VU Draft Profiles: Centers

NFL Centers become centers in different ways -- some are drafted as centers, others are changed from a different offensive line position. Because of that, some of the NCAA's best centers in this draft could fall in rank as NFL teams have options with other linemen.

POSITION OVERVIEW: The conventional wisdom around the NFL is that the center position is likely the easiest to fill because of the lack of movement needed to either side and the primary responsibility is simply to clog the middle for pass protection and shove big nose tackles one way or the other for running plays. That is why centers rarely go early in the draft and players like Dermontti Dawson are a rare breed.

Most teams tend to covert backup guards and tackles into centers. The Vikings have a Pro Bowler in Matt Birk. He was drafted in the sixth round as an offensive tackle and turned into a center. That's one of the reasons why the Vikings were in no hurry to chase after Jeff Christy when he became a free agent, because they were confident in Birk's ability. The same is true with current backup Cory Withrow, whom the Vikes are convinced can be a competent center if Birk is moved to left tackle during the 2002 season.

The crop this year is typical of most rookie classes. The first true center off the board will likely be LeCharles Bentley in the second round, and there's a good chance only two or three centers at most will be off the board on the first day of the draft. However, it should be noted that guard Andre Gurode, viewed as a late-first rounder, could easily be plugged into a lineup as a center early in his career — making him the top center prospect.


THE TOP OF THE HEAP

LeCharles Bentley, Ohio State, 6-2, 295 — Fourth-year senior who began his career at left tackle, played both left guard and right tackle in 1999 and started every game at center the last two years...Three-time OSU Offensive Lineman of the Year and as a senior was named Big 10 Offensive Lineman of the Year and an All-American...Won the Rimington Trophy as a senior, given to the best center in college football...Average size but exceptional strength at the point of attack...Intelligent player who not only made all the calls for the line but graduated early and continued to play as a grad student...Good combination of upper and lower body strength...Forceful and mean in pushing for the rushing game...Can play guard or even tackle if called on...Durable and willing to play through injuries...Not very quick on his feet, so he is limited to working in a limited space. PROJECTION: OSU is known for producing solid offensive linemen, and many consider Bentley to be the best in more than a decade for the Buckeyes. Because center isn't a premium draft position, he should fall into the second round.


THE BEST OF THE REST

Melvin Fowler, Maryland, 6-3, 300 — Fifth-year senior who came to the Terrapins as a defensive lineman...Started every game over the last four years and won All-ACC honors last year...Viewed as the best center at the school in almost two decades, when Kevin Glover was drafted by Detroit...Durability is a huge plus — he's never missed a game despite having some nagging injuries...Can block both nose tackles and linebackers when the plays open up the middle...Has bonus of being a long-snapper...Has good lateral movement that is needed to pick up sell-out blitzes...Isn't a big weight room guy because of shoulder surgeries following the 1998 and 1999 seasons. PROJECTION: Some teams may be scared away by his shoulder problems, which keep him from being a weight room monster, but he has the finesse and strength to work his way into the third round.

Seth McKinney, Texas A&M, 6-3, 297 — Younger brother of Steve McKinney, a starting offensive lineman for the Colts...Fifth-year senior who started every game in his four years with A&M...All-conference the last two years and All-America in 2001...Rimington Award finalist...Good quickness off the snap and has plenty of upper body strength to match up with nose tackles...Astute angle blocker for the rushing game...Doesn't have long arms, which allow defenders to get leverage on him at times. PROJECTION: Not as polished or athletic as his brother was coming out of college, but should be a third-round pick and have a chance to start soon in the NFL.

Scott Peters, Arizona State, 6-3, 306 — Fifth-year senior who started at both guard and center before moving strictly to center his last two seasons...Scouts are confident he can play either position in the pros...Not flashy but a hard worker who has the strength to overpower defensive linemen in close quarters...Solid on initial blocks, but suffers when asked to move forward and blow away linebackers on run plays...Needs some refinement to succeed at the NFL level. PROJECTION: Likely a second-day selection, maybe early in the fourth round.

Jason Ball, New Hampshire, 6-2, 297 — Fifth-year senior who started the last three seasons...His team dropped out of the Atlantic 10 to play Division I-AA, but made All-Atlantic 10 two seasons and All-New England in 2001...A real mean streak, scouts who have seen him have made unflattering (or flattering depending on your point of view) to St. Louis bad boy Conrad Dobler...Excellent at picking up stunts and makes the line calls for the offense...Penalized too often for mean-spirited play...Doesn't have the best upper body strength to handle big defensive tackles...Arms aren't very long, which allows for penetration on pass protection...While some offensive linemen are 300 pounds of muscle, if he lost some fat, he'd drop to 270. PROJECTION: He has the meanness that could make a name for himself, but he'll have to improve a lot to make it in the NFL and doesn't look to go off the board until late in the fourth round at best.


OTHERS TO WATCH
Jason Scukanec, BYU, 6-2, 298
P.J. Alexander, Syracuse, 6-4, 297
Ben Miller, Air Force, 6-3, 266
Curt McGill, Georgia, 6-3, 287
Zack Quaccia, Stanford, 6-4, 312
Andy Eby, Kansas State, 6-4, 290
Kurt Anderson, Michigan, 6-4, 297
Luke Butkus, Illinois, 6-3, 279
Larrell Johnson, South Carolina, 6-2, 310
Kyle Benn, Washington, 6-3, 301


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