POSITION OVERVIEW: The center position is vital to offensive success, but gets little in the way of respect on draft weekend. Rare is the center that goes in the first two days of the draft. Rather, even the best centers often stay on the board until the final rounds of the draft. The last two starting centers for the Vikings were taken in the sixth rounds of their respective drafts – Matt Birk in 1998 and John Sullivan in 2008. Both became Pro Bowlers, but it’s the curse of being a center coming out of college. Teams rarely put a high priority on the position and, as a result, only a half-dozen or so get drafted each year. This draft class should be no exception. Wisconsin’s Peter Konz is viewed as a dominant center and he is little better than a 50/50 shot of being taken in the first round. After him, there may not be another center taken until the fourth or fifth round. It isn’t that this year’s class is suspect or weak. It’s just how draft business is done and the center position is largely ignored until the final rounds. Once a team gets a center, it tends to keep that player for years, leaving precious few openings for a college center to make an impression.
VIKINGS’ CENTERS: John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger.
VIKINGS’ NEEDS: The Vikings signed Sullivan to a long-term contract extension at the end of last season, locking him down for the next five years as the starting center. Fusco was drafted in the sixth round and is viewed as a player capable of lining up at center or guard, as is Berger. As such, the Vikings’ need to draft a center this year is minimal at best.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Peter Konz, Wisconsin, 6-5, 314 – Fourth-year junior…Started 31 of 32 career games…Missed time in each of his three seasons due to injuries – blood clots in 2009, a sprained right ankle in 2010 and a dislocated left ankle in 2011…Excellent size for a center…Versatile, has the skills to play at either guard spot…Has a wide base and can use it to anchor in pass protection…Sets up very quickly and gets into his stance immediately off the snap…Plays with a mean streak…Doesn’t have great explosiveness and struggles at times when pulling…Doesn’t have a consistently strong hand punch…At times looks uncoordinated and lumbers in space…Durability is a big concern…Didn’t take part in the Combine because he was still recovering from his ankle injury. PROJECTION: Head and shoulders the best in this year’s center class, he is likely going to come off the board in the later stages of the first round. The biggest concern about him will be his durability, but he could be a starting center in the NFL for the next decade and will be drafted to fill that role.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Ben Jones, Georgia, 6-3, 303 – Fourth-year senior…Started 49 of 53 career games…Had surgery prior to the 2011 season to repair of a torn meniscus…Was a team captain as a senior and named team MVP…Has good anchor strength…Intelligent player who made all the line calls, even as a true freshman…Plays with excellent leverage and rarely gets pushed backward or knocked down…Has good quickness off the snap…Has good strength and drives defenders when he gets his hands on them…Doesn’t look natural or athletic in space…Will struggle when asked to slide laterally to pick up a stunter or blitzer and will have problems locking up on a moving target…Doesn’t have exceptional power…Has difficulty maintaining blocks against big nose tackles…Ran a 5.35 40 at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: Anybody who started four years for an SEC power program like Georgia is clearly NFL ready. He doesn’t have “off-the-charts” skills, but does everything pretty well, which should make him the second center off the board – but not until the middle rounds.
Philip Blake, Baylor, 6-3, 311 – Fourth-year senior who spent his freshman season at Tyler (Texas) Junior College…Started all 38 games he played at Baylor – 12 at right tackle in 2009 and 26 over the last two years…Grew up in Toronto, Canada, and didn’t get into football until his sophomore year of high school and didn’t play college ball in the U.S. until three years after he finished high school…Has great size and his experience at right tackle has given him a chance to use different skill sets…Is at his best run blocking and can take on nose tackles and win individual battles…Has incredible upper- and lower-body strength and has a personal-best squat record of 615 pounds…Is good at sealing off defenders in the run game…Has good footwork to get out on the edge for screen passes…Is too old – he turns 27 in November…Has inconsistent hand placement and gets pushed back or gets off-balance too often…Has limited experience at center compared to most of the others in this class…Ran a 5.17 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 29½-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: He looks the part and will be one of the first centers to come off the board, but his lack of tangible experience at center and age concerns will scare off most teams until the early stages of Day 3 of the draft.
