VIKINGS CENTERS – John Sullivan, Joe Berger.
TEAM NEED – The Vikings have Sullivan signed long-term and re-signed Berger in the offseason, which may effectively eliminate the need to draft a center. At this point, it would seem the Vikings would likely sign a camp body to compete with Berger or as a potential injury replacement, but team need is as low here as it is anywhere, at least for this year.
POSITION OVERVIEW: This is a pretty average center crop. There's nobody that leaps out at you as a player that will be a must-have in the late-first or early-second round. There may not be a center taken until the third round, which isn't unusual. Most NFL centers are Day 3 picks. For example, since before the turn of the century, the Vikings have drafted two centers – Pro Bowler Matt Birk and Sullivan – and took them both in the sixth round of their respective drafts. Expect to see a handful come off the board in the final day of the draft, but there may only be seven or eight taken in the entire draft process.
THE CREAM THE OF THE CROP
Marcus Martin, USC, 6-3½, 320 – Third-year junior…Started 20 of 22 games he played his first two seasons at left guard and started all 13 games last year at center…Suffered a left knee injury in the regular-season finale vs. UCLA and wasn't able to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine while he was still recovering…Has prototype size, bulk and anchor strength…A team leader who was named a captain as a junior…A versatile player who has starting experience at both guard and center at a high-profile, elite school…Has good burst off the snap and can get to the second level and seal off running lanes…His knee injury couldn't have come at a worse time and some teams will put a big red flag next to him…Only a one-year starter at the position he projects to in the NFL, his line-calling remains a work in progress…Gets beaten too often by long-armed swim moves because he plays low to the ground…Needs to improve his read-and-react skills to pressure…Didn't run or jump at the Combine after receiving medical clearance for the left knee injury that hadn't fully healed, but was able to do 23 reps with 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Martin is the most prototypical center in the draft and, had he not been injured late last season, he could have started getting consideration in the middle of the second round. As it stands, he may slide out of Round 2 completely.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Russell Bodine, North Carolina, 6-3¼, 310 – A fourth-year junior who spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy, where his father was a teacher…Two-year starter who started 23 games at center and one at guard in that span…Has a good combination of size and speed…Has incredible upper-body strength (see below), flashes a good hand punch and comes out of his stance in one quick twitch to set his position against defenders…Strong anchor against bull rushers…An extremely hard worker who is respected by coaches and teammates…Doesn't have ideal arm length and will allow defenders to get into his body…Has a tire around the middle and isn't in premium condition…Needs to work more on his pass protection assignments…Slow to read and react to stunts…Ran a 5.18 40 at the Combine with a whopping 42 reps of 225 pounds, a 29-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: A solid player who will compete for a starting job immediately, but is best suited to be taken by a team with an aging center with a year or two left.
Weston Richburg, Colorado State, 6-3½, 298 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 49 games he played, including three games at guard in 2010 and two at right tackle in 2011…Named first-team All-Mountain West as a senior…A two-time team captain…Incredibly durable, he's never missed a game despite suffering a broken bone in his right hand late in the 2011 season that required him to snap left-handed in the season finale…Can handle power bull rush tackles and hold his ground…Has good upper-body strength and can engage defenders and push them back in the run game…Has good lateral movement skills and was often used on sweeps…Struggles in space and can look awkward at the second level…Is a bit undersized for an NFL center and will struggle with huge nose tackles…Played a less-than-stellar level of competition, so his learning curve will be long…Is more of a finesse player than a glass-eater who finishes every play…Ran a 5.10 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 25½-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A small-school tactician with a wealth of experience that will get a look early in the final day of the draft.
Travis Swanson, Arkansas, 6-5, 312 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 50 games he played…The first player in school history to start 50 straight games…A two-time team captain…Has big hands and locks on to defenders to stymie their initial burst…Very strong at correctly making line calls and identifying where the heat is coming from… Has good lower-body anchor strength…An adept shotgun snapper who put every snap in the QB's belly…Does not have great feet when pulling for sweeps and typically is a step behind trying to hit the edge…Has limitations to his athleticism that will become more pronounced in the NFL…Struggles against elite quickness and will get beat off the snap at times…Wears opponents down, but isn't a hard-nosed beat-down mauling type and some question whether his style will translate to the NFL…Ran a 5.28 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 26-inch vertical jump and a 7-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A college ironman who has a lot of positive traits, but he would seem to have maxed out on his growth potential but could still develop into a solid NFL starter. A third- or fourth-round prospect.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Bryan Stork, Florida State, 6-4, 315 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter…A right guard as a redshirt freshman and left guard as a sophomore, he started the last two years at center, finishing with 40 career starts in 48 games…Won the Rimington Award, given annually to the top center in the country, in 2013 and was named first-team All-ACC…Possesses a very strong hand punch and uses it effectively…Has solid technique and rarely is caught off-balance…Plays to the whistle and has a mean streak…Doesn't have elite burst off the snap and typically needs to set himself, which can get burned by speed…Needs to work on building lower body anchor strength because he gets pushed back too often…Has trouble maintaining blocks when moving laterally…Didn't work out at the Combine after getting a medical exclusion for injuries to his left knee and both shoulders. PROJECTION: On paper, he should be a potential Day 2 pick, but, when you get a medical exclusion for three of your four pins, that's not good. The talent is there, but the injury red flags may victimize him in the end.
James Stone, Tennessee, 6-3¾, 306 – Fourth-year senior…Four-year starter who made starts in 39 of 45 career games…Played both guard and center at Senior Bowl week to show his versatility…Has ideal size and mass for an NFL center…Has long arms and big hands, which he uses to neutralize defensive tackles after the snap…The type of player coaches love because he has a work ethic that inspires others…Weighed in at 306 at the Combine, but is the type of athlete who loses weight during a season – his natural weight is about 285, which is too small for NFL centers…Needs to improve his leverage and balance in run blocking or won't be able to steer nose tackles from the running lane…Needs to define his run blocking technique because he gets pushed back too often…Ran a 5.17 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 27½-inch vertical jump and an 8-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: A very good college player who may struggle at the NFL level unless he maximizes all of his positives and works to negate his negatives. A fifth- or sixth-round prospect.
Jonathan Harrison, Florida, 6-3½, 304 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started all 38 games his final three years…A solid combination of size, speed and strength…Extremely durable and will play through injury to get the job done…At his best on the move in run blocking…Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength and ends up on the ground far too often…Needs work on his foot technique because when a defender gets a balance advantage, this go bad quickly…Needs to improve field vision because he isn't as aggressive at the second level in run lanes as he should be…Ran 5.15 40 at the Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 27-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A project who has the tools and the capability to develop into a quality NFL center. But his lack of dominance will drop him to the last couple of rounds.
Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma, 6-3¾, 304 – Fifth-year senior…Started 49 of 51 career games…First-team All-Big 12 as a senior…Has prototypical size, good speed and long arms to engage defenders…A coach's dream who is a student of the game with a strong work ethic…Uses his hands well and gets into position to block quickly…Doesn't have great lateral movement skills and falls off blocks too often and will look awkward at times in space…Is often slow to react to stunts and blitz pressure…Needs to work more on being a finisher because he can be too passive at times…Ran a 5.13 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 26-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A veteran, durable center for a big-time college program, he will get drafted late as a project who, if he refines his technique, can be a solid pro – whether as a starter or a valued backup.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Tyler Larsen, Utah State, 6-3¾, 313
Corey Linsley, Ohio State, 6-2¾, 296
Matt Armstrong, Grand Valley State, 6-3, 296
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Positional analysis: Centers
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