Positional Analysis: Centers

The Vikings' need for a center is minimal, considering they have a Pro Bowler in Matt Birk and a veteran backup in Cory Withrow. Still, we take a look at the pros and cons of the top nine possibilities, however remote for the Vikings, come draft day.

Vikings' Centers — Matt Birk, Cory Withrow, Anthony Herrera.

Vikings' Needs — The Vikings have a lot of potential directions to go on draft weekend, but one of them likely isn't going to be center. With Matt Birk and Cory Withrow expected to face little challenge barring injuries in training camp, center is a true back burner issue this season.

Class of 2005 — The Class of 2005 isn't the greatest but has some talent. The biggest question will be what team takes a chance on troubled Nebraska star Richie Incognito — who has first-round talent but a bad attitude.


Chris Spencer, Mississippi, 6-2, 308 — Fourth-year junior who was a high school All-American … Two-time high school weightlifting champion who set Mississippi state records for a combined lift of 1,675 pounds in the squat, bench press and dead lift … Only became a full-time starter in 2004 … Very big and has room to add weight to his frame … Does an excellent job of neutralizing power rushing DTs … Good foot work … Can make blocks at the second level of the defense … Very strong upper body from his background in weightlifting … Never allowed a sack in his college career … Needs to work on his technique because of lack of practical experience … Has to learn how to more efficiently use his hand punch and take better angles … Ran a 5.21 40 at the Combine, with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 32-inch vertical jump, a 8-9 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 19.

PROJECTION: Few players saw their stock shoot up at the Combine as much as Spencer. He made an impression on the turf and in interviews and could be the first interior offensive lineman to go off the board early in the second round.

Jason Brown, North Carolina, 6-2, 309 — Fourth-year senior … Three-year starter at center after playing tackle as a freshman … In his final two years as a starter, he never allowed a sack … All-ACC first-team his senior year … Weighed as much as 340 as a junior and dropped a lot of weight as a senior to improve his mobility … Squats over 750 pounds and power cleans 400 pounds … Is married … Very strong with a wide base and good bulk … Has a jarring hand punch … Incredible lower body strength … Despite losing the weight, still doesn't have ideal mobility … Is best in a confined area and not on the move … Struggled during some of the Senior Bowl drills … Ran a 5.14 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 30-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 8-9 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 32.

PROJECTION: His strength is his calling card and he could be used at either center or guard and could get consideration in the later part of the second round or in the third.


Ben Wilkerson, LSU, 6-3, 299 — Fourth-year senior … Became a starter midway through his freshman season … First-team All-SEC as a junior … Has a long injury history, including a sprained right MCL in 2002, back problems in 2002 and a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee in 2004 … Had surgery on the tendon injury in November … Has good initial quickness at the snap … Long arms help him push around defenders and lock on … Very good in pass protection, getting into his stance quickly and recognizing blitzes and stunts … Dedicated … Has less lower body strength than most scouts want in a center … Doesn't have an explosive hit on defenders at the snap and needs to work on his technique and hand punch … Didn't take part in the Senior Bowl or Combine because of rehabbing his knee … Runs a 5.56 40 and had a Wonderlic score of 25.

PROJECTION: Probably the hardest working and most dedicated player in this group, his injury history is his biggest downside. But his upside should have him off the board on the first day of the draft.

Richie Incognito, Nebraska, 6-3, 305 — Fourth-year junior … Started at left tackle as a freshman and moved to center in 2003 … Got thrown off the team by coach Bill Callahan, who first suspended him for two games then revoked his scholarship following Incognito being charged with assault … Tried to enroll at Oregon, but coach Mike Belotti put a lot of conditions on it, including drug testing and anger management counseling (he never played for Oregon) … Has very good definition … Is sometimes overly physical and picks up dumb penalties ala Kyle Turley … Very strong upper body … Keeps hitting and punching on every play … Had a scare at the Combine when he was taken off the field on a cart after catching his foot in the RCA Dome carpet, meaning he will have to prove his knee is healthy before a team considers him … Is relatively inexperienced and only coming to the NFL now because he's out of options … Doesn't have the best technique and is a victim of his own aggression vs. savvy DTs … A head case … Prior to his Combine injury, he improved his stock, running a 4.84 40, doing 29 reps with 225 pounds and scoring a 32 on the Wonderlic Test.

