This week's Diamond in the Rough is provided by NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter. Any comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandon Fusco, C, Slippery Rock 6-4 / 300 / 5.24
Most people may think that a scout watching Saturday's Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division match-up between Slippery Rock and California (PA) would be focused on Cal's quarterback, Josh Portis. The former Florida and Maryland passer had some up and downs during the contest (10-13, 150 yards, 3 TD, but took 5 sacks) in the team's 28-3 win -- but when Portis was on the sideline, my eyes joined those of many scouts in checking out the Rock's four-year starting center, Brandon Fusco.
From the start it's clear that the redshirt senior (who has grown from 240 pounds coming out of high school) has the size and athleticism to be a late-round draft pick, as well as that bit of attitude that offensive line coaches love. He blocks not only the man across from him, but anyone else coming into his path while the play is going. He also extends his arms through the block, pushing the defender out of the play rather than just moving his body into position.
Division II defensive tackles do not stay upright if the durable Fusco blocks down on them; he's also strong enough up top to move their torso left or right per his desire. They also find it difficult to bull rush him, as he can extend his arms and anchor within a step or two. Fusco generally adjusts well when the defender tries to unlatch, keeping his balance and maintaining control over the situation. In drive-blocking situations, Fusco will get under the pads of lighter tackles and keep his legs driving to push them back or out of the hole.
Though the Division II All-American won't win many foot races against SEC linemen, he has good enough feet to reach linebackers or safeties, even after ripping under the shoulder of the nose tackle to wall him off. Once in space, he uses the correct block to negate defenders downfield. Linebackers find it very difficult to unhitch from the Rock's star center once he latches on.
Fusco has promise, but also some work to do before becoming a starting or top reserve NFL center. While certainly athletic for the D2 level, he will be out-quicked by spin moves and fast hands of veteran NFL tackles until he gets coached up on technique because he lacks elite flexibility and hand speed. He also needs to keep his feet moving after initial contact to prevent a secondary rush. Because of his relative height, tackles with a low center of gravity can get under his pads to push him back into the pocket a couple of steps. He isn't quite strong enough to hold back a slanting tackle, either, though he gives great effort to prevent the defender from getting to the ballcarrier.
Still, in a year where potential starting centers with size will be tough to find in the later rounds, some teams should take a chance on Fusco.