Positional draft analysis: Centers

Looking at the pros and cons of the top centers in the draft, with a view into the Vikings’ need (or lack thereof) at the position.

VIKINGS CENTERS – John Sullivan, Joe Berger, Zac Kerin.

VIKINGS POSITION NEED – Sullivan has been one of the elite centers in the NFL for seven years. He had a very strong 2014 season and there doesn’t seem to a huge need to find an eventual replacement just yet after signing a one-year extension to take his contract through 2017. The fact that, for the last 15 years, the Vikings have had, aside from injury, just two centers – Matt Birk and Sullivan – and both of them were drafted in the sixth round, there is clearly no intention to bring in a potential backup center until Day 3 and maybe not even then.

POSITION ANALYSIS – Perhaps no other position is more difficult to make a roster spot in the NFL than at center because there is only one of them on the field at any given time and, once a team finds a good one, they tend to hold to him for years. Cracking into a lineup in the NFL is never easy, especially this season when there isn’t a ton of quality depth at the position. Florida State’s Cameron Erving may be the only center drafted in the first two days, and just about every other one will be fighting for a roster spot with an aging veteran who has been around the block a time or two. It won’t be easy, but it’s the life of being a center in the NFL.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Cameron Erving, Florida State, 6-5½, 313 – Fifth-year senior…A three-year starter who started all 42 games FSU played in that span…Came to the Seminoles as a defensive tackle in 2011 and spent most of his career playing left tackle, but projects to a center at the next level…First-team All-America at left tackle in 2013…Incredible versatility that, if needed, could see him line up at any of the five offensive line positions…Has an ideal combination of agility, athleticism and toughness…Plays to the whistle and plays with a bit of a mean streak…Adept at both run blocking and pass protection…Doesn’t have much tangible experience at center and will need to learn a new position…Will need to work more on his technique because he has gotten by on athleticism to this point…Doesn’t have ideal footwork when asked to pull and lead a sweep…Ran a 5.15 40 at the Combine with 30 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: It’s hard to imagine the top center being a guy who didn’t play much center in college, but his athleticism and versatility should be enough to see him come off the board in Day 2 and potentially step immediately into a starting job.

Hroniss Grasu, Oregon, 6-3, 297 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 52 games he played in his college career…Had surgery his senior year, but only missed two games…A natural leader who made the line calls for the Ducks and was clearly in charge of the huddle from the O-line perspective…Is very light on his feet and can move in space with ease…Durability is not a question and he will play through injuries…Plays low to the ground and wins most leverage battles…Played in a gimmicky offense that was more finesse than blood-and-guts…Has shorter arms than ideal and big defenders can get into his body quickly…Drops his head on contact too often, which will have to be corrected through coaching…Did not work out at the Combine with left ankle and left pectoral muscle injuries.
PROJECTION: He didn’t help himself by not being able to show off his athleticism at the Combine, but he has enough tape to give teams a good view of what he can do. He will need some corrections/adjustments to his game at the NFL level, but he will be a starter for years for the team that drafts him.

THE NEXT LEVEL
Reese Dismukes, Auburn, 6-2¾, 296 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 50 games of his college career…All-America in 2014…Has a low center of gravity and good knee bend to get leverage…Strong in pass protection and chipping blitzers while occupying another player…Has very good hand placement to steer defenders…Has short arms and small hands, which will be more of a problem at the NFL level…Struggled badly at times at the Senior Bowl in drills against top nose tackles…Has effectively maxed out as to how much bigger he can get…Ran a 5.31 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 27½-inch vertical jump and a 8-11 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A smart, technically sound player with 50 games of SEC experience will get a lot of attention. He is about as big as he’s going to get, but brings tenacity and a willingness to learn, which should see him come off the board on Day 3.

Andy Gallik, Boston College, 6-2½, 306 – Fifth-year senior…A three-year starter who started all 38 games in that span…A two-time first-team All-ACC selection…Very good awareness and football intelligence to see the field and react on the fly…Very good feet and looks smooth in space and at the second level…Has the prototype build and mauling ability for an NFL center…Doesn’t explode off the snap and will allow defenders to get into his body too often…Has put on about as much muscle and core mass as he’s going to have…If he doesn’t initiate contact, he’s pushed back too often…Ran a 5.50 40 at the Combine with 29 reps, a 27-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A hard-nosed kid from a program known for producing NFL offensive linemen (11 of them drafted since 2000), Gallik will find a home in the NFL, ideally being able to learn for a year or two behind an aging veteran before stepping in as a starter.

B.J. Finney, Kansas State, 6-3¾, 318 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 52 games of his college career…A former walk-on who is a self-made man…Gets into position very quickly at the snap and seldom has defenders get a quick jump on him…Has good anticipation skills to get in position to make the plays that shut down a blitz or to open a running lane…Strong in pass protection and rarely gets beat with double moves…Is not overly athletic and doesn’t have a natural NFL body…Comes out of his stance too high at times and can get redirected by tackles on the nose…Has gotten by to this point on brute strength and will need to work on technical things to improve his leverage…Ran a 5.25 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 24-inch vertical jump and a 8-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A durable college player with a solid skill set, he will likely get drafted late but will have to improve a couple of key aspects of his game to have a prolonged NFL career.

OTHERS TO WATCH
David Andrews, Georgia, 6-3, 294
Max Garcia, Florida, 6-4¼, 309
Greg Mancz, Toledo, 6-4½, 301
Shane McDermott, Miami, 6-4¼, 302
Jake Smith, Louisville, 6-4, 304


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