The Houston Texans have a number of needs that they can use with their first round draft pick. Here is the case for them to use that on a center.
When free agency opened, the Texans lost starting center Ben Jones to the Tennessee Titans as they splurged on quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller. With all the money they dished out to those two (and a few other free agents on the side), there was not enough money to bring back Jones. Both Jones and right guard Brandon Brooks were both lost to free agency, making two open holes on the offensive line.
One of those free agents brought in on the side was Jeff Allen from the Kansas City Chiefs. He figures to be the starter at right guard, filling in for Brooks. That leaves the center position open, and arguably the center is the most important position on the offensive line.
Having a cornerstone blindside tackle (in most cases the left tackle) is also incredibly important, but a center is arguably just as crucial because he makes all the line calls. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had many great centers over the years to lead their historically bruising running attack. Mike Webster to Dermontti Dawson to Maurkice Pouncey. The Indianapolis Colts also showed how important a good center is with Jeff Saturday anchoring the line for years.
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While Peyton Manning was playing, the Colts always had a good offensive line without having a bunch of high draft picks. Since Saturday left the Colts, they have had among the weakest lines in the league; largely because of his departure. For the Texans to be a consistently good team going forward, they need to have that anchor in the middle of their offensive line.
There have been stronger classes of centers in previous years, but Ryan Kelly should be there when the Texans select at 22. Some people might think that the first round is too high for Kelly, but I believe that teams will start looking at Kelly at the end of the first round. Kelly is quick for a 311 pound center, running the 40 in 5.03 seconds and has good arm length at 33.63 inches.
Kelly figures to be a guy who can play immediately and is the only center who is potentially first round quality. Protecting the guy whom you paid $18 million a year and getting a guy to open holes for your high priced free agent running back needs to be a high priority. At this point there isn’t a free agent out there who can do what Kelly will be able to do, as he performs well in pass protection and can get to the next level on running plays and make all the calls. He has the ability to anchor this line for the next decade and is a compelling option in the first round.