Apr 24, 2011
Centers are the “Rodney Dangerfield’s” of the offensive line – sometimes they don’t get any (or at least too much) respect. And while center is not the most glamorous position on the offense; it’s important to remember that the guy in that role is effectively the “quarterback” of the offensive line. Centers are responsible for making all the line calls and their value and importance to a team’s offensive success can’t be overstated. When NFL teams look to draft a center, they often prefer to select a player who played guard in college and convert him to the position. The rationale behind this is pretty simple. First, guards tend to be bigger than centers. Most college centers have to bulk up before playing in the NFL, whereas the majority of guards are already the required size, and they know what it takes to be an interior lineman. Second, converting a guard allows the team to teach him the proper mechanics, whereas some centers come to the NFL with bad habits that went uncorrected for one reason or another at the college level.
Using an early-round pick on a center is not commonplace. Of the five centers drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, Maurkice Pouncey was the first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers and J.D. Walton was a third-round selection of the Denver Broncos. The additional three centers went one each in Rounds 5 through 7. Pouncey had a standout year as a rookie and was also named to the AFC Pro Bowl team. His twin brother Mike decided to remain at Florida for his senior season in 2010 and converted from guard to center to replace his brother. Mike Pouncey’s transition to center hit a few speed bumps along the way; however he ended up an All SEC selection. Pouncey is thought to be a better fit at guard than center, and most experts—including the Bruno Boys—expect him to be drafted accordingly.
Talent-wise, the current class of centers includes several solid prospects that have the requisite skills to make it at the next level. Though the general feeling is that the group lacks a superstar in the making, Penn State’s Stefen Wisniewski and Florida State’s Rodney Hudson top most draft boards at the position. Wisniewski played both center and guard in college and comes from a football family. His father Leo played four years with the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts and his uncle Steve was an eight-time Pro Bowler for the Oakland Raiders. Critics say he lacks the overall core strength to play guard at the pro level; while his football IQ and leadership abilities make him a natural fit at center. Hudson is a two-time Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner (2009, 2010)–an award given to the ACC’s best offensive lineman – who has experience at all three interior line positions. Although Hudson is quick and athletic, his lack of size (6’2”) is a concern and will likely result in a move to center.
Other prospects of note include TCU’s Jake Kirkpatrick, who didn’t play football until his senior year in high school and didn’t receive an invitation to participate in the recent Scouting Combine. Kirkpatrick was an important member of TCU’s 13-0 season in 2010 that saw the Horned Frogs win their first Rose Bowl title in the school’s history. He was named the winner of the 2010 Rimington Award given to the awarded to the most outstanding center in NCAA Division I-A football. Fitzpatrick is a talented and durable athelete with impressive skills at making line calls and sight adjustments. He posted solid measurables at his school’s Pro Day and has reportedly drawn interest from several teams impressed by his accomplishments given his relativeness newness to the sport and his upside.
Slippery Rock’s Brandon Fusco won the Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year Award and the Division II Rimington Award as the nation’s best center. He was one of three Division II players invited to play in the Senior Bowl. Fusco has good size, mental toughness and motor that could make him a late-round selection on Draft Day, however it remains to be seen whether he has what it takes to make it as a starter in the NFL.
Rounding out the top center prospects is USC’s Kristofer O’Dowd, who was the first true freshman to start at center in the school’s history. O’Dowd battled multiple injuries throughout his college career and he comes with serious concerns about durability. On the plus side, his size and reputation as a knowledgeable, competitive player with an excellent work ethic should be enough to merit consideration in the middle to late rounds of the draft. Only a handful of center prospects will make it onto an NFL team and it’ll be interesting to watch how this all shakes out on Draft Day.
Bruno Boys Fantasy Football ranks the top center prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft based on which prospects project the best at the next level.
|1.||Steven Wisniewski||Penn State Nittany Lions|
|2.||Rodney Hudson||Florida State Seminoles|
|3.||Jake Kirkpatrick||Texas Christian Horned Frogs|
|4.||Brandon Fusco||Slippery Rock The Rock|
|5.||Kristofer O’Dowd||Southern California Trojans|
|6.||Tim Barnes||Missouri Tigers|
|7.||Alex Linnenkohl||Oregon State Beavers|
|8.||Zane Taylor||Utah Utes|
|9.||Ryan Bartholomew||Syracuse Orange|
|10.||Kevin Kowalski||Toledo Rockets|
Overall Position Grade: C