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Jason Kelce – PFF’s Top Graded Center

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Philadelphia Eagles Center Jason Kelce ranks as Pro Football Focus’ top graded center in the 2017 season. His resurgence has sparked a boom-time for the run game, which ranks 4th in the league in yards per game, and has quieted all the trade rumors that have followed him around for quite some time. Heading into the season, his future with the Eagles and the perception of his performance was unclear at best.

Some categorized him as an undersized center prone to mental mistakes that could be moved for a missing piece at another position.

“Jason Kelce has been the Eagles’ starting center since 2011, but his play has declined after his 2013 PFF All-Pro season. The veteran’s future with the team remains uncertain.” – PFF

In 2014, Kelce went to a Pro Bowl. In 2015, PFF gave Kelce an overall grade of 82.9, a small, but noticeable decline. That dipped to 77.0 in 2016, where he landed as the 27th center overall.

PFF wasn’t the only one critical of him either. In 2016, Bleacher Report’s NFL1000, they ranked him as the 18th center out of 38 qualifiers with a grade of 70.8.

When you look at his individual games in 2016, Kelce’s grades are all over the place and point to inconsistent play (or grading, depending what your stance is). He started the year with 3 straight sub-50 games, followed by adding five more games under 50 on the season. Here’s what PFF had to say about his Week 1 performance that resulted in an egregious 41.6 grade:

“Kelce really struggled on Sunday at the center position for the Eagles. He was beaten a handful of times when pass blocking, giving up a QB hit and another hurry. In the run game, he was consistently unable to hold his blocks and allowed his man to blow up the play multiple times. He also added a low snap.” – Bryson Vesnaver of PFF

He was heavily dinged throughout the season for his performance in pass pro, with a pass blocking grade at 50 or under in 7 out of 16 games. A deeper look at the stats show that Kelce allowed 29 pressures on 662 pass block snaps for a 96.7 pass blocking efficiency rating, 23rd out of 28th for qualifying centers.

His 2017 number is largely the same, giving up 16 pressures on 369 snaps for a 96.7 efficiency rating. So where has Kelce shown enough improvement, in the eyes of PFF, to have him ranked as their highest graded center if he’s having an almost exact type year in pass pro from year to year?

Start with run blocking, where Kelce graded low in 2016. In 2017 he’s eclipsed a 90+ grade in Weeks 3, 4, 9, and 11. Here’s what PFF had to say about his Week 9 performance in the run game against the San Francisco 49ers:

”The Eagles running game had to grind it out with a fairly stout Niners front seven holding them in check. Kelce was constantly doing his job in the middle, getting movement and helping teammates on double teams. Overall Kelce ended up with a 93.8 run grade and was a nightmare for the Earl Mitchell all game.”

The thread below is from Kelce’s highest rated run game in, from what I can tell, years.

The second part of his improvement has come in the way of penalties or less penalties rather. The third part is that Kelce is snapping the ball well from shotgun. This quote is after a loss to the Miami Dolphins in 2015:

“I think (setting the tone is) my job . . . It’s not like I’ve got to get with ’em each individually and coach ’em up or anything like that, I’ve just got to not make mistakes,” Kelce said. “Right now, I think I have 11 penalties through the season. The next closest center with penalties has seven, so I’ve got almost twice as many as the next guy down. “That’s really what’s got to happen. I’ve got to eliminate those mental mistakes, the false starts, bad snaps. If we eliminate those things, I firmly believe we’ll get everything fixed.”

Over the last two years we’ve seen more than a handful of errant snaps from Kelce. This year? Rock solid.

Fans remember bad snaps and drive killing penalties much more than they remember reach blocks on outside zone, or reaching the second level to seal off a linebacker on inside zone. These bad plays stick out in our minds and create a visceral reaction when they happen.

With these issues behind him, he’s getting less of the “undersized” tag applied to his name and more focus is being put on his athleticism, leverage, and use of hands. Kelce’s ability to put behind mental mistakes this year has been the key difference in his uptick in performance, and consequently, his grading.

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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