I’ve fielded this question several times now, so let’s get straight into it - there’s probably not a lot of chance that Denver will take a center this year in the draft. I hope I’m wrong, but the facts are that John Fox really likes J.D. Walton’s blue collar attitude and work ethic. He’s dubbed J.D. ‘Trash Can’ as a result. The OL is the second-youngest in the NFL, and adding a rookie center would only exacerbate that unless that player is a major upgrade over Trashy. Denver looks, right now, as if they may try to keep the line together and let them mature as a group. Whatever my own feelings on that, it currently is how things stand. Jeff Saturday is still a possibility, and is scheduled to visit, but that’s about it as far as I’ve seen.
Even so, there’s really nothing like a good old position battle, and the centers from this year’s Combine are having a beauty over who is the best center in the draft. The question will be answered not by which goes first, but which plays best, but right how they’re jockeying for position with the fans, and it’s fun to watch.
Never mind Mayock versus The Hair - this year’s top center should be chosen via steel cage match. Peter Konz is usually considered the top center in the draft, but David Molk of Michigan disputes that in a big way.
The simple story is that as a center, Molk, this year's Rimington Trophy winner, is, to most viewers, a top notch player. Wisconsin’s Konz is also very good, a 6’5”, 315 lb behemoth for the position who protected Russell Wilson well He anchors well against bull rushes. He’s quick enough to to handle speed guys, and mobile enough to get to linebackers on the second level or to pull around the edge. Some have talked of him as a mid-to-late-first-round pick.
Molk flatly isn’t buying it. He’s been ranked anywhere from the second to the sixth center in a draft that is, other than he and Konz, pretty tepid at center. But Molk makes a strong case, literally; he put up 41 reps at the Combine in the bench press. Konz, partly due to the physiology of long arms and partly a shock to onlookers, put up only 18. For comparison’s sake, Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko matched that number two years ago, so it’s pretty embarrassing for Konz. Molk was all over it. He also used the opportunity to get in some editorial comments on the entire issue:
No doubt about it. I have skills he doesn’t have. Obviously, my strength is far better, I’m faster, I would say I’m smarter. Obviously, he’s an intelligent person, I’ve talked to him, but I just think I have a technique that’s unmatched (by him).
Mike Mayock has Molk rated as the sixth-best center in the draft, calling him a finesse player. You might as well flip off a state trooper while speeding on St. Paddy’s Day. Molk went incendiary on that comment:
He never played against me. I don’t think a finesse player has ever had defensive linemen quit during a game; quit and give up because you’re hurting them. I don’t think a finesse player has ever done what I do, which is just ground kids out of the hole. I think the fact he called me a finesse player is because he hasn’t watched me on film. And if he has? Well ...
I’ve watched Molk on game film several times and in fairness, I didn’t see a finesse guy. I saw a blue collar guy who’s strong as a bull, standing up to DTs one on one. He’s only 298 lb, but he’s a perfect zone blocking center. His footwork is excellent, and he gets to the second level well. He’s 6’1”, has 32-inch arms, and he’s fast off the line. I like him a whole lot better than the fifth-round grade I’m seeing (if he gets there, Denver should consider pouncing, but it’s unlikely). He’s not the biggest guy out there, but with his strength and some additional training in technique and leverage, he should be an excellent NFL center. What I didn’t see was a finesse player, but Mayock has access to film that I don’t. Maybe he’s right.
I’ll say this - I doubt that either player will be a disappointment to the team that takes him. I worry about Konz’s strength at the next level, but he should be able to compensate with technique. Molk is smaller and can be slower to pick up some blitzes, but he’s one very tough, nasty center. I have a soft spot in my heart for a nastier interior line player. Kind of feel the same way about tackles, come to think of it.
Ohio State's Mike Brewster gets a lot of commentary, but throughout Senior Bowl week and into the Combine, he kept dropping in my eyes. Brewster and DT Mike Martin used to have legendary battles in practice, but from all I can tell, Martin won nearly all of them and he isn’t a first-round talent, either. I wasn’t much impressed with Brewster during games. I admit that he wasn’t my main focus, but I also felt that there wasn’t a ton to see. He seemed slow off the ball and lacked power or the intent and ability to finish blocks consistently.
Another zone blocking candidate is Texas center David Snow. He’s a bit slender at 6’4” and 295, but he can bulk up some. I didn’t think that he was a great athlete, either. He’s got both a good bend and decent coordination. What I did like was his hand fighting, which was unusually good. He probably won’t start right away, but he looks like a very solid developmental guy in a zone scheme. He wasn’t invited to Combine, so his Pro Day will be big for him.
Senior center William Vlachos is a 6’1” 300 lb. sparkplug who took over when Antoine Caldwell was drafted in the third round by the Texans back in 2009. Vlachos stepped in and has started every game since. His biggest weakness may be how often he’s stood up, not having the power to anchor well at this point. Not a top guy in terms of measurables, but a highly productive player for the Crimson Tide, Vlachos will probably be a late round pick or UDFA, but he may develop well. He’s added 15 lb and is looking to make a name for himself at his pro day.
It seems that the center position has joined the tight end position in how little attention it seems to garner at the college level. Unlike the tight end position, however, center is an essential aspect of any NFL team. Many older players move into that slot to fill the void, though, so it’s an opportunity for a guard or a tackle who doesn’t feel comfortable there to move into a starter’s role and develop a career in a new position. Many zone blocking centers in particular play into their late thirties, so it’s a position that a player can move to and stay with for a long time. Denver’s going to be looking at every way they can improve their protection of Peyton Manning. Center is one position that they may find needs to be revamped.
On the other hand, an incredibly fast QB release covers a multitude of sins, if I can use that word now. If the Denver receivers can get a step on their coverage, pass protection suddenly gets much, much easier.