Kalil Not The Typical Center Prospect

Only nine centers have been taken in the first round over the past quarter-century

April 19, 2007

By Mike Beacom

Special to CSTV.com


Centers aren't supposed to be first-round draft choices.


NFL teams do not view them in the same light as they do cornerbacks or quarterbacks or inside linebackers or virtually every other every-down position. In fact, in the past 25 years, only nine centers have gone in round one, none higher than the 14th selection.


USC's Ryan Kalil might be one of those rare centers deserving of a first-round grade, however, and there are those who believe he can be a difference-maker.


But can centers be difference-makers? Kalil shrugs at the question and almost supports the reasoning scouts have for selecting the fast runners and tall leapers of the world.


"It just is what it is," he says. But then he inserts a well-taken point: "You look at the two Super Bowl teams and both of them had Pro Bowl centers. That really says something."


As for what makes a center worthy of a first-round or early-second-round pick, Kalil believes teams are looking for immediate contributors.


"I think teams are looking for a (center) to start right away," he says. "I feel I'm someone who can come in and contribute right away based on the experience I had at USC. I've played in a lot of big-time games and I've played and done well against a lot of big-time players."


A three-year starter at USC, Kalil was the anchor to college football's closest thing to an NFL team. He fed the football on every down to guys like Matt Leinart and John David Booty, and he opened gaping running lanes for athletes like LenDale White and Reggie Bush.


"We played in a pro-style offense," says Kalil, "and coach [Pete] Carroll has brought a pro mentality to our program in the intensity and the way we go about practicing and the way we go about studying."


The Pac-10 defensive linemen awarded him the Morris Trophy for being the conference's most outstanding offensive lineman of 2006, and the AP picked Kalil as a second-team All-American.


Playing center is in the Kalil genes. His father, Frank, played for Arkansas (1978) and then Arizona (1980-82) before a stint in the USFL. Growing up around the game - and the position - has given Kalil insight other players simply do not have. But his natural instinct is only one of his desirable qualities, according to analysts.


Charles Davis, college football expert for NFL Network, explains, "He has a great personality that lends itself to leadership. He's so athletic and agile, his physical tools are better than people think.


"With a zone blocking team he can become a Pro Bowl center."


How would Kalil write up the job description for the prototypical NFL center?


"They look for guys who are athletic and smart," says Kalil, "but at the end of the day they need a guy who is going to put on the hat and go to work."


Well, let's see:


Agility and athleticism? Check.


Intelligence? Check.


Lunch-bucket mentality? Check.


"He's a good athlete," says Rob Rang, senior analyst of NFL Draft Scout, "but his technique and his leadership, in my opinion, make him one of the safest picks in the draft. It's rare to say that about an interior offensive lineman."


Rare indeed.