Positional Analysis: Centers

The Vikings' present center, John Sullivan, could also be their center for a long time to come, but it wouldn't surprise observers if they would draft a backup or a versatile lineman that can play guard or center. We get into the top centers with statistics and analysis, and our lucky seven could fill out the draftable centers.

VIKINGS CENTERS — John Sullivan, Jon Cooper.

VIKINGS NEEDS – The Vikings have been spoiled over the last decade-plus with Pro Bowl centers Matt Birk and Jeff Christy manning the position at a high level for years. The Vikings believe they have a keeper in Sullivan and made a point to add Cooper to the mix last year for depth. Ryan Cook was a college center and remains a potential option if things go badly, but, given how few centers get taken on draft weekend, the odds of the Vikings making a big move at the position are pretty minimal.

THE CLASS OF 2010 – Last year, only five centers got taken in the draft and two of those were in the seventh round. This year's class is viewed as even weaker and, while center is a critical position, many of the game's starting centers are converted guards or tackles. Maurkice Pouncey, a center/guard hybrid is the only player who will get first-round consideration and might be the only one to come off the board for some time during the draft.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Maurkice Pouncey, Florida, 6-4½, 304 — Third-year junior…Three-year starter who started 39 of 41 career games…Played his true freshman season at right guard, moving to center for his final two seasons…Has a twin brother Michael who will take over his spot at center…Had surgery after the 2008 season to repair a torn labrum and missed spring practice…Had kidney stones and had to be hospitalized prior to the Sugar Bowl, but still played…Has ideal size for a center…Has good lower-body strength and can turn nose tackles away from the running lane…A strong pass blocker who maintains leverage and plays to the whistle…Has excellent leverage and rarely gets pushed out of position…Durable and willing to play hurt…Doesn't have ideal technique…Isn't always consistent in getting to linebackers at the second level…Doesn't have the best technique and will need refinement…Didn't lift at the Combine, running a 5.27 40 with a 7-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: Considered the best center to come out in the draft in the last three or four years. Given his versatility and ability to play guard, he isn't likely to make it out of the first round. If he does slide to the end of the round, look for the Colts to make a run at him. He has been compared favorably to Matt Birk.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Matt Tennant, Boston College, 6-4¾, 300 — Fifth-year senior…Third-year starter who started all 41 games in the last three seasons…Has had Tommy John surgery on both elbows – his right elbow in high school and his left elbow in spring 2009…Has good size and the ability to get bigger, although he gained 25 pounds from the start of the 2009 season until the Combine…Has very good footwork and can move laterally well to pick up blitzers…Durable despite a pair of elbow surgeries…Has good balance and gets to linebackers quickly to seal them off…Will fall off blocks if asked to sustain them too long and struggles against big bull rushers…Has short arms for his height and allows defenders to get into his body too easily…Comes out of his stance a little high at times and doesn't have the best leverage…Doesn't pack a mean punch to the chest on tackles to stop them in their tracks…Ran a 5.18 40 at the Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 25-inch vertical jump and an 8-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A three-year starter for a power program that has developed several NFL offensive linemen over the years. While he isn't the biggest or strongest center out there, in a weak class he has drawn comparisons to John Sullivan and, given the number of teams with needs, he could be coming off the board in about the fourth round.

Ted Larsen, North Carolina State, 6-2¾, 304 — Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who started his final 25 games…Spent his redshirt season and his first two years playing defensive tackle before making the switch to center in spring practice in 2008… Has sound technique and is an intelligent player…Good initial quickness off the snap…Is solid in pass protection and gets into blocking position quickly…Plays with a lot of intensity and isn't happy unless he gets his man on the ground at the end of a play…Made all the line calls for the O-line…Doesn't have great functional power or overpowering upper- or lower-body strength…Doesn't have a jolting hand punch and can too often be steered by larger defensive tackles…Isn't the best at sustaining blocks and will fall off them at times and allow defenders to make plays behind the line…Ran a 5.02 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 25-inch vertical jump and an 8-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A raw talent with only two years of experience playing on the offensive line, his knowledge of what defensive tackles do, his quickness and his agility will make him a prospect primarily with teams like the Packers, Broncos, Colts and Redskins that employ a zone blocking scheme. Because of his limitations, he likely will remain on the board well into the final day of the draft.

