TEAM NEED – The Vikings have four players who are centers on the roster, but that is primarily because Sullivan was out all season and Berger isn’t getting any younger. We could be getting close to Sullivan’s last ride and Berger may be following him into retirement sooner than later. The Vikings have a history of drafting centers late in the draft that have become long-term starters – their last two (Matt Birk and Sullivan) were both sixth-round picks who sat one year before becoming starters for the long haul. Depending on how much Tony Sparano and the offensive coaching staff think of either Easton or Kerin, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the team draft a center for the future on Day 3.
POSITION ANALYSIS – It’s never easy for college centers to make an impact in the NFL because only a handful at most ever get drafted and, when they do, they tend to hang around for years. For example, the Minnesota Vikings have drafted two centers in the last 18 years – Matt Birk in 1998 and John Sullivan in 2008 – and both of them were taken in the sixth round. You typically see top center prospects being multi-year starters for perennial power schools. This isn’t a deep class, but may end up producing a couple of players that become starters for the next decade.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Ryan Kelly, Alabama, 6-4, 311 – Fifth-year senior…Started the last 35 games of his career over the last three seasons…The 2015 recipient of the Rimington Award…Has versatility starting at both guard and center during his career…A very intelligent player who was also a scholar athlete…Makes all the line calls and is a student of the game, as well as a team leader for a power school that is always in the national title picture…Reacts quickly to stunts and misdirection and rarely whiffs…He has pretty much maxed out on size and doesn’t have the ability to add much more muscle without losing quickness…Doesn’t hit with an extreme amount of pop and relies too much on technique…Needs to harness his aggression because he will get off-balance at times and gets washed out of plays…Ran a 5.03 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He isn’t a dominating glass eater, but he is very intelligent, reads defenses well and is quick to diagnose what a defense is doing. He should be the first center picked, perhaps as early as the second round, and could be a starter for the next decade.
Nick Martin, Notre Dame, 6-4¼, 299 – Fifth-year senior…Played in 50 career games, starting the last 37 over the past three seasons, making starts at both center and guard…Is the younger brother of Dallas Pro Bowl offensive lineman Zack Martin…He has good size and strength and the kind of frame that could add 10-15 pounds of mass and bulk if the team needs him to do so…Makes the line calls and is adept at spotting blitzes and changing the blocking schemes on the fly…Quick to get into blocking position after the snap…Squares up quickly and plays with good technique and anchor ability…Does not play with a high level of power or explosiveness…Has short arms and will struggle to keep big, quick defenders from getting into his body…Is not as technically sound when on the move, whether pulling or trying to take someone out at the second level…Ran a 5.22 40 at the Combine with 28 reps, a 28-inch vertical jump and an 8-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A versatile athlete from a school known for developing NFL centers, he has a chance to come off the board in the second day of the draft and has the potential to develop into a solid pro.
Max Tuerk, USC, 6-5, 298 – Fourth-year senior…Started 36 of 44 career games – 18 at center, 14 at left guard, five at left tackle and one at right tackle…Played in only five games as a senior, suffering a right ACL injury that wiped out the remainder of his season…Is tall with long arms to keep defenders away from his body and knows how to use his hands…Extremely versatile having played at all of the different line positions at a relatively high level…Has a strong hand punch and uses good technique to redirect nose tackles and defensive tackles…Has a lean lower body and will likely need to add more strength there…There will be some concerns from the medical side as to the extent of the ACL injury and how it may impact him moving forward…Relies too much on agility and technique and will need to get a little nastier and be able to mix it up face to face and hold his ground…Did not run, jump or do position drills at the Combine after getting a medical exclusion for his injured right knee, but did have 22 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: His injury couldn’t have come at a worse time because he has the type of versatility that coaches and scouts live. But, unless he gets medical clearance from a lot of teams, his stock could drop badly on draft weekend.
