The big news of the day of course is that the Vikings traded linebacker Gerald Hodges to the 49ers for a 6th round pick. And the player that helped even out that deal was backup center Nick Easton. Easton played his college ball at Harvard where he was a 2-year starter. He earned all-conference honors as a junior and named to numerous All-America teams as a senior. He had good size coming out in the 2015 draft graded as a 7th round/un-drafted free agent level prospect. Lance Zierlein, a respected offensive line scout for NFL.com had this to say about Easton:
Strengths: Plays with good body control and balance. Maintains desired posture through pass rep with wide base and sustained, mirrored movement. Takes good angles in space. Looks for work in pass pro and will bury a helmet into ribs of defensive tackles. Plays with poise and confidence. Responds well to blitz.
Weaknesses: Squatty frame. Lacks length and will get stuck reaching for air when longer nose tackles get into him. Despite 29 bench-press reps at pro day, won't generate movement when asked to drive block.
Draft Projection: Undrafted
Bottom Line: Had solid pro-day measurements and tested as an athletic center. Easton plays with intelligence and composure and is technically sound, but is a center only and might be relegated to looks from zone-scheme teams.
The folks over at Draft Insider had similar remarks in their scouting report:
Positive: Smallish but explosive center effective on the move. Quickly gets into blocks, stays square and can slide in space. Bends his knees, steers defenders from the action and works through the whistle. Outstanding pass protector and holds the point. Fluid and quick pulling across the line scrimmage then getting out to the second level and removing linebackers.
Negative: Must improve his overall blocking balance. Show stiffness in his game. Lacks the dominant strength in the middle of the line and not a mauler.
Analysis: Easton is not a big or bruising lineman rather a solid developmental prospect for a zone-blocking system.
After the draft, Easton signed with the Ravens as a free agent and participated in their training camp and Preseason. Pro Football Focus graded Nick Easton as the top center during the Preseason, giving him a grade of +9.1 overall, including a +7.7 grade in run blocking. Take that with a grain of salt, because #Preseason, but it's an encouraging sign none-the-less. The 49ers gave up a conditional 7th rounder to acquire Easton from the Ravens. Our friends over at Niners Nation provided some initial background on Easton, after they acquired him and spoke with the folks at Baltimore Beatdown who had this to say about Easton:
A good center that was just in a crowded offensive line. Raw still since he is young, but a Harvard kid, so you know he has the smarts to pull it off. He was the third center for the Ravens and could bounce around the line a little bit if needed.
With the injuries to starters Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan, the Vikings are incredibly thin along the offensive line. And with a potential log-jam at linebacker with Eric Kendricks, Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges all fighting for playing time at middle linebacker, this trade takes a roster strength and trades it to upgrade a roster weakness. Gerald Hodges was a backup quality linebacker that has always flashed potential, but it would appear his trade value was a 6th round pick and change. It's a little curious that the Vikings would pursue a zone-scheme guy, since they run more of a power-blocking man scheme, and it would have been great to get a more proven option in return for Hodges, but this move could still work very well as it gives the Vikings more flexibility on the offensive line, and frees up Kendricks and Cole for more playing time. It's true that we've already got a backup center in Zac Kerin, but if the Ravens blogger is to be believed, perhaps Easton has some swing potential and ability to backup the guard positions. And the fact that he is from Harvard should remind us of another certain all-pro center from Harvard that used to play for the Vikings...and he turned out to be pretty good.