A position-by-position look at the NFL Draft. This entry: Centers.


A Look at This Year's NFL Draft Center Prospects
Stefen Wisniewski's father, Leo, played nose tackle for the Colts for three seasons before a knee injury curtailed his career. Wisniewski's uncle, Steve, played 13 seasons as an offensive lineman with the Raiders and made the Pro Bowl eight times.

Clearly, football at the highest level is implanted in Stefen Wisniewski's DNA, and his opportunity to continue the family's NFL tradition begins April 28-30 with the 2011 NFL Draft.

Wisniewski, a three-year starter at Penn State, is among the top-rated centers available for the draft and could be the first player selected at his position. He is considered by NFL observers as a highly intelligent and instinctive player who has a thorough understanding of offensive line play. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder also has the athletic ability for efficient pull-blocks in space and is capable of playing guard.

"I think he plays with great leverage," Leo Wisniewski, said via telephone from Pittsburgh. "His techniques are outstanding for a young player. He finishes blocks as well as anybody. And he's a very good pass blocker."

Leo Wisniewski, who played for the Colts in the mid-1980s, is now the director of men's ministry with the White Fields Foundation, a Pittsburgh non-profit that helps mentor youth. He also has worked as a football coach at both the college and high school levels.

For Stefen, football was often the topic of conversation with dad at the dinner table as well as during family reunions when his uncle was around.

At his Pittsburgh high school, Stefen followed in his father's footsteps and starred as a defensive lineman after he grew 3 ½ inches and gained 50 pounds just before his sophomore year. But he also performed nicely when the team used him on offense, and he quickly was positioned there upon landing at Penn State, the alma mater of both his dad and his uncle.

"I think he felt most comfortable in the offensive line," Leo said.

Stefen wasted no time going to work for the Nittany Lions. And in a way, his mentors always were there to watch him.

Pictures of Leo and Steve Wisniewski hang on the walls at Penn State's athletic complex. So if Stefen needed any prodding to hit the weight room during the offseason or spend on extra hour in the film room during the season, a quick glance at those photos provided it.

"Absolutely, I think it was a good thing," Stefen said recently during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "I used it as motivation and they challenged me to be the best I could."

Steve Wisniewski is now the offensive line coach for the Raiders. If Oakland chooses to use one of its draft picks on Stefen, the young lineman wouldn't mind at all. Quite to the contrary.

"I think that would be awesome," Stefen said. "I couldn't think of a better guy to work for. ... There are certainly complications when you get coached by a family member. Anyone who played for their father might know what that's like. But, yes, I'd love to play for my uncle."

Steve and Leo Wisniewski both have been imparting knowledge to Stefen for years. And once it became clear that Stefen's professional future would be on the offensive line, Steve's wisdom became particularly helpful.

And if Stefen's style and intensity look familiar, it's not a coincidence.

"He taught me a lot about what it takes to be a pro football player, as far as the strength and conditioning and the technique aspects of the game," Stefen said about his uncle. "He was tremendous in building me into the football player that I am.

"One thing he was known for was finishing blocks and being a nasty guy, and that's what I always try to do. I like to finish my blocks. And I'm hearing positive feedback about the way I hustle, so that's one way I think we're similar."

Now Stefen would like to become similar to his uncle in another way – making multiple trips to the Pro Bowl.

BREAKING DOWN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT'S CENTERSCenters aren't typically selected high in the draft, but this year's crop appears to have a couple who could draw early attention. Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, Florida's Mike Pouncey, Wisconsin's John Moffitt and Florida State's Rodney Hudson are among those with high ranks. As a general rule, centers need to show enough versatility to move to guard in a pinch. The aforementioned players appear to have that. Pouncy started his college career as a defensive tackle. He moved to center and replaced his twin brother, Maurkice, as the Florida starter. Maurkice, a rookie center for the Steelers in 2010, made the Pro Bowl. Moffitt has the edge of coming from Wisconsin, where the flow of stout offensive linemen never seems to end.

THE LAST SIXThe last six centers drafted by the Colts ...

2008: Steve Justice, sixth round, Wake Forest.

2005: Dylan Gandy, fourth round, Texas Tech.
Rob Hunt, fifth round, North Dakota State.

1991: Rob Luedeke, 12th round, Penn State.

1986: Gary Walker, fifth round, Boston University.
Pete Anderson, 10th round, Georgia.

THIS YEAR'S DRAFTAn alphabetical list of 10 centers expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft ...

Tim Barnes, Missouri, 6-3, 305
Ryan Bartholomew, Syracuse, 6-1, 302
Colin Baxter, Arizona, 6-3, 295
Chase Beeler, Stanford, 6-3, 277
Rodney Hudson, Florida State, 6-2, 299
Jake Kirkpatrick, Texas Christian, 6-3, 305
John Moffitt, Wisconsin, 6-4, 319
Kristofer O'Dowd, USC, 6-4, 304
Mike Pouncey, Florida, 6-5, 303
Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State, 6-3, 306

Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.

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