David Molk, Michigan, 6-1, 298 – Fifth-year senior…Started 41 of 42 career games…Played in only four games in 2009, missing four games with a broken bone in his left foot and, in his first game back, tearing his right ACL that ended his season…A two-time Rimington Award finalist and won the award in 2011…Big Ten Lineman of the Year and All-American as a senior…Has excellent upper-body strength (see below)…A coach’s dream who works hard on the practice field, in the weight room and leads by example…Has very good foot agility to slide and mirror defenders…Has good balance and rarely lunges or gets off his base…Strong pulling to the edge and looks comfortable in space…Is undersized (well under 6-1) and doesn’t have the type of body that can add 20 or more pounds of bulk or muscle…Has a narrow base and will struggle at times against powerful nose tackles…Doesn’t always use his hands effectively…Doesn’t have ideal anchor strength…Didn’t run or jump at the Combine because of a right knee injury, but blew up the Combine with a whopping 41 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press. PROJECTION: A four-year starter for a big-time program, he has the skills and experience to be a contributor, but his lack of height and girth will make him a question mark to ever become a full-time starter in the NFL and will remain on the board until the middle of the final day.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Mike Brewster, Ohio State, 6-4, 312 – Fourth-year senior…Started 49 of 52 career games, the second-most starts in OSU history…Has an ideal combination of size and strength…Has a good hand punch and uses his hands well to redirect defenders…Is adept in pass protection and protecting his zone on the field…Has some nastiness to him and fights to the whistle on every play…Gets out quickly to lead on pulls and screens…Doesn’t have great quickness or redirection skills to pick up blitzes and stunts…has short arms (31 inches)…Doesn’t have ideal lower-body strength to drive defenders backward to open inside running lanes…Doesn’t look natural when trying to hit targets in space…Plays with more finesse than power…Ran a 5.22 40 at the Combine with 29 reps, a 25-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A four-year starter at Ohio State gives Brewster instant credibility as a durable, experienced player, but his skill set isn’t one that translates into a dominant NFL center. He will likely come off the board in the fifth or sixth round, which isn’t uncommon for centers.
Quentin Saulsberry, Mississippi State, 6-2, 304 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 50 games he played – 25 at center as a freshman and senior, 12 at right tackle in 2009 and 13 at left guard in 2010…Has wide body and athletic build…Explodes out of the snap and gets into blocking position quickly…Plays with a real mean streak…Versatility will be a plus on draft day…Has good feet and will get out in space quickly to lead on pulls and screens…Doesn’t have ideal size or core strength…Doesn’t pack a consistent or powerful hand punch…Has long arms (33¾ inches) that some view as actually being too long for NFL centers…Plays with a lot of aggression and will take himself out of plays too often…Needs to play with more discipline and be assignment-sound…Ran a 5.28 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a woeful 22-inch vertical jump and an equally suspect 7-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: There is no questioning his durability, and his experience at center, guard and tackle may get him drafted higher than we have him ranked, but his physical limitations may end up making him a valued career backup and a swingman type who will be a jack of all trades, but the master of none.
William Vlachos, Alabama, 6-0, 306 – Fifth-year senior who was granted a medical redshirt in 2007 after one game…A three-year starter who made starts in all 40 games he played in that span…Missed spring practice in 2010 after having surgery on both feet…Has good burst off the snap and gets into position quickly…Is a fighter who plays with intensity to the whistle…Shoots forward off the snap to get into defenders quickly…Is at his best in pass protection and is able to slide and mirror defenders…Has excellent lateral movement skills…Is undersized for an NFL center and doesn’t have ideal measurables…Does not look natural in open space and struggles to make plays at the second level on pulls and screens…Has short arms and is susceptible to swim moves and will get blown up occasionally by quick-twitch defenders…Doesn’t play with consistency and struggles vs. huge, wide-bodied defenders…Was not invited to work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: A shorter-than-desired center who was an overachiever on the national champion Crimson Tide. He will get drafted and will likely make a roster, but his size will force him to exclusively be a center, which should drop him very late into the draft on Saturday.
Garth Gerhart, Arizona State, 6-1, 305 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter at center who made starts in his first two seasons at both guard positions…A team captain as a senior…The brother of Vikings running back Toby Gerhart…Is left-handed…Has good foot quickness and can get into space with ease…Has good upper-body strength and is dedicated to the weight room…Has a jolting hand punch…Has good technique and is a smart player who uses positioning and angles to his advantage…Doesn’t have ideal height or mass for a center in the NFL…Increased his size and musculature in college and doesn’t have much more in the way of growth potential…Does not have ideal anchor strength and gets pushed around by bigger defenders…Will get off-balance and spends more time than coaches want him to out of position or on the ground…Ran a 5.38 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: An undersized center who won’t have much in the way of position versatility at the NFL level, he will have about a 50/50 chance of getting drafted and will have to fight to lock down a roster spot – not just this year, but likely every year he’s in the league.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Rodney Austin, Elon (N.C.), 6-3, 310
Grant Garner, Oklahoma State, 6-2, 292
Grant Johnson, Oregon State, 6-4, 292
Moe Petrus, U-Conn, 6-2, 299
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.