Former Gophers center John Michael Schmitz is making a strong impression during this week’s Senior Bowl practices. Schmitz, a projected late first or early second-round pick, has been one of the top overall players in Mobile.
While watching practice broadcasts, I saw him anchor in pass protection, gain leverage/flip his hips while reaching in the run game, get out in front of screens and finish blocks to the whistle. Schmitz consistently won 1-on-1 OL/DL drills and opened creases for explosive runs in team drills as well.
For example, during the Day 3 competition period, Schmitz anchored down and stonewalled Oklahoma defensive lineman Jalen Redmond in a 1-on-1 situation. The fantastic rep drew cheers from everyone on the field, including several coaches. Simply put, Minnesota’s tone-setting center did everything that I saw during his six-year career with the Gophers.
Schmitz is a rock solid player with outstanding physicality, quickness, hand technique and leverage skills. He frequently finishes blocks and has no trouble hitting the second level either. In addition to those key traits, John Michael’s hip flexibility, core power, and football IQ are exceptional. Schmitz takes a very quick first step, smoothly reaches, flips/sinks his hips and walls off defensive tackles with ease. You could see many of these traits showing up all the way back in 2019.
When I sat down and talked with Schmitz about his strong reach blocking skills last summer, he said he focuses on a few specific things. (Note: he is a very fun guy to talk ball with!)
“I believe the first step is everything. If you don’t have a good first step and if you don’t gain a little ground or set a great angle for reaching the defensive tackle, you’ve already lost,” Schmitz said in July. “Just making sure you have your power loaded in your stance and where you want to drive off on your foot and everything like that. All of it matters.”
Schmitz was very effective at anchoring up and striking in pass protection as well. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus’ tracking, he allowed just 12 career pressures and one sack within true pass protection sets. The Gophers had a limited amount of pass protection sets because of their playing style, however, John Michael performed well within the sample size of reps he received. Schmitz consistently displayed strong technique, balance and core strength while anchoring up against rushers. Looking back, I think that is where his past high school wrestling background shines through. John Michael gained valuable hand technique, stance, balance, leverage, core muscle and power loading skills while working on the wrestling mat.
A Long-Term NFL Comparison and Potential Fit with Vikings
Ahead of the first Senior Bowl session, the former Gophers center measured in at 6-foot-3 and 3/8 inches, 306 pounds. Schmitz also posted a 9 5/8-inch hand, 32 6/8-inch arm length and 78 7/8-inch wingspan. In the past, I have compared aspects of Schmitz’s body type and playing style with former NFL center Alex Mack. We don’t have speed/agility testing yet, but it turns out their initial pre-draft physical measurements are quite close.
Mack measured in at 6-foot-3 and 7/8 inches, 307 pounds, with 31.5-inch arms and 9 1/4-inch hands during the pre-draft process. There is no wingspan data available for Alex, but I’m guessing the two of them would be quite close. When I left Gopher football practice sessions over the past six years, Schmitz’s quickness, balance, hip flexibility, physicality, hand technique and reach-blocking skills always reminded me of a young Mack.
Zone-blocking scheme teams that need a smart, athletic, physical and technically-sound center should be all over Schmitz. As a matter of fact, I think John Michael would fit extremely well in the Vikings’ mix of concepts (mid-zone, outside zone, inside zone, duo etc.). Schmitz ran those schemes in the Gophers’ offense, so the transition would be quite smooth.
The Vikings really need a strong pass blocking center who can set the tone as a run blocker too. Schmitz checks those boxes, but also has the right blend of quickness and downhill power that their blocking scheme requires. Upcoming free agent Garrett Bradbury possessed the quickness, range and movement skills, but wasn’t as gifted when it came to anchoring against defensive tackles in pass protection.
Within head coach Kevin O’Connell’s scheme, the Vikings need a center with more strength at the point of attack. Quickness and sound footwork will still be key, but I think downhill power/physicality may become more of an emphasis when general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the staff are targeting centers. Schmitz fits that profile and has experience within a diverse mix of rushing concepts.
I know the Vikings must address many areas of the defense, but solidifying the interior of the offensive line is very important too. Depending on how the pre-draft process goes, Minnesota could select Schmitz in the first round (No. 23) or possibly move back, gain picks and get him in the early stages of Round 2. The latter scenario (most ideal) is dependent upon how much his draft stock soars in the next couple of months.
Many factors will shape the direction Minnesota heads in the draft, such as free agent acquisitions, departures and roster cuts/decisions. What’s more, Adofo-Mensah currently has just four draft picks, plus a projected fifth-round compensatory pick. It is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings ultimately traded back from No. 23 and accumulated more selections.
I can tell you this much though – after watching every snap for six years – John Michael will be a rock solid foundational offensive lineman for the team that selects him.
Schmitz, a member of the American team (No. 74), is playing in the Senior Bowl on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT. Fans can watch the full game on NFL Network.