Cincinnati Bengals draft preview: Who are the top three prospects at center?

When the Cincinnati Bengals traded with Buffalo for offensive tackle Cordy Glenn last month, they not only lengthened their wait time for making their first pick, dropping from 12th to 21st, they also expanded their options.

The Bengals rarely draft for need in the first round, opting instead to follow the “best player available” approach.

Still, there are a few positions that probably can be ruled out – certainly quarterback and running back, and to a lesser extent wide receiver – and a handful that are more likely to be in the mix than others.

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It’s that latter group we’ll be targeting over the next few days, beginning today with center.

When Russell Bodine signed with Buffalo last month, it left a huge hole in the middle of the offensive line. While Bodine was never in the mix as a Pro Bowl candidate, he started every game the last four years.

And there’s not an obvious choice on the roster to fill the void. The leading candidate is T.J. Johnson, a seventh-round pick in 2013 who has stuck around on both the practice squad and active roster while appearing in 45 games, primarily at guard, where he made four starts in 2017.

Trey Hopkins, who started 12 games at right guard last year, also could be an option. Even though he hasn’t played there in his four years with the Bengals or in college at Texas, he’s extremely bright and equipped to handle the mental demands of identifying defenses and calling out the protections.

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And with the way guards Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond performed in emergency duty the last few games of 2017, moving Hopkins is not entirely out of the question. But it’s still unlikely.

The starting center in 2018 probably isn’t on the roster yet.

Only three times in their 50-year history have the Bengals taken a center in the first round – Dave Rimington (1983), Blair Bush (1978) and Bob Johnson (1968).

As far as the rest of the league, there only have been seven centers taken in the first round since 2006, and four of them (Nick Mangold, Maurkice Pouncey, Alex Mack and Travis Frederick) have a combined 22 Pro Bowls on their resumes.

Frederick excelled in Dallas under the guidance of offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who joined the Bengals staff this offseason.

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So if you’re going to use a first-round pick on a center, you better not miss.

If that’s the direction the Bengals elect to go, here is a look at the top three prospects listed in alphabetical order:

James Daniels, Iowa (6-foot-3, 306 pounds)

A Warren, Ohio native, Daniels had offers from Ohio State and Alabama but elected to go to Iowa, where he was a two-year starter before forgoing his senior year to enter the draft. He also lettered in track in the shot put and discus.

Mel Kiper, ESPN: “Daniels is an athletic and talented interior lineman. He can move his feet and get to the second level, and he is perfect as an anchor for today’s NFL. Iowa has produced some great linemen under coach Kirk Ferentz, and Daniels could join that list.”

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Billy Price, Ohio State (6-foot-4, 305 pounds)

The Ohio Division I co-Defensive Player of the Year his senior year in high school, Price switched to offense at Ohio State, playing both left and right guard his first three years before switching to center as a senior and becoming a unanimous first team All-American and the recipient of the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center. He suffered a pectoral injury while bench pressing at the Combine, which could affect his draft status.

Lance Zierlein, “Plays like a wildling at times with tremendous explosiveness, strength and, almost excessive initial charge. Price’s power and leverage give him a huge advantage over most centers in this draft. He should be able to come into the league and deal with NFL power right away. However, his impatience as a blocker and tendency to charge in head-first will be used against him by savvy NFL opponents if he doesn’t get it cleaned up. Price is an early starter with Pro Bowl potential.”

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Frank Ragnow, Arkansas (6-foot-5, 312 pounds)

A four-star recruit out of high school in Chanhassen, Minn., Ragnow played nine games as a freshman before starting a streak of 33 consecutive starts that ended in Week 7 this year when he suffered a season-ending ankle sprain against Auburn. He was the favorite to win the Rimington Trophy before the injury but still was named first team All-American by CBS Sports and Pro Football Focus.

Dane Brugler, “Ragnow is a solid square blocker, but has technical breakdowns with defenders on his edge. He is a tough, physical drive blocker who is comfortable in a leadership role and has the mental make-up that pro teams covet at the position. Overall, Ragnow has trouble sustaining while keeping balanced, leading to uneven reps, but he finds ways to get the job done, projecting as a NFL starter.”

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