While offensive centers rarely get the media attention they deserve, many successful coaches can tell you that having a quality performer at the pivot position is crucial for the success of their offensive game plan. Hall of Fame mentors like Al Davis (Jim Otto), Paul Brown (Bob Johnson), Chuck Noll (Mike Webster and Dermonti Dawson) and Mike Shula (Jim Langer) all built their front walls around players that also deserved Hall of Fame accolades.
Centers generally are not as tall or as impressive physically as offensive tackles or as thickly built as guards, but their mind for the game is extremely important. The center acts as the leader up front and is almost always in charge of the line calls and adjustments. In the National Football League, today's centers also must be able to brace up and handle the bull rush from 350-pound nose tackles and use leverage and technique to move these opponents off the ball in the run game.
Centers also need to show quick feet and balance to reach linebackers on the second level or handle the off-the-ball quickness of the NFL's most athletic interior defensive linemen.
The New York Jets' Nick Mangold has been the standard at this position in the league now for some time. Taller than most of his pivot counterparts, Mangold doesn't sacrifice leverage despite his height because of his excellent ability to bend at the knees and stay low no matter the situation.
While Swanson will never be the mauler that Mangold is, he does show similar characteristics to a former Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens great, Matt Birk. Both of those centers have been "chess masters" when it comes to playing with incredible "field smarts" vs. defensive tackles and middle linebackers trying to shoot the gaps.
Swanson comes off the snap well and pulls with balance, showing proper adjustments on the move. He has a strong pass set, with good knee bend and very good usage of his hands to sustain. He has good lateral slide to pick up the blitz and stunts. He makes all the line calls and shows a very good understanding of angles and positioning. He is best when working to seal off defenders from the hole.
Swanson's strength will cause some problems for even the bigger defenders, as he is rarely ever torqued and turned. He does a good job of chip blocking and coming off on linebackers at the second level. He runs well enough in the open consistently adjusting to his target. He is a strong player with a good anchor, playing with tenacity and good technique. Overall, this is a sound technician, smart and aggressive.
University of Arkansas Razorbacks
Swanson has a big frame that can carry at least another 15 pounds of bulk without that weight impacting his overall quickness. He has the frame that shows good overall muscle development and he actually appears leaner than his 315-pound frame indicates. He has a thick chest, long arms, big bubble and thick quadriceps and calf muscles. He just has the thighs, calves and bubble teams look for in an anchor in the middle of the line. He has very good upper-body strength and powerful hands, evident by the way he consistently pushes defenders back coming off the snap. He is a broad-shouldered type with a tight midsection, good leg length and looks very athletic for a down lineman (can easily get his pads low, as he does not have the anticipated girth you see in most centers, negating any possible concerns that he might be too tall to play center at the next level).
Swanson shows outstanding balance and body control for a player at his position, along with above-average quickness and foot speed to be regarded as the best trap blocker in the nation. He keeps his feet on the move and it is rare to see him walked back into the pocket, thanks to a very strong anchor. He displays good snap quickness, whether with the center lined up behind him or executing the shot-gun. He gets his hands inside quickly to generate a strong push when locking on to an opponent (see 2013 Louisiana, Samford and Southern Miss; 2012 Jacksonville State, Rutgers, Kentucky and Mississippi games). He possesses the loose hips to turn, get around and wall off, especially when leading on screens. He is also a highly competitive athlete who plays with good athleticism that he combines with aggression, yet, he is as smart as a chess master and won't make foolish mistakes. He has a bit of a mauler's attitude, but gets his hands inside the defender's jersey quickly. He displays the body control you look for in a center when asking him to reach and shade, along with showing the ability to get his hips around for wall-off activity. He plays on his feet and has the quickness to chip and seal, along with good angle concept when working into the second level to block for the ground game. He uses his loose hips to make plays in space and possesses more than enough strength to turn his man and widen the rush lanes. He is the strongest player on the team and uses his power to his advantage, especially doing a nice job of adjusting to movement in pass protection.
Swanson is a very intelligent player whose head is on a constant swivel. He not only does a great job of picking up stunts and blitzes, but his field vision and field savvy provides the quarterback with confidence and opportunity to follow through with the play, knowing the pocket is well protected. He is a grizzled veteran with 46 starting assignments to his credit and really embraced the new staff's blocking scheme, helping the Razorbacks rank among the nation's leaders in fewest sacks allowed. He is an honor roll student and has no problem taking plays from the chalk board to the playing field. He is very aware of defensive coverages and is quick to locate and neutralize twists and games. He picks up blocking schemes well and is very good at working in unison with his guards on scoop and fold blocks. He makes proper line calls and it is rare to see him make a mental mistake.
