2014 NFL Draft: Is Arkansas' Travis Swanson The Top Center?

By Rick Stavig
Travis Swanson
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Swanson is an All-American center for the Arkansas Razorbacks who will be entering the 2014 NFL Draft after his senior season in Fayetteville. During a conversation the other day, Swanson was brought up, and two questions were posed: what are the chances that he’ll be the first center taken, and could he sneak into the first round?

Before we begin, let’s make it clear that it’s not a stretch to say that the center position is one of the most under-appreciated and overlooked positions in the game of football, which is surprising given how important the position is and just how many responsibilities a center really has.

They’re essentially the quarterbacks of the offensive line, reading a defensive front and making blocking adjustments on the fly. Not only are the responsible for the ever-important center-to-quarterback exchange with various snapping techniques (under center, shotgun, pistol, wildcat, etc.), but they also regularly have to engage in hand-to-hand combat with some of the largest human beings alive (3-4 noses).

With that being said, it might be hard to understand why centers are so undervalued in the NFL Draft. Yes, you occasionally have a Nick Mangold (New York Jets) or Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns) who enters the draft as a truly elite center prospect, but other than that, it’s very rare for centers to go in round one, or even round two.

There’s not really an explanation for it, that’s just how the market goes. There are some positions you have to buy high on (ex. QB, LT, DE, CB), and others that you don’t (ex. G, C, K, P).

So does Swanson top the list of centers that will be entering the 2014 NFL Draft? Quite possibly. He’s got great size (6-foot 5, 315-pounds), a ton of experience (started all 38 games at Arkansas), is a natural leader (twice named team captain), and has been an integral part of some of the most prolific offenses the country has seen the last few years.

Going into his senior year, he’s a preseason All-American and All-SEC pick while also being a frontrunner for the Rimington Award, given each year to college football’s top center. Plus, he’ll be playing in first-year Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema‘s offense, which has produced the last two top-ranked centers (Peter Konz, 55th overall in 2012 Draft and Travis Frederick, 31st overall in this years draft).

So yes, I do like his chances of Swanson being the first center taken in next years draft. He’ll have some competition from the likes of Gabe Ikard (Oklahoma) and Bryan Stork (FSU), but the former is coming off a broken hand in spring drills and the latter seems to be scheme-specific (zone-blocking scheme).

Can he be a first rounder? As our good buddy Lee Corso would say, ‘Not so fast, my friend!’.

Swanson is good, but he’s not quite first rounder-good. Maybe not even second round at this point. He’s got a lot of work to do to become stronger in the ground game, which is his biggest weakness. He can be bullied by quicker defensive tackles, and has a tendency to lean on his opponents as opposed to blowing them up.

Creating a push up will be a priority during his senior season this fall, especially while working with a young quarterback in Brandon Allen. But he’s a smart, agile blocker who can pull and trap, and is terrific in pass protection. He’ll never create a ruckus off the field and the team will never have to pick him up at the clink after making it rain at the strip club.

Overall, I’d say yes, at this point, Swanson is the top center going into the 2013 season. And he has the potential to see his stock rise the most as well, with the new power-run blocking scheme being installed. If he has another strong season that’s injury-free, I could see him sneaking up into the mid-second round, maybe even earlier. But sliding into the first round? That might be a stretch.

Rick Stavig is an NFL Draft Columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickstavig or add him to your network on google.

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