Andrew Lewis, Oklahoma State, 6-4, 298 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started three games at the beginning of the 2007 season at left guard before starting the final 35 games of his career at center… Earned his degree in just three-and-a-half years and has already earned his Master's degree…Has good quickness out of the snap to get engaged with blockers quickly…Has good leverage, which he uses to be a solid run blocker…Gets set quickly in pass protection and rarely lets inside blitzers get past him without getting chipped…Stays on his feet to the second level and can deliver a shot to the linebacker…Made all the line calls for the offense…Plays much too upright and will find it hard not to get pushed back by big nose tackles…Is much more of a north-south player who struggles with his agility when asked to move east-west…Doesn't have an explosive hand punch…Ran a 5.25 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 24-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has the intelligence and technique to make it on an NFL squad, but will likely end up being a reserve swingman at both center and guard, which will drop him into the late rounds.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Justin "J.D." Walton, Baylor, 6-2¾, 300 — Fifth-year senior…Began his college career at Arizona State and redshirted in 2005 before transferring to Baylor and had to sit out the 2006 season…Lost 30 pounds between his redshirt season and his first year with the Bears…Started all 36 games he played during his career at Baylor…In 2007, shared the "Best Offensive Lineman" award with Rams 2009 first-round pick Jason Smith…Is strong in the run game and able to steer defenders where he wants them…Is very good in pass protection and blitz pickup…Intense player who goes until the whistle and looks to dominate the man across from him…Played against top competition consistently in the Big 12 and held his own…Has small hands for a man his size and will have difficulty locking on to big, aggressive D-tackles…Doesn't have great lower-body strength and can be pushed backward in pass protection…Comes out of his stance high and will have to refine his technique to succeed at the next level…Doesn't have the best lateral agility and has difficulty reacting quickly to cut off linebackers on blitzes up the middle…Ran a 5.23 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 27-inch vertical jump and an 8-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A tenacious player with the attitude coaches look for, but doesn't have the functional strength to become an immediate starter. Is best suited for a zone blocking scheme that limits the area he has to cover, so he could be a player that interests teams like the Redskins and Packers in the later rounds.

Jeff Byers, USC, 6-3¼, 301 — Sixth-year senior…Three-year starter who started all 39 games in his final three seasons…Started four games at left guard as a true freshman in 2004, but missed the entire 2005 season after having surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right hip…Returned in 2006 only to go down in the season opener with a back injury and was granted a second redshirt season…Started all 39 games since, but had hernia surgery in the spring of 2008 and missed fall camp that year after getting a tick bite that contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever…Has good foot quickness and agility…Can work easily to the second level to block linebackers…Has a mean streak that he shows often…A smart player who makes line calls and is quick to spot and react to blitzes…A high-character player who was a team captain…Doesn't have good lower-body strength to anchor against big defensive tackles…Doesn't have an explosive hand punch to neutralize defenders…Is much too old for a rookie – will turn 25 in the first month of the 2010 season…Doesn't always hold his blocks for the required time and will occasionally fall off of them…Didn't work out at the Combine because of a pulled right hamstring. PROJECTION: A three-year starter in a pro-style offense in a big-time program will always get the attention of NFL executives. He isn't the biggest dog in the fight and doesn't have the ideal power most are looking for in a pro center. Like so many other centers, he's best suited for a zone blocking offense, but his credentials at a power school like USC will likely get him drafted in the late rounds or make him a priority free agent.

Eric Olsen, Notre Dame, 6-4, 306 — Fourth-year senior…Became a starter midway through his sophomore season and started the final 31 games of his college career, eventually replacing John Sullivan, who graduated and was drafted by the Vikings…Was New York's Gatorade Player of the Year as a center/defensive tackle in high school…A versatile player who started the final six games of the 2007 season at right guard, all 13 games of 2008 at left guard and all 13 games last year at center…Is thickly built and well-versed at holding up against big nose tackles…Plays with high intensity and tries to drive his man into the ground…Extremely versatile, having started at all three interior line positions and seeing spot duty at right tackle…A student of the game who was willing to change positions for the benefit of the team…Durability isn't a question and proved he could play with pain in 2008 when he played the final three games with a high ankle sprain…Has excellent upper-body strength (see below)…Is not a great athlete and doesn't blast off the snap…Plays a little stiff-legged and will have trouble sliding laterally to pick up oncoming defenders…Falls off blocks when asked to sustain them too long…Doesn't always instinctively pick up blitzes as they come…Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 5.24 40 and had a position-best 33 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Doesn't have the ideal combination of strength and pure physical attributes coaches desire, but he has a lot of intangibles working in his favor. Anyone who can play three line positions for a power school like Notre Dame is going to get noticed and likely drafted late or signed as a priority free agents within minutes of the draft ending.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Sean Allen, East Carolina, 6-3, 306
John Estes, Hawaii, 6-1¾, 295
Chris Hall, Texas, 6-4¼, 301
Joe Hawley, UNLV, 6-3¼, 297
Charlie Tanner, Texas, 6-4, 305
Kevin Matthews, Texas A&M, 6-4, 297


Viking Update Top Stories