Gazing Into Crystal Ball: Centers

Longtime NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas presents his Cream of the Crop, Best of the Rest, Most Overrated and Most Underrated. Under which category does David Molk, the Rimington Award winner as the nation's best center, fit?

Cream of the Crop

Peter Konz, Wisconsin

While Konz is regarded as the premier drive blocker among this trio, he has raised a few red flags among NFL teams, as he has missed action in each of his three seasons at Wisconsin with injury issues.

Peter Konz
Richard Mackson/US Presswire
Konz enrolled at Wisconsin in 2008 as a defensive lineman. The coaches decided to redshirt him, and the freshman spent the season as a center on the scout team. He earned his first letter in 2009, starting the Badgers' first nine games at center, but was sidelined for the final two contests when he was diagnosed with a blood clot in each lung.

Konz was required to take blood thinners, and as a precaution, the staff held him out of all contact drills during 2010 spring camp. Back in the lineup by the season opener, he started the Badgers' first nine games (and 11 overall) before sitting out the Indiana and Michigan contests and the second half of the Iowa clash with a severe ankle sprain suffered vs. the Hawkeyes.

With Konz back in the lineup for the start of the 2011 campaign, the offense was clicking on all cylinders, as the ground game greatly benefitted from his blocking assignments to the tune of 3,298 yards and 48 touchdowns. However, the injury bug again sidetracked the junior, as he dislocated his left ankle vs. Minnesota, missing the next three games, including the Big Ten Championship game, but returned to start vs. Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

His performance in his 10 starting assignments was enough for analysts to name him a first-team All-American and All-Big Ten Conference choice. He was a finalist for the 2011 Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center (honor went to Michigan's David Molk). He also added Academic All-Big Ten accolades.

Since 1999, Wisconsin has had 13 offensive linemen taken in the NFL draft, tied for second-most in the country (only Notre Dame, with 15, has more). In 2011, three former Badgers were taken in the draft, tied with Florida for the most of any school. Konz joins senior guard Kevin Zeitler and senior tackle Josh Oglesby as draft-eligible linemen this year.

Compares to: Dan Koppen, New England Patriots — Like Koppen, Konz works well with his guards, but that can hide his strength deficiencies and make you wonder if he is truly worth an early-round selection, considering his medical history and obvious lack of power. Many feel he is a target of the Ravens in the first round (29th pick) to replace an aging Matt Birk.

Best of the Rest

Ben Jones, Georgia

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If teams are looking for a tough hombre who has a proven track record for being a model of consistency in the pivot, they need not look any further than the Bulldogs' standout. A vital cog to the offense's success since he stepped into the lineup as a freshman, Jones would close out his career third on the school career record chart with 49 starting assignments.

For three seasons, the Southeastern Conference defensive tackles were befuddled in their attempts to escape the tenacious blocker. He concluded his career in 2011 as the Southeastern Conference's elite center. He twice was named the league's Offensive Lineman of the Week (vs. Auburn and New Mexico).

As a senior, Jones was on the field for all 1,016 offensive snaps, playing a major role in protecting Georgia passers that accounted for 37 touchdown tosses. He received an ultimate honor prior to the Bulldogs' meeting vs. Michigan State at the Outback Bowl, when the UGA center was selected to the university's "Team of the Decade."

As a senior, he was effective at generating force and pop behind his hits to jolt the opponent. He knows how to use his hands to grab and gain control. He also has improved his hand quickness, as he works hard to get a piece of his opponent's jersey to lock on and control.

Jones is a patient blocker in the second level with a good concept for taking angles to the linebackers. He has good balance executing an open-field block and is consistent getting out in front on screens. The thing you see on film is his ability to hustle and look up defenders down field, even though he lacks blazing speed.

Compares to: Matt Birk, Baltimore Ravens — Actually, if the Ravens wait a few rounds and pass on Konz, they could find the perfect replacement for Birk in Jones. He looks like he will still be on the draft boards when the third day of the event begins, but if not in a Ravens uniform, he could draw attention from New England, as he is a quality zone blocker and the Pats are looking to upgrade on their front wall.

Most Overrated

David Molk, Michigan

Molk needs to use his hands better and he lacks the hip snap to sustain and wall off. When he is used to pull and lead, he looks athletic and displays good vision, but is not consistent in attempts to finish. He has a decent pass set, but lacks the bulk to anchor vs. the bigger, massive NFL nose guards on the bull rush. When he gets pushed off his base, he will lunge, overextend and put too much weight forward in his body lean, causing him to lose balance.

Despite his upper-body strength, his punch could be better. His size limits his power some, but he needs to generate more force behind his punch and use his hands quicker in order to grab and steer his opponent. The fifth-year senior is a short, compact zone blocker in the mold of Atlanta Falcons standout, Todd McClure, as he has to rely on field savvy to root out defensive linemen and the quick hip swerve to mirror bull rushers.

Playing in the Big Ten Conference, home of other elite centers like Peter Konz of Wisconsin and Michael Brewster of Ohio State, Molk had to play at peak level the last two years in order to garner postseason attention.

Compares to: Todd McClure, Atlanta Falcons — Molk just might end up as a Falcon in the later rounds, but his right knee problems and a lack of bulk limits him to teams utilizing zone blocking. From film view, he has good strength, but it does not always translate to the field. Konz and Brewster are much better centers, as the media seems to have gotten it wrong awarding him league top honors.

Most Underrated

Quentin Saulsberry, Mississippi State

Quentin Saulsberry
Chuck Cook/US Presswire
Finding a player with the ability to play several positions is a godsend, as it allows that team to save a roster spot for a specialist or to fill in when injuries deplete their unit. That is what makes Saulsberry such an enticing prospect.

While it might seem that Saulberry has to check with his quarterback to find out where he should line up coming out of the huddle, he has had to move around quite a bit during his MSU career. With starting experience at four line positions, he has an impressive resume for NFL general managers to absorb.

Saulsberry shifted to left guard as a sophomore, earning 12 starting assignments. Behind his stellar blocking, tailback Anthony Dixon rushed for a school-record 1,391 yards. The team ranked fifth in the nation in rushing that year, a large part due to their sophomore recording 71 knockdowns and 10 touchdown-resulting blocks.

Musical chairs awaited Saulsberry during his junior campaign. He again switched positions, starting 10 games at right offensive guard, but was used interchangeably throughout the year, as he saw action at left guard in each contest. He also started two games at center when J.C. Brignone was sidelined with an injury. Through all the shuffling, he posted 13 touchdown-resulting blocks and 84 knockdowns.

Saulberry continued to fill in where needed as a senior, starting every game on the front wall, despite being hampered by an early season knee injury that the coaches first feared would require surgery. He started the first three games at center, moved to right guard vs. Louisiana Tech, returned to center vs. Georgia and then started the final eight contests back at the right guard spot. He made 11 touchdown-resulting blocks and produced 79 knockdowns for a ground attack that averaged 175.31 yards per game rushing.

Saulsberry started all 50 games that he appeared in on the offensive line – 20 at right guard, 12 at right tackle, 12 at left guard and six at center. He recorded 44 touchdown-resulting blocks and delivered 293 knockdowns as a starter.

Compares to: Jason Brown, ex-St. Louis Rams — Saulsberry just needs a patient coach to have him stay at one position, whether in the pivot or at guard. He's probably going to be available in the later rounds, mostly due to never settling in and gaining experience at one spot, but someone is going to get a find, much like Philadelphia with Jason Kelce last season.

Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.

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