What you need to know about him: Gino Gradkowski, a 23-year-old native of Pittsburgh, is 6-feet and 300 pounds. He starred at Delaware, where he was a two-time All-Colonial Athletic Association selection after transferring from West Virginia, where he spent his first two seasons. He left West Virginia because he wanted more playing time. Gradkowski is pretty agile for a big man, as he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.25 seconds and powered through 29 reps on the 225-pound bench press at Delaware’s pro day.
Why the Ravens picked him in the fourth round, No. 98 overall: Because 35-year-old center Matt Birk can’t play forever. The Ravens signed Birk to a three-year-deal during the offseason. But Birk hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2007 and is in the twilight of a career that began with him snapping balls to Randall Cunningham in Minnesota in 1998.
Cause for concern: Gradkowski played at Delaware, which is a Football Championship Subdivision school, which is one level lower than major-college football. But the last time the Ravens drafted a player from Delaware, they did pretty well, considering he was named Joe Flacco. Flacco, like Gradkowski, started at a major college – Pittsburgh – before transferring to Delaware.
Significance of his selection: The Ravens have to believe Gradkowski is their center of the future. Expect Gradkowski to back up Birk this season, when he’ll also compete with second-year player Jah Reid and rookie Kelechi Osemele to earn the starting job at left guard, which was vacated by Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs. Grubbs signed a five-year, $36 million deal with $16 million guaranteed with the Saints. The selection also speaks volumes about Gradkowski, who was the second center drafted, behind Wisonsin’s Peter Konz, who was taken by the Falcons five picks earlier.
Crystal ball: The Ravens have a solid track record of developing linemen, as Grubbs and former C Jason Brown, who both signed huge free-agent deals with other teams after being drafted by the Ravens. This pick will be judged in a few years if Gradkowski becomes a mainstay in the starting lineup. It’s doubtful the selections of Reid last year and Osemele and Gradkowski will all be deemed a success since it’s hard to imagine all three being consistent starters in Baltimore.
In his words: “Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center,” he told reporters during a teleconference after he was drafted. That’s what I’m looking to do. Being behind a veteran like Matt Birk, I’m excited to meet him and pick his brain about football. It’s the perfect scenario and I couldn’t be happier. I’m elated right now because Baltimore plays football the way it’s supposed to be played. Throughout the whole process they’ve been pretty high on me, so I was hoping Baltimore would be one of the places I ended up.”
Did you know: Gradkowski is the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who is entering his seventh year in the league.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.