Detroit Lions 2012 Draft: Offensive Centers to Watch
The Lions situation at center is most definitely in a state of flux. Starter Dominic Raiola has been the fiery front man on the O-line for 10 years.
Never the best run blocker, Raiola does hold his own against even the best three-tech pass rushers. It’s those zero, and one-tech DTs and NTs that give the smurfish Raiola a real problem.
Backing up Raiola is Dylan Gandy. This is Gandy’s fourth season as a pro, and it’s safe to say that we’ve seen Gandy’s low ceiling already. Since Gandy can’t threaten Raiola’s starting job, it’s time to find a replacement here as well.
Detroit’s new center has to be a quick study. Absorbing the playbook, reading defensive fronts, knowing the assignments for the entire unit and making line calls are the bookish criteria, although Long Ball correctly reminded me that the line calls can be made by a guard.
Since Detroit plays primarily out of the shotgun, consistency in delivering the ball is a must.
Playing center for the Lions requires the ability to pull, and the speed to get to those edge blocks.
A low pad level, quick foot work, and hand checks, the center has to maintain contact with oncoming pass rushers and redirect their inertia. Centers who can set a strong anchor in pass protection is preferred.
Drive blocking to the correct shoulder of defenders with leverage and balance on run plays is an asset.
Fans are clamoring for a change, and here are the top candidates in a thin, but talented 2012 offensive center draft class that would be a fit on Detroit’s predominately man-power blocking scheme. A scheme that prizes power and leverage over speed and agility.
Peter Konz, Wisconsin, 6’5”, 313 lbs., 5.16 speed
Wisconsin is the place where NFL plug-and-play offensive linemen seem to be drafted annually. Konz, the Badgers’ red shirt Junior is no exception.
Barring injury, Konz is expected to declare for the 2012 NFL draft, where he is projected as a 1-2 round selection.
Konz has been having a great season, and demonstrates great power, leverage and balance in aggressive run blocking. When Konz leaves his feet, he usually takes a defender with him.
Konz has that intelligent skill set that the Lions need, and could settle into a leadership role as he matures.
Konz is extremely effective as a pulling interior lineman, and demonstrates great speed to the edge. Konz gets to the second level quickly as well and seals nicely.
The knock on Konz is his hand checking ability in pass blocking—a skill that will need some development at the next level. Konz also seems to lack that nasty attitude that sets the great ones apart.
Konz’s motor has come under some scrutiny of late. While he doesn’t take plays off, Konz has been seen not playing to the whistle on occasion.
Konz, at 6’5”, is at the top end of the ideal size for a center, but great fundamentals keep him from going too vertical, too soon in his stance.
Mike Brewster, Ohio State, 6’ 4”, 305 lbs., 5.17 speed
Buckeyes four year Senior Brewster was a Rimington Award finalist in 2010, and looks like a serious candidate in 2011. Brewster looks like a solid 2-3 round talent.
Brewster is a vocal competitor with a nasty streak and high motor. He demonstrates great lower body strength and control in drive blocking, but doesn‘t move the line of scrimmage.
Brewster is not the road grader that Konz is, but has superior pass blocking technique beginning with a rock solid anchor.
Brewster has an inconsistent delivery from the shotgun, and when unengaged with a defender needs to put his head on a swivel to pick up a secondary target.
All things considered, Brewster looks like a sure thing as a starting center in the NFL in 2012.
Ben Jones, Georgia, 6’ 3”, 315 lbs, 5.26 speed
Watching Jones, I am reminded of a young Dom Raiola in many respects. Jones is, by far, the best blocker on an average Bulldogs offensive line. On his own merits, Jones could sneak into the third round of the draft, but rounds 4-5 seems most realistic.
Jones’s short legs and long torso equal big time power and leverage. He also brings 315 pounds of bad intentions to every run block. So much so, that he can often be found chirping at his latest victim while he escorts him back to the defensive huddle.
Jones has, perhaps, the most explosive first step in the game.
Jones is a Konz-like road grader, but has trouble setting any kind of anchor in pass blocking. Like Raiola, Jones depends upon redirecting the inertia of oncoming pass rushers.
Jones’s lateral and diagonal footwork has to improve before the combine. If Jones can correct the flaws in his footwork, his ability to square up on a defender’s numbers will make for a dramatic rise in his draft stock.
Jones provides excellent value in the mid-rounds of the draft.
William Vlachos, Alabama, 6’ 1”, 300 lbs, 5.25 speed
Vlachos will provide some good value in the five through seven rounds of the draft. He’s the ultimate technician in this group who is solid, if unspectacular in every facet of offensive line play.
Vlachos is a consumate technician who seems to be maturing with every passing game. Great power and leverage in opening up the defense for RB Trent Richardson, the top ranked rusher in the FBS.
Vlachos looks awkward at times, and isn’t possessed with great athleticism. What he lacks in athleticism is amply compensated for by great positional play, and a dogged determination to excel. Vlachos isn't a blocker as much as he is an impaler of defenders.
Vlachos is consistent in his shotgun snaps and has great awareness that allows for improvisation.
Everything that you need to know about Vlachos will be on display when the Crimson Tide takes on the LSU Bayou Bengals this Saturday night in a game that will likely determine the 2011 BCS champion.
Quinton Saulsberry, Mississippi State, 6’ 2”, 305 lbs, 5.16 speed
Saulsberry is Long Ball’s pet cat and dark horse favorite. Most draft pundits see Saulsberry as a 6-7 round pick, if he gets drafted.
Saulsberry has extensive experience at multiple offensive line positions, having started at guard and tackle, as well as center. Saulsberry is a natural leader with a humble off field demeanor. He’s the face of the Bulldogs.
Saulsberry is a mauler, who gives little ground while occupying a lot of space. He uses his speed to great effect, often getting on a defender before he can take a step.
Saulsberry doesn’t move defenders in reverse, but he has the strength to turn them enough to create running lanes. Pulling and blocking on the edge is Saulsberry’s forte. It’s all about that speed, baby.
Saulsberry’s pass blocking technique is rather unique. He’s the ultimate in redirection, but can match any pass rusher stride-for-stride effectively.
Anchor? Saulsberry has none. He is the ultimate dancing bear—on speed skates.
Given Saulsberry’s consistent shotgun delivery, technical skills at multiple O-line positions and leadership, I’d say that Quinton Saulsberry is a coaches dream come true.
Up Next: The Top Offensive Guards in the Nation
In our next look at the Big Uglies that could be wearing Honolulu Blue in 2012, we'll dial up some offensive guards. The Lions need to push RG Stephen Peterman into a supporting role, where he belongs.
Let's see if there is some premium elephant flesh that offer the Lions a talent that's too good to refuse. You know, that pass blocking mauler who cuts a wide swath through a defense.