PROJECTION: If not for his off-field problems, he likely would go at the end of the first round or early in the second. But, with his baggage and his Combine injury, he might be on the board at or near the end of the first day unless someone is willing to gamble a pick on a player who could become a Pro Bowler if handled right — or another Barrett Robbins if handled wrong.

Rob Hunt, North Dakota State, 6-4, 301 — Fifth-year senior … Four-year starter who finished his career with 42 starts … Great West Football Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2004 … Two-time team captain … Played through a broken hand as a junior — his snapping hand … Very fundamentally sound … Has good upper body strength that he showed off at the Combine … Team player who leads by example … Doesn't have the prototype size for a center and doesn't appear to have much of an opportunity to get a lot bigger … Turned some heads at the Combine, running a 4.96 with 31 reps (most of any center), a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 25.

PROJECTION: His lack of top-flight experience will hurt him, but he is an experienced player who will make it very tough for a team that drafts him to cut him. His size limitations will probably keep him on the board until the fourth round at the earliest.


Junius Coston, North Carolina A&T, 6-3, 310 — Fourth-year senior … Became a starter in his freshman year and finished his career with 41 starts … Two-time Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference selection … Played left guard as a freshman, right tackle as a sophomore and center his final two seasons … Was a man among boys at the Division I-AA level … Has many of the technical skills needed — quickness, agility, ability to move laterally, etc … .Is versatile, having played every line position … Strong upper body … Good hand punch … Raw talent that hasn't faced top competition … Plays too upright and will need to work on his technique … Must improve lower-body strength … Struggled at the Senior Bowl vs. the top DTs … Ran a 5.31 40 at the Combine, with 21 reps, a 29-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 8-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 19.

PROJECTION: Brings experience and versatility, but his lack of competition will make him a Day 2 project player.

Scott Mruczkowski, Bowling Green, 6-4, 321 — Fifth-year senior … Four-year starter who spent two years at guard before moving to center … Two-time First-Team All-Mid-America Conference selection … Started 49 games and set a school record … Good size and bulk … Long arms to keep defenders at bay in pass protection … Team leader who has versatility to play all three interior line positions … Doesn't have the best technique for a player with his experience … Doesn't reach the second level effectively in the running game … Doesn't have good foot quickness … Didn't work out the Combine because of a groin injury … Ran a 5.3 40 and had a Wonderlic score of 28.

PROJECTION: Missing the Combine may have hurt his stock, but his size and mauling ability should make him a second-day pick.

Dylan Gandy, Texas Tech, 6-3, 304 — Fifth-year senior … One-year starter who spent his first three years as a part-time starter and backup at all line positions … Three-time Academic All-Big 12 … Good movement skills allow him to anchor in pass protection and lead running plays on pulls and traps … Has long arms … A bit undersized … Doesn't have the immediate burst scouts look for at the snap … Will get out of positioned at times and will get beat … Lacks experience … Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength … Ran a 5.12 40 at the Combine with a 31-inch vertical jump, a 8-11 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 28 … Didn't lift at the Combine.

PROJECTION: Came on as a senior and got noticed, which should help him go somewhere late on Day 2.

Eric Ghiaciuc, Central Michigan, 6-4, 300 — Fifth-year senior … Three-year starter who made 35 consecutive starts … Decent size … Picks up blitzes and stunts well … A solid run blocker who can reach the second level and make plays … Improved his stock with a solid week at the Combine … Is not overpowering or explosive … Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength … Plays too high at times and will get pushed out of position … Lack of top competition lowers his grade somewhat … Ran a 5.09 40 at the Combine, with 30 reps of 225 pounds, a 32-inch vertical jump, a 8-9 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 24.

PROJECTION: He helped himself at the Combine but is viewed as a guy who may never be an NFL starter and will be a two- to three-year project, which should drop him to the end of the draft.

Duke Preston, Illinois (6-5, 311)
Geoff Hangartner, Texas A&M (6-5, 301)
Vince Carter, Oklahoma (6-3, 293)
Drew Hodgdon, Arizona State (6-3, 309)

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