National Football League
The Raiders added arguably the most interesting player in the 2024 NFL Draft
National Football League

The Raiders added arguably the most interesting player in the 2024 NFL Draft

Updated Apr. 30, 2024 2:30 p.m. ET

Editor's note: This story was published on Monday, April 22. On Friday, April 26, the Las Vegas Raiders drafted Jackson Powers-Johnson with the 44th overall selection.

He won the Rimington Trophy, given to college football's top center, in his only year as a starter at that position at Oregon.

He has a burger named after him and was synonymous enough with pancake blocks that Nutella sent him a personalized gift package.

He autographed a football at the NFL Combine with the name "Turd Ferguson" — yes, a nod to "Celebrity Jeopardy" on 1990s "Saturday Night Live" — only to later find out that his uncle bought the collectible online.


Jackson Powers-Johnson might be the most interesting man in the 2024 NFL Draft, but is he a first-round pick?

This is the conundrum facing elite centers for longer than he's been alive.

"The hay's almost in the barn," Powers-Johnson told FOX Sports last week, in between a busy schedule of Zoom interviews with NFL teams. "It's been a lot of fun, being able to visit all these new cities, meet all these great people and coaches. It's been a really fun process."

Powers-Johnson has taken official visits with seven NFL teams and is expected to be one of the top interior offensive linemen drafted, in a top tier that also includes Duke's Graham Barton and West Virginia's Zach Frazier. The center can be a leader and an anchor on the offensive line, a crucial position, but it isn't valued as highly as other spots on the line. Consider that only one true center has been taken in the first round — the Ravens' Tyler Linderbaum in 2022 — in the past four drafts.

"The teams playing for the big games, they usually have somebody at the point, at center," Oregon offensive line coach A'lique Terry said. "You talk about the Creed Humphreys, the Jason Kelces, those guys are significant in their team's success. I think [Powers-Johnson] has those attributes to be able to lead a team. Many teams fear there's a lot of responsibility on those guys early, but he's one that can handle it."

Rob Rang's top 100 prospect rankings | Joel Klatt's top 50 prospect rankings | Top 10 QB prospects | Top 10 RB prospects | Top 10 WR prospects | Top 10 TE prospects | Top 10 OT prospects | Top 10 IOL prospects | Top 10 Edge prospects | Top 10 DT prospects | Joel Klatt's mock draft

Powers-Johnson — "JPJ" in draft shorthand — is also intriguing as an emerging prospect at a position where most have three or four years of starting experience. He just turned 21 in January, playing three years at Oregon, and he has just 17 career starts, compared to 39 for Barton and 46 for Frazier. One of those came at defensive tackle in a pinch his freshman year, and none came at center until this season, where he showed enough to win the Rimington and leave a strong impression on those who study linemen.

"There's not much to dislike about his game," said longtime NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz, now an analyst for FOX Sports. "You look at the way he plays with violence, finishing blocks. He has a lot of highlight blocks that you don't get at center. You want your leader on an offensive line to be that guy that physically imposes their will on the opponent. And this is his first year starting — look how good his film is. He's only going to get better, refine his game, learn different ways to block guys."

Might Jackson Powers-Johnson be a potential find for Cowboys at No. 24?

[ROB RANG: 2024 NFL Draft interior offensive line rankings: Strong group of guards, centers]

Powers-Johnson has impressive strength for a center. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 30 times at the combine — only five players out of the 324 there were able to bench more.

"It's almost unreal," Terry said of JPJ's strength. "There's multiple times he's throwing two-three people out of the way. Most of the time, your center isn't the one who finishes in that nature. Your guards normally help your center, but he's unique in that he's a center so powerful he can help the guards. There's weight-room strength and there's play strength, and he has both."

His seven pre-draft visits included the Bucs, where he was often paired as a potential match for the No. 26 overall pick. (The Buccaneers ended up drafting Duke offensive lineman Graham Barton.) Ask Powers-Johnson which NFL center he most admires and models himself after, and he'll point to Ryan Jensen, Tampa Bay's starting center on their Super Bowl team in 2020, newly retired after missing most of his last two years with a knee injury.

"He's a huge one for me. I really feel like I play like him, his mentality, his nastiness, his finish," Powers-Johnson said. "I feel like I have that as well. Also guys like Creed Humphrey, Jason Kelce, the intricacies of their games are so great to watch and add different tools to my toolbox."

There's a lot to like about Powers-Johnson, as is the case for the "Big Jax," a burger on the menu in his honor at the Elkhorn Brewery in Eugene: two Angus patties, two slices of cheese, two strips of bacon, pulled pork, a scoop of mac and cheese, barbecue sauce and queso. He says other positions in football get touchdowns and headlines, but for a lineman, getting a burger on a menu is the kind of glory that comes with the job.

He was born as Jackson Light, but legally changed his name once he turned 18 to include his mother's maiden name (Powers) and his stepfather, James Johnson, who has been his father since he was 3. He added a middle name, James, as another tribute. He has more layers than most linemen. He said at the combine that he dabbles in singing, and his highlights from the Rimington banquet included him belting out a little of Brooks & Dunn's 1990s country hit, "Neon Moon."

Some draft pundits questioned whether medical concerns could cause Powers-Johnson to drop from optimal draft position. He had an unspecified pre-existing injury that he aggravated at the Senior Bowl, forcing him to pull out, but he said he has no lingering injuries and didn't have to go back to the combine for any medical re-checks.

"I don't have any major concerns," he said. "Teams bring it up as a standard question. I'll still get tweets sent from my mom or my brothers and sisters with people saying I have medical problems, but I think it's funny. I didn't have a long day at the combine when it came to physicals and orthos. No rechecks."

Like running backs and linebackers, centers are often undervalued by NFL teams compared to other positions. The league's highest-paid center per year is Detroit's Frank Ragnow, making $13.5 million a year, but 23 offensive tackles make more than that on their current contracts. 

"Great teams have great centers," Powers-Johnson said, mentioning Jeff Saturday with Peyton Manning, and Maurkice Pouncey with Ben Roethlisberger. "Even though the league in the draft doesn't really value centers, once you get there, I feel like teams do really value their center."

Powers-Johnson played enough guard that he brings some versatility to the draft, and he said he's talked to some teams who like him but have a center in place, so he could be drafted as a guard. He was connected to the Steelers, who pick at No. 20, and the Cowboys, who pick at 24, as well as the Bucs at 26.

"To pretend it's not a valuable position, to me, is really foolish," Schwartz said. "I hope teams don't fall into that trap of, 'We'll just wait until the second round.' I don't know if I would do that this year. … There's a lot of talk about running backs not getting paid, but I'm like, ‘Have you seen the center market?' These centers don't get paid at all what they're worth, but maybe this draft changes some of that."

Greg Auman is FOX Sports' NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.


Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more