The Bears have Sam Mustipher under exclusive-rights free agent control this offseason, but with the 25-year-old struggles this year, they may be in the market for a replacement after the season.
By all accounts, Mustipher is an intelligent player whose football IQ shows up in his ability to communicate adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and he is able to pitch in with double-teams well. That said, his struggles in one-on-one situations are glaring, and his physical upside appears limited.
With no picks in Rounds 1 or 5 as it currently stands, the Bears are in a position where they have a few glaring needs but not enough draft capital to address all of them. Surely some moves will be made in free agency, but if they want to save a potential center upgrade for the draft, there are plenty of prospects who could develop into starters in due time.
Let’s take a look at some of the top center prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft that the Bears would be wise to do their homework on.
Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Of the centers in the 2022 draft class, Tyler Linderbaum is widely considered to be the top prospect of the bunch. It’s more likely he’ll end up selected in the first round, but given that centers typically aren’t viewed as having elite positional value, there’s a chance he falls farther than he arguably deserves.
Linderbaum was an accomplished wrestler in high school, and that background is obvious when watching him on tape. He is a master of leverage, succeeding regularly at being the lower man and keeping his pads low. He has great accuracy behind his jabs and has the grip strength needed to seal off interior defenders in the run game. For a smaller center, he is able to keep his legs churning well at the point of attack. It’s not just his technique and strength where he thrives, though: Linderbaum is also a fantastic athlete for an offensive lineman. His mobility stands out when watching his film, and his acceleration as a down blocker or when moving upfield on screens is awe-inspiring.
The big drawback with Linderbaum is his size, as he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds. He can stand to add some more weight to his frame, and that lighter body can see him get pushed back a little bit in pass protection sometimes. That said, he is a very well-rounded center with Day 1 starting ability and a Pro Bowl ceiling, and if he falls to Round 2, the Bears would be wise to rush to the podium and pick him.
Dohnovan West, Arizona State
Dohnovan West appeared on my radar over the summer for his play as a guard, and now that he has a season starting at center to his name, he stands out even more so as a target I’d like for the Bears.
West’s mobility and athleticism stands out when watching him on tape. He is a coordinated mover with fluid hips and good lateral mobility as a down blocker or when utilized on pull blocks. His anchor has gotten stronger over the course of his collegiate career, and he generally executes his strikes with optimal placement. He offers good spatial awareness as both a zone run blocker and as a pass protector.
Length and nastiness are two concerns in West’s profile, as he’s 6-foot-3 and doesn’t appear to have very good arms, and he doesn’t have a consistent finishing mindset when locked up with defenders. In a league that has seen many athletic linemen drafted early, though, West could be a target late on Day 2 or early on Day 3 this year, though my personal grade on him is higher than that.
John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota
A big riser up draft boards late in the regular season, John Michael Schmitz is a prospect worth remembering going forward.
Schmitz has a well-built frame at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds. Though he’s taller for a center, he does a good job of keeping his pads low and bending at the knees to keep his weight underneath him. He is a solid down blocker who takes precise angles on the move, and he does a good job of rolling his hips through contact to seal off defenders in the run game. His intelligence stands out on tape, as his ability to communicate at the line of scrimmage and demonstrate spatial awareness is encouraging.
The issue with Schmitz isn’t that he’s particularly bad at anything, but that he isn’t particularly great at anything. He’s strong but not a consistent mauler, and he’s coordinated but not incredibly athletic. That limits his draft stock a bit, but he projects as a serviceable starter, which should see him get looks as early as Round 3.
Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas
Arkansas has developed into a quality SEC force this year, and among their top prospects this year is the versatile Ricky Stromberg.
Stromberg has made a name for himself as a center, but he also has starting experience at both guard positions. He is a strong and nasty blocker with very good raw power proportioned well within his frame. His low pad level ensures he can get his weight underneath and maximize his anchor strength, and the timing behind his strikes allow him to attack the inside of a defender’s frame with acute precision. In pass protection, he showcases good spatial awareness and can pick up blitzes, stunts and double-team blocks reliably.
Though Stromberg struggles athletically and has limited range as both a pass protector and as a down blocker, his power and technique should see him on the radar of many an NFL team needy for interior help.
Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame
The Bears currently have a former Notre Dame offensive lineman starting at center, and if Jarrett Patterson is deemed as good value for them in the 2022 draft, they could very well have another on their roster next year.
Patterson is a lengthy blocker at 6-foot-5 whose long frame gives him a natural advantage when engaged with defenders. The three-year starter is a powerful blocker who has a strong anchor that allows him to neutralize power moves along the interior with relative ease. He is a smart blocker in pass protection who can pick up stunts and delayed blitzes well, and he also showcases good grip strength and flashes of nice body control in the run game.
Upside is a concern with Patterson, as he isn’t all that mobile or flexible in his lower half. His struggles with weight distribution can see him lose balance too often at times, especially in pass protection. Though his stock is likely limited to early Day 3, he does have potential to be a serviceable starter and could be a nice snag in middle rounds.
Alec Lindstrom, Boston College
The younger brother of Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom, Alec Lindstrom brings some of the same tools to the table that his first-round sibling did coming out of Boston College.
The young Lindstrom is a three-year starter at the collegiate level whose experience is apparent in how he plays the game. He plays with a polished use of his hands and is able to maintain optimal placement that, along with his long arms, help him generate leverage at the point of attack. He has the grip strength needed to overwhelm defenders in the run game, and he also has good functional athleticism needed to down block and accelerate in a vacuum.
Lindstrom could stand to work on the flexibility in his lower half, as he can pop upright off the snap too often. He doesn’t particularly stand out physically or athletically, which could limit his draft stock a bit. Though his ceiling isn’t sky-high, he possesses a nice floor that should see him garner looks early on Day 3.