The 2009 NFL Draft is shaping up to be a solid class that has good depth and an abundance of talent at certain positions. Over the years, the center position hasn’t played much of a role in the draft. But this year, there are at least three centers who could be taken on Day One; Louisville’s Eric Wood is fighting for that top spot.
A four-year starter at Louisville who holds a school-record for consecutive starts at 49, Wood has been a part of an Orange Bowl victory, a major coaching change and two disappointing seasons to close out his collegiate career. But, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound interior force is on to bigger and better things and he’s elevated his status as one of the premier linemen in the draft.
Wood is an explosive interior lineman who plays with a powerful motor. He has great size and strength. He understands his and his linemates assignments and is a leader on offense. He dominates upfront and overpowers the opposition during running situations. He displays good technique in pass protection. He has great awareness and picks up blitzes well. He’s reliable and works well with the quarterback. He has to improve his footwork and quickness to the second level.
At the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine, Wood impressed scouts with his intelligence, strength and ability to flourish under pressure. He was one of the most impressive linemen at the Combine and showcased great strength (30 reps at 225 pounds), good speed (5.19 in the 40) and explosiveness (30.5-inch vertical).
Wood has one more opportunity to show scouts that he deserves to be a Day One selection. On March 26th, Louisville will hold its Pro Day, and Wood confirmed that he will participate in offensive line drills. He decided he will stand on his numbers from the Combine and just show off his skills and mobility during drills.
In this Scout.com exclusive, Wood discussed his ascension as a prospect, where teams view him playing at the next level and the overall depth of the center position this year and how it may affect his draft status.
Chris Steuber: Entering the draft process, there wasn’t much mentioned about you. Everyone was focused on the other top interior offensive linemen in the draft and you seemed to be an after thought. How much has changed from early December until now?
Eric Wood: A lot has changed. I came into the offseason early because we didn’t go to a bowl game. I didn’t make all of the All-American teams. And I didn’t know where I fit in with everything. I knew I’d have to prove myself and show that I can play other positions than center. I felt like I did that at the Combine and especially at the Senior Bowl. Now there’s talk of me being the No. 1 center and possibly the No. 1 guard – it’s an exciting time.
CS: I was at the Senior Bowl, and I saw you playing center at practice, but I’m sure it was the first time you’ve lined up at guard during a game. How was your experience in Mobile?
Wood: It was a great experience. I was a little rusty the first couple of days at practice, but that comes with not playing football for seven weeks. Getting live bullets like that the first couple of days, it’s difficult after having that much time off. But it was good. I got to play guard, which I really liked; I actually started the game off at guard. I played really well against some really good competition, and hopefully that will reveal itself towards the draft. I’m sure more film will be watched of me, and hopefully more teams will see more things they like about me.
CS: It’s interesting that there’s talk of you possibly being the No. 1 guard in the draft, after you were a four-year starter at Louisville as a center. Are you comfortable playing at guard, or does it really matter what interior position you play?
Wood: It doesn’t really matter that much, Chris. I feel comfortable at both positions right now. I’ve been working a lot at guard, since I haven’t had as much experience at it. But the way I look at it, there’s probably a two-third’s chance I’m going to play guard next season. The fact is that there’s twice as many guard spots as there are center spots. I’m going to do all that I can to make a team and play as early as possible. I want to start from Day One, that’s my goal; wherever that may be, I’m going to have that same goal in mind.
CS: Do you think teams view you more as a center or a guard?
Wood: I’m not really sure. A lot of teams like me as a center, because that’s what I played. But hopefully I showed them at the Senior Bowl that I can play guard as well, because my chances of being drafted as a center were small. Hopefully I’m viewed as just an interior lineman, which will increase my draft value.
CS: The center class this year is the deepest in recent memory, and you’re consistently mentioned in the top three at the position. You’ve seen most of the guys up close, how would you assess the class?
Wood: There’s a lot of good players. A few of us are pretty similar physically, I think me, (Max) Unger (Oregon) and (Alex) Mack (California) measured in between 6-4 and 6-5 and were around the 310-pound range at the Combine. We all have different aspects as our strengths and different aspects that are our weaknesses. We are all good players. If you go down the list, you have Antoine Caldwell (Alabama); you got Jonathan Luigs (Arkansas), AQ Shipley (Penn State); the list goes on and on. It’s a really strong center class and if I can come out at the top end of it, it will bode well for me. But in the same sense, it’s such a strong class, some teams may think there’s not a big difference between the top-six, and they may not take a center high in the draft. But, hopefully one team falls in love with me over the other centers.
CS: In many ways you’re going head to head with Alex Mack for the right to be the No. 1 center in the draft. At the Scouting Combine, you participated in all of the drills, but Mack sat out with an injury. Do you feel as if you have an advantage over him at this point, and how do the two of you compare?
Wood: We’re similar players; we are both hard workers and intelligent players. We get the job done. But I haven’t studied him enough to truly make an assessment of him. I’m sure you could better than me. It wouldn’t be fair for me to compare the two of us, plus I’m going to have a biased opinion. I won’t get into our style of play and how they compare, but I will say that he’s a good guy. It would have been fun competing with him at the Combine, but it was a shame he was banged up. Being one of the top guys, I love competing against the other top guys. It would have been fun competing against him, but I understand injuries happen.
CS: Through this process, from the Senior Bowl to the Scouting Combine to now, do you have a sense where you will be drafted, what round?
Wood: A lot of teams told me that we like you early, but we don’t know how early. Realistically, centers and interior linemen in general don’t go off the board too early. It’s not like an offensive tackle, where you find a dude that’s 6-foot-7 and can move – like a Jake Long type. A center is not coming of the board in the top part of the first round. I’m just hoping to be drafted as a late first; hopefully a first day pick. That’s kind of the feel I’ve been getting from teams, and hopefully that comes through.
CS: Playing the position you play, injuries are going to occur. With that said, NFL teams are always in the market for a quality offensive linemen; last year alone, there were seven offensive tackles selected in the first round. With offensive linemen, more specifically, offensive tackles being at a premium in the NFL, do you foresee a growing popularity in drafting interior offensive linemen?
Wood: It’s becoming more popular to draft interior linemen. You can see their popularity with the money they’re getting now. There are interior linemen who are getting big time contracts. A few years ago, you didn’t see that, but it really shows the true value of the offensive line. With seven offensive tackles being taken in the first round last year, seven teams felt like they needed to upgrade their offensive line. And there were probably a half dozen to a dozen more that wish they could have gotten one of those big guys. The offensive line is a necessity. With the amount of money quarterbacks are making now, you almost have to draft offensive linemen, so you can take care of those guys who’re making $80 million over 10 years.
CS: Speaking of quarterbacks, I know your best friend is Brian Brohm, and around this time last year you were at his draft party. ESPN covered the event thinking he would be a potential first rounder. But as he slipped out of the first round the enthusiasm at the party dwindled and the coverage on television became scarce. Two questions; what was that experience like, and since you’re projected to be a late first, early second round pick, will that experience impact your plans for draft day?
Wood: [Laughs]… I knew you were going to ask that question. It was tough situation, but I think he went to a good organization. It could work out really well for him. As far as my draft day plans, I’m not exactly sure yet. I haven’t decided. If I was a sure first round draft pick, I’d have some people together. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll probably sit around with my agent and my family and just hang out and watch it.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com.