In 2008, Bill Polian initiated his “planning for Jeff Saturday’s departure from football” strategy. Three of the Colts picks were center prospects, presumably with hopes that one of the three would become Saturday’s successor. To date, if there is any certainty about Indy’s future at the position it certainly is not known to those who cover the team — amateur and professional analysts alike.
Saturday remains the “quarterback of the offensive line,” but is entering what could be his last productive year. Former 2008 second round pick Mike Pollak has taken turns with Kyle DeVan and Jeff Linkenbach starting at right guard. He would have to be one of the front runners on the current roster to replace Saturday — although fellow 2008 pick, Jamey Richard (seventh round) started four games in place of Saturday as a rookie. Richard may still be in competition for the job — he could even be the favorite.
The only other player already in Indianapolis who — it is rumored — may be groomed to replace Saturday is 2010 fourth round pick Jacques McClendon. Although McClendon played left guard for Tennessee in college, he has the strength and intelligence to spark a lot of interest from management and fans alike.
Which leaves the 2011 NFL Draft, which is not loaded with center prospects who may interest the Colts. One of the best prospects is Mike Pouncey, who has already been discussed as the top guard in the coming draft. The rest, are second rounders or lower.
Round 1 – Pick 22
Round 2- Pick 53
Stefen Wisniewski – Penn State – Wisniewski is the first “true center” on the board in the 2011 NFL Draft. He comes from an NFL pedigree, as both his father and uncle played in the NFL, and has the kind of intangibles that make him worthy of consideration. At 6-foot 3-inches tall and 313 pounds he is a bigger version of Mike Pollak who would hopefully have more success playing guard as a rookie if the Colts needed him to do so. Moderate to high value.
Round 3 – Pick 87
Jake Kirkpatrick – TCU – Kirkpatrick spent the better part of three to four years learning how to play center after not playing football until his senior season in high school. When he took over as a red shirt junior, he was ready. In his final two years, Kirkpatrick called the blocking assignments for a TCU offensive line that had great success. He won awards for his work as one of the nation’s best centers. He could also fall to the fourth round. Moderate value.
Round 4 – Pick 119
Tim Barnes – Missouri – Barnes spent three seasons as the leader of the Missouri offensive line. He is largely responsible for the line that blocked for Blaine Gabbert, the top quarterback prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft. His size and experience make him one of the top centers in the draft and he should not fall beyond the fourth round. Low to moderate value.
Round 5 – Pick 152
Kristofer O’Dowd – USC – O’Dowd has seen his draft stock plummet since a poor showing at the Senior Bowl. While it may not be extremely surprising that a draft class loaded with defensive line talent would give one of the class’s top centers fits, it also does not inspire a great deal of confidence in a young player who will only face even better defensive linemen in the NFL than he faced at the Senior Bowl. Low value.
Alex Linnenkohl – Oregon State – Linnenkohl was a solid offensive lineman for Oregon State but would be a developmental center prospect for an NFL team. The Colts already have three of those. Low value.
Round 6 – Pick 188
Zane Taylor – Utah – Taylor may be the kind of prospect Jeff Saturday was as he entered the league. His physical size, 6-foot 3-inches and 309 pounds, will not be considered great for the NFL. His athleticism test numbers may not be eye-popping compared to the higher ranked center prospects. However, he is the kind of cerebral prospect that could make a low round pick (or undrafted contract) worthwhile for the team. Moderate value.
There are numerous center prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft class that are not covered in this story. However, these players seem like the most likely to be drafted in the Colts draft range. If there are players missing, feel free to comment and they can be added to the list.