Pat Elflein won the Rimington Award last year as college football’s best center.
Ohio State could be just as good at center this year, if not even better, even though Elflein is now in the NFL.
It’ll be hard to be better than Elflein, a rock-solid starter for three-plus seasons who was widely regarded as one of the Buckeyes’ best leaders last season, but Billy Price has the potential to reach that level.
Price, like Elflein, is moving to center for his senior year after playing guard his first three seasons. That’s a transition that’s much easier said than done, as playing center comes with the added responsibilities of snapping the ball and making the offensive line calls, but Price looks like a good candidate to handle it.
Price will enter the 2017 season with even more playing experience than Elflein had last year. He started all 41 of the Buckeyes’ games over the last three seasons. If he starts at least 10 games this season, he’ll break Luke Fickell’s Ohio State record for total games started.
Price, who earned Big Ten Distinguished Scholar honors for the 2016-17 academic year for finishing the year with a grade-point average of 3.7 or higher, certainly appears to have the smarts required for the center position. He’s expected to assume Elflein’s role as a leader of the offense too, as evidenced by his selection to represent Ohio State at this year’s Big Ten Media Days.
Most of the skills Price has shown on the field in his three seasons playing guard – left guard in 2014 and 2015, right guard in 2016 – should translate to playing center. And that’s where Price, who was named as a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association last season, really shines.
Turn on some film from last season, focus your eyes on No. 54 and you shouldn’t have to wait long to see Price overpower an opposing defender. Fran Duffy of the Philadelphia Eagles recently shared an example of Price pancaking a defensive lineman in last year’s Michigan game.
Price is considered to be the Buckeyes’ strongest man. He’s one of the strongest in all of college football. He’s rarely passive, even in pass protection, and demonstrates the mean streak that offensive line coaches love.
What shouldn’t be overlooked is Price’s ability to make blocks on the move. One such example came last season against Rutgers, when Price ran nearly 10 yards downfield to stick a block on a Scarlet Knights safety and spring Mike Weber for a 46-yard rushing touchdown.
As good as Elflein was, Price is more physically gifted. He’s bigger (listed at 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds compared to Elflein’s 6-3/300), more powerful and equally if not superiorly agile.
That doesn’t always equate to being a better player, but it does explain why some NFL draft analysts project Price to be a 2018 first-round pick, even though Elflein fell to the third round in this year’s draft.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller is among those who expects Price to become a top-32 pick at his new position:
Talked about Billy Price on radio yesterday so watching more film. I absolutely love his play. Tough as hell mentality. Will be a Rd1 center— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) July 7, 2017
NDT Scouting’s Joe Marino says “Price should be in the mix to be the first interior offensive lineman drafted next spring.”
A dominant run blocker, Price has the overall play strength to create significant movement in the running game and open up lanes. He is an outstanding finisher who looks to pancake opponent and plays through the whistles. His punch, hip roll and leg drive working in unison often puts defensive lineman on skates.
As a pass blocker, Price demonstrates the mobility to slide his feet, mirror rushers and close down gaps. His powerful punch stymies pass rushers and jolts pads to bring their rush to a halt. He does well to work his hand fits, play with proper bend, remain balanced and maintain his technique.
Price was named to the Rimington Award watch list on Tuesday. If he plays up to expectations, Ohio State could be the first school to win the award in back-to-back years.
Ohio State will certainly miss Elflein’s presence up front, but Price’s decision to stay in Columbus for his fifth and final year of eligibility softens that blow. The Buckeyes need improvement from the guards and tackles around him, but they can count on Price’s talent and experience.