Holmes is highly touted and regularly ranked as the #1 center in the country, but he has a number of flaws in his game that concern me.

Size: Holmes is listed at 6’3”, 310 pounds, which is very impressive size for a center. Not sure how long his arms are, but he has the frame to add weight to his lower body. His size is the first thing you notice about him. He’s the size of a guard but plays center, which is what every NFL team is looking for. You love to essentially have three guards on the field, except one of them is snapping the ball. Not many teams have that.

Athleticism: Holmes is a pretty good athlete. He doesn’t have a great first step off the line of scrimmage, but he gets to the second level well and does a good job double-teaming initially before getting to the second level where you would engage a linebacker. He is also athletic enough to get out in front of screens, though he rarely does as the center, and does a terrific job cut-blocking for a man his size. Holmes isn’t an elite athlete, but for a man his size he moves pretty well, and shows the ability to quickly maneuver when run blocking to wall off a defender and create a running lane.

Technique: This is where I have a problem with Holmes. I think his technique needs a lot of work, and he has some bad habits that will be hard to correct. First, his hand placement could use improvement. It is good at times initially, but far too many times he lets his hands get outside the numbers which will result in holding calls at the next level. I saw him hold more times than I could count, including many incidences where he should have obviously been called for holding, but he never drew a single holding penalty in any of the games I watched from his junior season (and I watched over half of USC’s games). Second, he leans too much as a blocker, leading to balance issues and problems sustaining blocks. This is especially apparent as a run blocker, as he will bend at the waist at times, lean into blocks either too much to the right or left, and the defender will make a quick move resulting in a block shed while Holmes often ends up on the ground. Third, he regularly takes poor angles when trying to block linebackers at the second level. Time and time again he lets linebackers get by him without being able to engage them, all because he doesn’t approach them correctly. To his credit, he did a better job of this later in the season, so there is hope for him to improve this, but it was a consistent issue throughout the year. Overall, his technique did not impress me in the least, and he has a ways to go before I will give him a good grade in this area. It is very difficult to get a player to stop bending at the waist and leaning into blocks too much, and it’s tough to improve a player’s balance particularly someone as large as a 300 pound offensive lineman. These are all issues that Holmes has, and unfortunately I don’t think they are easily corrected.

Pass Protection: Holmes is a pretty good pass protector considering all the issues I have with his ability as a run blocker. He has a pretty good anchor, though it could be improved, and it is pretty rare to see him get bull-rushed into the quarterback once he is in his pass set. He shows that he can sit down, anchor and stop a defensive tackle’s bull rush and does a solid job mirroring defenders. He is very smart so he rarely, if ever, picks up the wrong defender in pass protection. His size and lower body strength give him an advantage in pass protection as defensive linemen won’t be able to overpower him easily, though shorter, squattier players have a tendency to get into his pads and push him a yard or two before he anchors. Additionally, he will get beat off the ball every once in a while by a defender who has good burst off the ball and beats him with a quick move off either shoulder. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and when it does it leaves Barkley running for his life. Overall, Holmes is an above-average pass protector, but I want to see more from him in this area.

Run Blocking: Run blocking is one of my problems with Holmes. He certainly flashes some impressive play, particularly as a wall-off blocker and as a cut-blocker. However, he struggles to create movement as a drive blocker and struggles to sustain 1 on 1 blocks with defensive tackles quite a bit, and even struggles to keep linebackers blocked at times. There is a popular adage with great offensive lineman that “once they get your hands on you, you’re out of the play.” That is unfortunately not the case with Holmes, at least when run blocking, and frequently when a defensive lineman or linebacker made a play in the backfield against USC it could be traced back to a player Holmes was blocking or trying to block. It was a very alarming trend, particularly for someone who was getting 1st-2nd round pre-season grades and was often ranked the number one center in the 2013 NFL Draft class. Holmes does show a little nastiness to pancake defenders and to knock them down when combo-blocking (multiple times John Martinez, USC’s right guard #59, would be blocking a defensive tackle one on one and Holmes would come in from the side and knock him to the ground and proceed to the second level to find a linebacker). I like that in a lineman, particularly in a lineman that is often considered the quarterback of the offensive line. Holmes shows that he can initiate a block, turn the defender (or himself) and create a lane behind him for the back to run through, or he can make a cut block near the line of scrimmage or in space. That makes me think he projects better to a zone blocking scheme than a man blocking scheme, which is strange considering his impressive size for a center. Overall, Holmes’ run blocking is below-average, and there were plenty of instances where it was poor and even abysmal at times. He was the weak link at times in the running game, and that was with a true freshman starting at left guard. That is a concern for a supposedly good or great center.

Intangibles: This may be Holmes’ strongest area. According to Aundrey Walker, USC’s new starting left tackle, Holmes “knows the whole play-book, he’s like having another coach out on the field.” That’s a glowing recommendation, and it backs up what I have heard, read and observed about Holmes. He regularly makes line calls and points things out to Barkley at the line of scrimmage and he rarely makes a mental mistake in pass protection. He seems to be the leader of the offensive line, and that is definitely something that helps his overall grade. Having a center with Holmes’ level of football IQ is exactly what you want, and it often leads to a long career in the NFL.

Overall: Holmes is a tough guy to figure out, because he flashes impressive run blocking occasionally and he shows above-average pass blocking regularly, but when he makes mistakes in the run game they are extremely costly. He has impressive size for a center, he has above-average strength for the position, as well as pretty good athleticism. He also has the football IQ and starting experience to be able to compete for a starting job right away if it weren’t for his significant flaws as an every-down run blocker. Looking at him on paper, his size and athleticism plus his football IQ make him very attractive. However, his technique needs considerable work and some of his bad habits are not easily coached out of players. On top of that, he doesn’t project well to a man-blocking scheme that would ask him to move a defensive tackle off the ball one on one. He is a better fit in a zone blocking scheme that would take advantage of his mobility, his ability to cut block, and his ability to turn defenders and create cut-back lanes for backs to take advantage of. So while Holmes certainly has some impressive qualities, and some NFL caliber skills, he also has some issues that are serious red flags for me when projecting him to the next level.

Projection: 4th round. He gets a mid-round grade from me for now because he has draftable ability, and NFL teams will not discount his football IQ that is sure to impress in interviews as well as on the field. However, he absolutely needs to improve his technique and try to put an end to his bad habits if he is going to improve his draft stock this year. I’ll certainly be on the look-out for any improvements, but right now I can’t grade him in the top three rounds and he won’t be my #1 overall center the next time I update my center rankings.

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