Typically when I list a Diamond in the Rough prospect I focus on D-II or D-III prospects. Toledo, currently in second place in the West Division of the MAC and already eligible for their first bowl game since 2005 is hardly "the rough." That said, their talented senior center Kevin Kowalski isn't generating enough national attention in my opinion, considering that NFL scouts tell me he is a legitimate draft selection and, in fact, worthy of being listed among the top five senior pivots in the country. Kowalski currently is NFLDraftScout.com's third-rated senior center prospect for the 2011 draft.
I was impressed with Kowalski's play last week in a nationally televised MAC showdown with West-division leader Northern Illinois. While the NIU Huskies ultimately prevailed in this contest, Kowalski legitimized the chatter about him in scouting circles with his performance.
The 6-3, 299 pound Kowalski started at center for the Rockets, as he has for the past 21 games. Kowalski started the 12 games of his sophomore season at right guard and has now started 44 games for Toledo.
Kowalski's intelligence, strength and balance stand out on film. He has the agility and size to potentially slide back outside to guard at the next level, though as he demonstrated with his line calls, he has the smarts to remain inside. He did a nice job of combo blocks, taking on one defender and sliding off to hit another.
Though Toledo operates out of a spread offense, Kowalski was at his best as a drive blocker, demonstrating good upper body strength to latch onto the defender and eliminate him from the play. Northern Illinois ran various defensive formations at him, lining up a nose guard, three-technique and blitzing linebackers throughout the night.
Kowalski plays with good knee bend and his school-high 465 pound bench press is evident in the way he can absorb the bull rush. He has good lateral agility and balance to mirror in pass protection, though he has a tendency to resort to cut blocks a little more often that I'd like. One other concern is that Kowalski only showed moderate overall agility when asked to block on the move. While he can get to the second level, he struggles to break down and hit the moving target. He does provide good effort, however, and understands blocking angles, forcing defenders to run around him before getting to the ball-carrier. Still, scouts would like to see Kowalski improve his effectiveness in this area.
Scouts will question Kowalski's level of competition -- just as they did former Toledo standout offensive linemen Nick Kaczur (Patriots) and John Greco (Rams). Like each of these former Rockets, however, Kowalksi should emerge as an NFL contributor relatively early in his pro career, likely earning a mid round selection.