Looking ahead to the 2005 NFL Draft, Scouts, Inc., breaks down the top senior centers in the nation.
Ben Wilkerson, Louisiana State
Bottom line: Wilkerson took over as LSU's starting center midway through his true freshman season in '01 and, when healthy, has been the full-time starter since. Wilkerson did miss the Cotton Bowl as a sophomore because of a back injury that required surgery, but he returned healthy as a junior in '03 and otherwise has been a durable and reliable player. Wilkerson doesn't have great size and has just adequate overall strength, but he is clearly the most efficient and effective center in the '05 draft class. He has excellent quickness, is technically sound, provides good leadership and is outstanding in terms of making the line calls for LSU. In our opinion, Wilkerson is the best center in the nation and should be the first player taken at the position in the '05 draft -- likely late in the first or early in the second round.
Vince Carter, Oklahoma
Bottom line: Carter started the final 10 games of his true freshman season in 2001 and has been a full-time starter since. He has missed just two games over the course of his three seasons as a starter leading up to his senior season in '04, and both were for minor injuries with no long-term implications. Carter is undersized, needs to continue to get bigger and stronger, and may always need help against massive NTs in the NFL, but he has the athletic ability, toughness, awareness, experience and technique to quickly develop into a starting center at the next level. Carter is the next best center prospect behind LSU's Ben Wilkerson in the '05 draft class and there isn't a whole lot that separates the two.
Jason Brown, North Carolina
Bottom line: Brown switched from tackle to center in 2002 and started all 12 games at the position as a sophomore. He has been a full-time starter since and is coming off his best season as a junior in '03, when he did not allow a sack. Brown is an absolute monster in the weight room and has set numerous records for squats, bench press and power cleans at UNC. Brown has adequate short-area quickness and has improved in terms of his angles as a run blocker and feet in pass protection. However, Brown is not a great athlete and does not have great mobility for a center, either. While Brown might get a chance to attempt to play center in the NFL, his best fit may be at guard. Regardless, he is a player who continues to improve with experience and might be the strongest offensive lineman in the entire nation in '04. Brown's lack of mobility and questions about where he will play in the NFL could cause him to slip a little bit on draft day, but he certainly is worth taking a chance on late on Day 1.
Scott Mruczkowski, Bowling Green
Bottom line: Mruczkowski started all 14 games at center as a junior in 2003 after starting at left guard his first two seasons ('01-'02). He will return as the team's starting center as a senior in '04 after making first-team All-MAC at the position last season. Mruczkowski has very good size and above average strength. He is more of a mauler than anything, but also has developed good technique, balance and body control. Mruczkowski is not a great athlete and the more space he is asked to play in the less effective he becomes. In all reality, while he has excelled in his move to center late in his college career, his future will more than likely be at guard in the NFL. Mruczkowski is a solid middle-round interior offensive lineman prospect, but he lacks the athleticism and explosiveness of a Day 1 selection.
Junius Coston, North Carolina A&T
Bottom line: Coston is one of the early "sleepers" of the '05 draft class. He obviously has not played against great competition throughout his college career, but he has become a dominant player at his level. He has adequate size, very good athleticism and noticeable upside if his technique and overall awareness improve. Coston will need time to adjust to the NFL and he needs to get good coaching early on in his career in order to make it at the next level. However, if he continues to progress as a senior in '04 as well as he has over the course of the last two seasons, he will definitely be worth taking a chance on in the mid-to-late rounds of the '05 draft.
Jed Paulson, North Carolina State
Bottom line: Paulson has been the Wolfpack's starting center since his sophomore season in 2002. He doesn't have great size or strength, but he is quick, mobile, technically sound and tough. He is a very good leader and has been an extremely efficient blocker in every facet of the game at a high level. Paulson's upside will always be limited by his poor size and strength, and he'll probably never be more than a backup in the NFL, but he is the type of hard worker and leader who will accept his role and do a great job of maximizing his skills and opportunities, which is why he's worth using a late-round selection on in the '05 draft.
Eric Ghiaciuc, Central Michigan
Bottom line: After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2001, Ghiaciuc has been a full-time starter at center since his sophomore season in '02. Ghiaciuc is tall and has the frame to get bigger. He continues to improve with more experience at the position and has upside because of his size/mobility combination. However, Ghiaciuc still needs to improve his lower body strength, explosiveness in his upper body, and lateral movement skills in pass protection. He has the potential to develop into a quality backup center in the NFL and, if he continues to improve as a senior, he should be a late-round selection. However, Ghiaciuc still has too many question marks to take a chance on even as early as the middle rounds.
Lincoln Hodgdon, Arizona State
Bottom line: Hodgdon redshirted in 2000 and was a reserve interior offensive lineman as a redshirt freshman in '01 before becoming a full-time starter at right guard in '02. He moved to center in '03 and will remain at center as a senior in '04. Hodgdon has below average bulk and strength, but he is a technically sound and efficient center with above average feet. Hodgdon is at his best when uncovered and would be better off in a system similar to the ones the Colts or Broncos use, which emphasize mobility over bulk and strength. Hodgdon has limited upside because of his size, but if he continues to improve as a second-year starter at center as a senior in '04, he should be worth drafting late for a team with an athletic blocking scheme that is looking for competition at the backup position.
Scouts, Inc., watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN Insider.