the Saints pick in the 2nd round and maybe even their 3rd round pick. I don’t see him going into the 4th round. From a character point of view he totally fits the Saints mold. He’s a 2 time captain and a very well liked personality. He also has tremendous pull ability which is big in the screen game the Saints like to use. He is maybe a bit less powerful than de la Puente was, though.
2. Travis Swanson, Arkansas: Many others contend he’s the best center in the draft. Like Richburg mocks have him going anywhere from the 2nd to 4th round. At 6’5″ and 312lbs he’s a beast and one of the biggest prospects coming out. He’s another high character guy that’s durable and excels as a pass blocker. He doesn’t have great quickness or power, so he may not be as good of a fit in the Saints misdirection offense as Richburg, but I could see him making sense.
3. Marcus Martin, USC: Also projected somewhere between the 2nd and 4th round. Some of these centers may go earlier being cheap labor with the center market in free agency being so lukewarm. He’s more of a run game workhorse type center that plays with power, so again I question if he’s an ideal fit in the offense.
4. Bryan Stork, Florida State: Clearly the Saints are interested since they brought him in for a workout. Along with Swanson he’s the most physically imposing presence at 6’4″ 315lbs. He has both guard and center experience, so he has that versatility that’s so important to the Saints. Remember the Saints usually only keep one interior lineman backup on the 53 man roster, so they need a guy that can play center and guard if he’s a backup. He has good pass and run blocking ability, but he doesn’t move quite as well. He should definitely be available in the 4th and maybe even as low as the 5th round.
5. Tyler Larsen, Utah State: I think the Saints really need to draft one of the guys in the top 4. If they wait till later in the draft, though, Larsen could be out there in the 6th round. He’s a strong run blocker and if the Saints’ offense shifted to more of a power running game he would help.
6. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma: Per NFL.com the pluses are things you like to see: “Outstanding work habits. Exceptional character. Charismatic, humble, well-grounded leader. Versatile.” That’s the good part. He’s limited athletically, though, so I question if he can make an impact at the next level physically. He’s in the 5th to 7th round ballpark projections.
7. Russell Bodine, North Carolina: He’s strong and plays with the kind of intensity and mean streak that reminds me a bit of Carl Nicks. That’s just in terms of nastiness. Clearly he’ll never be the player Carl was. He’ll likely be drafted anywhere from the 5th to 7th.
8. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida: Run blocker with average speed, so I doubt he fits the Saints’ scheme. He will likely be taken before the draft is over.
9. James Stone, Tennessee: Will be available late in the draft as a decent potential player.
10. Matt Armstrong, Grand Valley State: Just because of where he went to school I think the Saints are interested! You know they love finding gems in unlikely places. He’s played every position on the line and is a late in the draft projection.
Based on the talent available I think the Saints have to take one of the top four guys listed here. They’ll be fortunate if they can wait till the 5th round and land one of them, at minimum, but realistically they’ll have to pick a center by the 4th round if they want to land one of those four guys. They may have to go as early as the 2nd if they really value Richburg/Swanson.