Beyond the Shutdown 50: Gino Gradkowski, C/G, Baltimore Ravens

Mike Tanier
Shutdown Corner

Now that the 2012 NFL draft is in the can, it's time to take the Shutdown 50 scouting format forward and get a closer look at some of the surprising and fascinating selections from this year's draft -- the guys we missed in the original 50, but who could be impact players now or down the road. Our next entry: Delaware guard Gino Gradkowski, selected with the third pick of the fourth round (98th overall) by the Baltimore Ravens.

Overview: Gradkowski did not expect to be selected so early in the draft. According to a profile at DelawareOnLine, he had just settled down in front of the video game console when the phone rang. "I just got done playing a game of NHL PlayStation against my cousin Carmen … I didn't even have time to get anxious about the draft because I was still mad about losing in that game."

You have to love a lineman who is so competitive that he cannot let go of his rage over losing a video hockey game until Ozzie Newsome's office calls with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

If Gradkowski is anything like older brother Bruce Gradkowski, then competitive fire will never be an issue. Bruce, now Andy Dalton's backup with the Bengals, has built a seven-year NFL career out of determination and little else. "The whole family has the underdog mentality," the older Gradkowski once said. "We're going to work hard to get the job done. We're disciplined. We're going to know what to do. We might not be the fastest, strongest or the biggest, but we get the job done. That's it. It's in the blood."

Gino was certainly an underdog heading into the draft. He transferred from West Virginia to Delaware early in his college career so he could earn a starting job, played center and guard for three seasons, and earned All America status at the I-AA level. But Gradkowski was expected to enter the NFL as a seventh-round pick or rookie free agent. Now, he is the heir apparent to Matt Birk, and may someday be snapping to another player who took the Big Program-to-Delaware-to-Ravens path to success: Joe Flacco.

Strengths: Gradkowski has fine foot quickness and lateral quickness. Delaware's offensive line took extremely wide splits, and the centers and guards pulled, trapped, and blocked on the move. Gradkowski was effective when shuffling to the side on a rollout or peeling behind the center on a trap. He appears to be very football smart and generally finds the right person to block when on the move or picking up blitzes.

Gradkowski performed well at his Pro Day, benching 225 pounds 29 times and posting respectable results in agility drills. His strength is generally evident on tape, though you must take what you see with a grain of salt when what you see is a blurry image of someone nailing a Towson State defender.

By all accounts, Gradkowski has a great work ethic and the right mentality for his position.

Weaknesses: Gradkowski is too small to be a guard in most systems, particularly the Ravens' drive-blocking offense, and at 300 pounds he is a little small to be a starting center. He played guard in his senior season at Delaware and will have to be developed at center, his likely pro position.

Gradkowski sometimes gets popped by defenders from schools like Rhode Island. He appears to get too high at times and loses leverage. His technique is spotty, and the adjustment to both a new position and NFL-style line splits will take time. Athletically, he is adequate but not superior.

Conclusion: Gradkowski is an example of the type of player NFL teams know much more about than media draft experts. Ozzie Newsome has the resources to send scouts to Delaware, conduct interviews with players, coaches and professors, and bring small-school prospects to team headquarters for interviews. He knows the attributes his offensive line coaches look for in a center. Newsome's staff saw something in Gradkowski the rest of us did not, and the Ravens were not the only ones: Gradkowski interviewed with many teams before the draft and was not likely to go undrafted.

What we see on blurry Delaware-Richmond tape is a quick, strong lineman who blocks well in space. What we hear about Gradkowski sounds a lot like his brother: a hard-nosed, high-effort guy who finds a way to stay on the roster. Gradkowski will not be needed for a season or two, but if he pays the price in the weight room and in film study, he could well be a starting center when Birk retires. And Gradkowskis are all about paying the price.

NFL Comparison: If he develops: Scott Wells, center, St. Louis Rams.

Beyond the Shutdown 50:
Bruce Irvin, OLB/DE, Seattle SeahawksBrock Osweiler, QB, Denver BroncosKevin Zeitler, OG, Cincinnati Bengals | Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland Browns

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