Height: 6'2" Weight: 296 lbs
College: Bowling Green
Drafted: Fourth round, 108th overall by the Denver Broncos (2008)
The Washington Redskins made a lot of moves that could have backfired horribly last season — picking up DeSean Jackson despite rumored gang ties worked out well, opening the season with Bacarri Rambo as a starting safety worked out less favorably — but one decision that flew under the radar was Kory Lichtensteiger moving to center. It proved incredibly valuable to a lackluster offensive line, and he was among the league's best centers despite his inexperience. Was it a fluke or a sign of things to come?
#1. Offensive linemen at smaller schools such as Bowling Green aren't likely to garner much acclaim, but Lichtensteiger managed to make a minor splash during his collegiate career. He alternated between guard and center while at Bowling Green, and he was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy in 2007, an award given to the best center at the highest level of college football.
#2. Lichtensteiger was drafted by the Broncos — coached by Mike Shanahan at the time — to be a backup center and guard. He lasted a year in Denver, then he had a cup of coffee with the Minnesota Vikings before landing with the Redskins — and Mike Shanahan — in 2010. The Shanaclan installed Lichtensteiger as the starting left guard, where he remained on and off until Jay Gruden moved him back to center before last season.
#3. Lichtensteiger said at the time that center was something he "always excelled at, more so than guard," so perhaps an uptick in his performance was to be expected. To the untrained eye, he was fine in 2014. To the expert eyes at Pro Football Focus, he was exceptional. Among all centers who played at least 50% of snaps at the position, Lichtensteiger rated as the seventh-best overall and tied for third-best in pass blocking efficiency. His 7.1 overall rating was a dramatic increase from the 1.9 he scored at left guard in 2013, he reduced his QB hurries allowed from 22 to 14, and though his pass blocking actually declined as a center (2.2 down to -1.5), his run blocking shot up from -2.4 to 5.0.
#4. Not only was Lichtensteiger among the best at his position last year, he was also among the best o-linemen on the Redskins. Stud left tackle Trent Williams was the only one who could make a case for being more valuable, but the Bowling Green alumnus can hold his own in that debate. Take a look at their respective grades last season, as always, via PFF:
Williams: 10.5 overall, 9.3 pass block, 1.7 run block, 4.0 screen block, -4.5 penalty (he committed a ridiculous 12 penalties), four sacks allowed, seven QB hits allowed, 14 hurries allowed
Lichtensteiger: 7.1 overall, -1.5 pass block, 5.0 run block, 1.6 penalty (just three penalties), one sack allowed, one QB hit allowed, 14 hurries allowed
Depending on how much value you place on penalties, this argument could go either way. Williams ultimately gets the nod, if for no other reason than left tackle being infinitely more important as a position than center is, but Lichtensteiger certainly warrants consideration for taking over a role he hadn't played in years.
#5. There is no real competition for Lichtensteiger this year, and he should easily maintain his grip on the starting center job if he performs anything like he did last season. The Redskins spent a seventh-round pick on center Austin Reiter and brought in 2014 undrafted free agent center Tyler Larsen, but neither should threaten to overtake the incumbent Lichtensteiger.
Bottom Line: Even if his play declines slightly, Lichtensteiger should still be at least an average center in 2015. However, the assumption is that he improves upon his 2014 season after the year of experience and an offseason to focus on the position. If so, the Redskins could have a much-improved offensive line between him and the totally revamped right side of the line. Generally speaking, linemen play better when their peers play better, so if second-year guard Spencer Long and rookie tackle Brandon Scherff can improve on what Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus/Tom Compton put on the field last season, Lichtensteiger could be in for a big year.