OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens could take a center in the first round for the first time in franchise history, and no one should be surprised by it given what offensive coordinator Greg Roman said two months ago.
Asked about building the offense around quarterback Lamar Jackson and his unique skill set, Roman said, "We’ve got to have a strong, powerful offensive line. That’s where it all starts is domination up front and control up front."
Given how much the Ravens ran last year and plan to do so with Jackson this season, bolstering the interior of the offensive line is just as important as finding a playmaking wide receiver. The ineffectiveness of Baltimore's blocking in the middle was a major reason why the Ravens lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in the playoffs.
This has spurred many mock drafts to link the Ravens with N.C. State's Garrett Bradbury and Texas A&M's Erik McCoy. Both are expected to be available when Baltimore is on the clock for the No. 22 overall pick, and one could be there in the second round if the Ravens traded back.
Either Bradbury or McCoy would represent an upgrade over Matt Skura, who was the 23rd-ranked center by Pro Football Focus in his first full season at that spot.
Bradbury is considered the best pure center in this year's draft because of his strength, athleticism and intelligence. A three-year starter with no real red flags, he was flagged twice in 942 offensive snaps last season.
McCoy is the better center-guard option, and the Ravens typically love versatility in their offensive linemen. With McCoy blocking for SEC leading rusher Trayveon Williams, the Aggies averaged 5.2 yards per carry when running up the middle.
Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz sees a trend among the best center prospects in this year's draft.
"The one thing when looking at the top guys in the draft -- without naming any names -- they’re all competitive," Hortiz said. "Every one of those guys that you look at on film, they get after it. They’re smart, intelligent, physical football players that are very, very competitive. [They have] different athletic skill sets, different strengths, different weaknesses, but the thing you can hang your hat on with the top centers in the draft this year is they are smart and competitive."
Excluding special teams, the Ravens have drafted every position in the first round except center, fullback and defensive end. The Ravens have selected only one center in the first three rounds, and that was Casey Rabach in 2001.
Baltimore isn't the only team that hasn't drafted centers in the early rounds. Since the Ravens' first draft in 1996, only 16 centers have been taken in the first round.
But, strangely enough, centers have been one of the draft's surest bets. Six of the last nine centers drafted in the first round have reached the Pro Bowl: Nick Mangold, Alex Mack, Eric Wood, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey and Travis Frederick.
Adding a top tier talent in the middle would fill a hole on an offensive line that features two young offensive tackles (Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.) and one of the league's best guards (Marshal Yanda). The Ravens have lacked stability at center with three starters (Jeremy Zuttah, Ryan Jensen and Skura) the past three seasons.
“I think it’s a really important position," Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. "That being said, there is always a very small amount of names on the draft board at that position -- top guys -- every single year. Now, this year, it’s a little different. I can think of three or four centers in the draft that have a chance to be first-round, second-round picks. So, we’ll see."