If Derrick Henry is the most interesting Tide player in the 2016 NFL Draft, then center Ryan Kelly is 1A.
No one is doubting Kelly's abilities -- three years as a starter, practically every award later, great combines/pro days, and a wonderful Senior Bowl have plainly vaulted the cerebral Kelly to the top of the center Big Board. In fact, there are many rumblings about Kelly being a First Round player.
The old conventional wisdom held that teams should not bite early on a center, especially when the 2nd and 3rd rounds produce just as many quality players. For a risk-averse league, that conventional wisdom largely held sway for the past half-century. But, be it more sophisticated coaching at the collegiate ranks, a more dedicated athlete pool at an earlier age, or the collegiate movement to wide-open passing attacks, centers are not the risky prospect they once were believed to be (and, they never really were risky, TBH.)
Is a center worth picking with the 16th overall pick? With such a high pick in the draft, teams are expected to get a high-impact player at a highly-sought after position.
Center isn't exactly the kind of pick you'd typically expect to fill that need. In fact, over the past ten years, the first center in the draft has been taken, on average, around pick 35 (34.9, to be exact). Mike Pouncey was highest taken center in the draft over the past ten year (15th overall in 2011), so it wouldn't be unheard of for the Lions to pick a center this early. But in 2007 and 2008, the first center off the board had to wait all the way until pick 59 to be selected.
However, in the past decade, six centers have been taken in the first round. And of those six first-rounders, five have already made the Pro Bowl, with the one outlier being Cameron Erving, who was a rookie last year. So, yes, a center is worth a first round pick.
I went back through the historical NFL draft data, and examined first-round centers from the AFL/NFL union to the present. What I discovered was much as Pride of Detroit found -- centers generally provide excellent value for a R1 pick. Hall of Famers Jim Otto, Dave Rimington (sound familiar,) and future ones like Damien Woody, among others, make appearances. Further, pro-bowlers and/or long careers are the norm for early-round centers; not the exception.
Data be damned, the old conventional wisdom still is out there: a conservative sport, headed by conservative-minded owners still drive the narratives that we, as fans and even well-informed writers, occasionally fall victim to (see., eg., Washington rolls with Ryan Kelly - Bleeding Green Nation "Kelly might be a little bit of a reach in the first round but Washington needs help along the line they have their LT and RG spots filled. But they can’t make a deeper run into the playoffs without a solid center.")
But, overall, there is less resistance to taking an exemplary center early and unleashing them. Ryan Kelly can be that guy. Better for him, there is more than one team willing to make him the next First Round pro-bowler.