[size=18px]NFL draft: Pushing to tip the scales[/size]

Size has become the lingering issue that has scouts waffling about using a high NFL draft pick on former Gophers All-America center Greg Eslinger.

Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune
Last update: April 24, 2006 – 5:25 AM

Greg Eslinger never hears questions about his work ethic or toughness. Nobody doubts his durability, his character, his athleticism. NFL personnel don't talk negatively about his passion for the game, his football IQ or his value as a teammate.
Eslinger, the former Gophers center, earns superior marks in all those areas. But any discussion about his value as a pro prospect starts and ends with one knock.

"He's not big enough," Eslinger said, repeating a phrase he has heard and read countless times leading up to this weekend's NFL draft. "It's annoying, but that's OK. I can't worry about that."

With the exception of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young, there are few players in this draft who were more decorated in college than Eslinger, a three-time All-America who won the prestigious Outland Trophy (top interior lineman) and Rimington Trophy (outstanding center) as a senior.

Eslinger started all 50 games of his career and turned the ability to pull around end into an art form, which helped the Gophers build arguably the top rushing offense in college football during his tenure.

But at 6-3 and 293 pounds, Eslinger is considered undersized by NFL personnel. As such, there seems to be a lack of consensus on when he will drafted. Some draft prognosticators predict he will be selected late on the first day, perhaps in the third round. Others view him as a second-day pick (rounds 4-7).

"I'd imagine some teams have me pretty high on their draft boards, and some teams probably have me as an [undrafted] free agent just because I may not fit exactly what they want," he said.

Eslinger got a sense of his uncertain status when he did not receive an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, the annual showcase for top seniors. Eslinger said he was surprised by the snub but not bothered. The decision certainly seemed a little odd to those who track the draft, considering Eslinger's résumé.

"That surprised me," said Gil Brandt, the former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys and current personnel evaluator for NFL.com. "When you look at him [on film] his man never makes a play."

Even so, draft history is not on Eslinger's side. According to Brandt, only three centers were picked in the first round in the past 10 drafts. That, he said, is the fewest of any position, other than fullback. Ohio State center Nick Mangold (6-4, 300 pounds) is projected as a late first-round pick this weekend.

"Unfortunately for Eslinger, teams don't draft centers a lot," Brandt said. "It's a shame because that guy is a very good football player."

Teams that utilize zone-blocking schemes (Denver and Atlanta, for example) appear to be the most likely destinations for Eslinger because the Gophers also use that system and it fits Eslinger's talents.

Quick and very good moving laterally, Eslinger works best in space. Even though he weighed in at 293 pounds earlier this month, Eslinger does not cast a dominating physical presence, which creates concern about how he will handle himself against behemoth defensive tackles.

Eslinger is quick to point out that two of the top centers in the NFL the past few seasons -- Olin Kreutz (6-2, 292 pounds) and Kevin Mawae (6-4, 289 pounds) -- fit a similar mold. Eslinger also noted that he didn't face many 240-pound defensive tackles in the Big Ten.

"It's funny because people just expect offensive linemen to be 350-pound tugboats," Eslinger said. "That's not necessarily the motif for all teams."

Brandt said the concern is not so much what Eslinger weighs now but how he will manage his weight as the season progresses.

"If you knew he was going to stay at that weight throughout the season it probably wouldn't be a concern," he said. "But I think it will be hard for him to maintain 295 pounds."

Eslinger said he doesn't worry about how those concerns will affect his draft status. In fact, he insists he won't even watch the draft. He vowed to be somewhere on a golf course this weekend. His name will be called soon enough, he figures.

"I don't care where I go," he said. "I just want to be put in the best situation where I can play, whether that's the first round or the sixth round. I just want a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream."

NFL draft: Pushing to tip the scales