Jack Allen, Michigan State, 6-1¼, 294 – Fourth-year senior who started all 47 games of his career – 42 and center and five at guard…Won All-America honors in 2015…Has good field awareness and is quick to diagnose defenses and make line calls…Has a giant hands (10½ inches) and an explosive hand punch…Has good knee bend and plays with solid leverage…Doesn’t have ideal height and his body is pretty much maxed out in terms of functional weight and bulk he can add…Has short arms and allows defenders to get into his body too easily…Does have ideal foot agility to be effective pulling or a the second level…Ran a 5.29 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 26½-inch vertical jump and an 8-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An undersized player with a lot of durability, he will need to find the right marriage with a team to be successful, but will likely get the opportunity to win a job over the next couple years. A late-round pick with some upside.
Evan Boehm, Missouri, 6-2¼, 302 – Fourth-year senior…Started a school-record 52 straight games – 40 at center and 12 at guard…A team captain who leads by example and consistently finishes plays…Gets a strong push in the run game and directs defenders…Has good field awareness and is impressive on the move when pulling or blocking at the second level, looking to deliver a big hit…Has short arms and doesn’t have natural knee bend…Had almost all of his snaps out of the shotgun and will have to refine his game when put in a conventional offense…Has heavy feet and isn’t overly athletic…Ran a 5.33 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Thickly built and an angry blocker, he looks the part, but may have to overcome some athletic limitations if he is going to succeed at the next level. A late-round pick who has a good chance to stick because of his durability.
BEST OF THE REST
Austin Blythe, Iowa, 6-2¼, 298 – Fifth-year senior…Started 49 of 50 career games…Has an excellent base that he works from, keeps his balance and is technically sound…Has good hand placement and keeps his hands inside his frame and does things right…Has versatility, having started at both guard and center…Has short arms and doesn’t have the kind of frame that can add much more in the way of muscle mass…Doesn’t have a big lower body and struggles anchoring against big nose tackles…Struggles on the move and when asked to redirect…Ran a 5.36 40 at the Combine with 29 reps, a 27½-inch vertical jump and an 8-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Blythe isn’t an elite athlete, but NFL coaches know that Kirk Ferentz develops linemen that are NFL-ready and technique-sound. He likely will be a late-round pick who will have the opportunity to stick in the NFL.
Graham Glasgow, Michigan, 6-6, 307 – Fifth-year senior who started 42 games for the Wolverines – 22 at center and 20 at guard…A former walk-on who had to earn everything he has received…Has excellent size and the athletic ability to play any line position…Played with good technique and keeps a consistent pad level when engaging defenders…Is very field aware and seeks out people to hit on the second level…He needs to add some core strength because he tends to play too high at times and will lose leverage when he gets stood up…Tends to lose his base and balance when facing pass rushers with double moves and will fall off blocks…Has had a couple of run-ins with the law related to drinking that will have some teams putting a red flag on him…Ran a 5.13 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 25-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A battle-tested player from a school known for developing NFL offensive linemen, there are things to like about Glasgow, but there aren’t many 6-6 centers because they tend to block the quarterback’s field of vision, so some teams may view him as a guard prospect who hasn’t played guard in two years. He will likely get drafted late because of his versatility but may struggle to find a starting job in the NFL.
Matt Skura, Duke, 6-3½, 305 – Fourth year senior…Spent his first season at guard before moving to center and finished his career with 40 starts…Has a big frame that can take on more core mass and muscle…Has very good feet for a big man and moves well laterally and to the second level looking for someone to hit…Makes the line calls and is quick to read and adjust line movement when he sees pressure overloads…Doesn’t generate the expected power and explosion and typically will try to maul defenders…Has to bend at the waist to get proper leverage and can get steered at times…Will get off-balance and take his eyes off the target, resulting in falling off blocks…Ran a 5.39 40 at the Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 24-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A durable college player who will likely be an undrafted free agent that may need a couple of breaks to stick in the NFL, but he does have some positive intangibles.
OTHERS TO WATCH