By Chris Burke
April 01, 2014

2014 NFL draft position rankings: Travis Swanson tops among centers Travis Swanson was a 50-game starter at center for Arkansas. (Ryan A. Miller/Icon SMI)

Travis Frederick was a surprise first-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys last season, but his position has been far from disrespected in the NFL draft recently. In six of the past 10 years, a center has been taken in Round 1.

Expect that trend to continue. As more and more teams spread the field and utilize the shotgun, having a savvy anchor in the middle of the line has become a virtual necessity. There arguably is more expected of NFL centers now than ever before.

Fortunately for NFL teams feeling a little light there, this year's center class puts several battle-tested options on the table. The top 10:

1. Travis Swanson, Arkansas: When scouts discuss a quarterback's readiness for the NFL, the ability to read defenses and make adjustments pre-snap are critical selling points. The same goes for centers, who often are responsible for similar tasks up front. This may be the area of the game in which Swanson most excels.

"I would say my football intelligence," said Swanson at the combine when asked what sets him apart from other 2014 draft prospects at his position.

Swanson's physical performance at the combine left something to be desired. His experience as a 50-game starter at Arkansas should ease most of the concerns he may have raised in Indianapolis back in February. The Arkansas product can stand his ground in pass protection and also has enough foot speed to pull in the run game.

Draft projection: Round 2

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2. Weston Richburg, Colorado State: Though Richburg joined Swanson in starting 50 games at the college level, the general public did not receive a proper introduction until the Rams' New Mexico Bowl win over Washington State. Richburg was a driving force in his team's 48-point offensive explosion that day, an effort that included 228 yards on the ground.

Athleticism's not a concern here -- Richburg topped all centers at the combine with a 5.1 40 time, and he played both linebacker and QB in high school.

"If a team is looking for the next Alex Mack," draft guru Gil Brandt wrote last month, "Richburg is that guy. He’ll be your starting center for the next 10 years."

Draft projection: Round 2-3

3. Marcus Martin, USC: One of the knocks on Swanson is that he projects as a center-only prospect at the next level. That is not the case for Martin, who might be able to jump in as a rookie starter at either guard spot, in addition to his normal center position. At 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, he has the sturdiest build of the top three centers here.

Turning that make-up into consistent pop on the line is another story. Martin can be overwhelmed at times, particularly when he's faced with blitzers or multi-move pass rushers.

Draft projection: Round 2-3

4. Tyler Larsen, Utah State: Less a lineman who will jump off game tape than one who simply goes about his business. Larsen (6-4, 313) is well-built for the NFL game, plus uses that size to his advantage. He's not extremely quick and probably will not be able to shift over to a guard spot without needing a decent amount of development time. What he can do, though, is more than hold his own at center, particularly when he's able to get a step on an opposing defender.

Draft projection: Round 4

5. Russell Bodine, North Carolina: Bodine ripped off 42 bench-press reps at the combine -- a nod to the power that his game thrived on for the Tar Heels. The 6-4 Bodine skipped his final year of college eligibility to enter the draft, which is a rarer move for interior linemen than at most other positions. He may have done so because there was little to gain by heading back. Bodine put in some time at guard in 2013, earning an All-ACC Honorable Mention nod in the process.

Draft projection: Round 4

6. Bryan Stork, Florida State: The 2013 Rimington Award winner as college football's top center, Stork seems to put his best foot forward as a pass blocker. In that area of the game, Stork finds blitzers and can slide around enough to keep them clear of his quarterback. Beyond that, Stork's game will require some refinement at the NFL level; he may not be quite there yet when it comes to getting downfield or pulling wide.

Draft projection: Round 5-6

7. Zac Kerin, Toledo: As I did some legwork for the 2014 draft before this past college football season got underway, multiple Toledo coaches went out of their way to praise Kerin's impact on the offense. There are some technique concerns here, especially against the run, and at only about 300 pounds, Kerin's size might be viewed as a detriment. He thrived at Toledo in spite of any shortcomings. His knack for playing whistle to whistle will serve him well in the NFL's eyes.

Draft projection: Round 5-6

8. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma: Probably a better fit for a team running a zone-blocking scheme than one that utilizes a lot of man approaches because -- as he showed off at the combine with the top three-cone and shuttle times among offensive linemen -- he does most of his damage moving his feet. Playing straight-up against a stronger opponent, Ikard has a tendency to lose his positioning.

Draft projection: Round 5-6

9. Corey Linsley, Ohio State: A strong, aggressive blocker who showed enough quickness to lock down a starting job in Urban Meyer's shotgun-heavy spread offense. Linsley worked as at least a backup all over Ohio State's line before settling in at center. Should he show the same versatility as an NFL prospect, he could be a valuable member of a depth chart.

Draft projection: Round 7

10. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida: Another powerful interior lineman, Harrison can open up space directly in front of him about as well as anyone. It's when he has to go side-to-side or react to a complex defensive call that he struggled at Florida. There should be a home for him in the NFL, at least as a player capable of stepping in at center or guard.

Draft projection: Round 7

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