Swanson plays with a lot of "fire in his belly," as he will never back down from a fight and has a lot of "nasty" to his game when battling in tight quarters. He not only possesses impressive toughness, but has the tenacity, combined with good strength to back it up. He has a passion and effort few centers show, as he is the type that keeps all the "youngsters" on the 2013 team in check. He works hard to finish and is the type that a coach will be confident in his ability to play from snap-to-whistle. Swanson is the type that is strictly "old school," as you will never see him take a play off or throttle down on the field. He shows tremendous passion and effort in the trenches and works hard to leverage and finish. He loves the challenge taking on stunts and schemes, leaving everything he has out on the field.
Thanks to his low pad level, balance and leg strength, Swanson is highly efficient in attempts to gain advantage from his initial move off the snap. He is possibly the best at his position when coming off the snap, thanks to his fast-twitch ability that allows him to consistently "lock and load" on a nose guard (see 2013 Louisiana, Texas A&M, Florida; 2012 Louisiana-Monroe, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Mississippi games). He is too sudden in his initial move off the ball for a lethargic defensive lineman to counter. He has excellent snap quickness and does a very good job of firing low off the ball with hands ready to do combat on his rise. He shows the flexibility and balance of Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh) and has the body control you look for in a center when reaching and shading. He has that quick hip snap to get then around when trying to wall off. You can see on film his foot speed when reaching and down blocking. He is also very effective at generating speed needed to chip and reach the second level defenders. Because of his balance and low pad level, Swanson has great success in gaining advantage coming off the snap. He is especially effective executing second level blocks and shows decisive movement in his stance. With his hip snap, few opponents, even the more agile linebackers have any success vs. him when he attempts to wall off.
For a player his height, Swanson is surprisingly nimble for a down lineman, evident by his second-level angling skills (has made 18 blocks down field for the Razorbacks in his last 20 games). He is quick to get out in front on traps and pulls, keeping his pads down to prevent bigger defenders from getting into his chest, along with the balance and hand quickness to prevent smaller opponents from attacking his legs. He possesses the loose hips, needed for him to keep his pads down to change direction quickly. He shows good explosion out of his stance to get out front on pulls and traps. His lateral movement skills are evident on combo, cross, fold and scoop blocks. He has above average feet and agility, showing ease of movement redirecting to either side.
Balance/Stays On Feet
Swanson is not a "grass hugger" (always manages to stay on his feet, even vs. multiple defenders attacking him), as he has that strong anchor and good balance to prevent bull rushers from walking him back into the pocket. He shoots his hands with force, especially when combating in tight areas and does a very nice job of keeping his weight low and centered. With that above average base, he has no problem sliding his feet to maintain, sustain and position. With his strong upper body, he is consistent when attempting to lock out and control. It is very rare to see him expose his chest, but even when he does, his base is strong enough that defenders still can't knock him off his feet. He has the balance and body control to quickly get position. His balance and foot agility allows him to stay on his blocks. He also displays fluid moves adjusting in space (see 2013 Samford and Alabama; 2012 Kentucky and Mississippi games). He can shuffle, slide and adjust with his sharp change of direction skills. The thing I like about him is his ability to keep his weight back and stay in control, along with the great ability to keep that weight low and centered, which allows him to slide his feet forward and maintain position when on the move.
When Swanson keeps his hands inside his frame, he generates a powerful punch (see 2013 Louisiana, Samford, Southern Mississippi and Florida; 2012 Rutgers, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina games). He has good hip explosion to be highly effective for the running game in moves into the second level. He latches on to a defender with strong hands to control and knows how to maintain balance when trying to pop and slide at the point of contact to sustain his blocks. He simply gets on his opponent in an instant, giving his man no time to set up or execute counter moves. He plays with very good functional strength and has outstanding foot quickness to explode into the defender when making contact. With his hip explosion, he is a perfect fit for an inside running game, but with his balance and body control, he is better than even quick guards when it comes to leading the charge on sweeps. His hip explosion lets him consistently widen rush lanes and he can pop and slide at contact to deliver the sustained block. When he locks on to an opponent, he will generally attack with sudden force.
Swanson is very strong at the point of attack (most aggressive drive blocker in the Southeastern Conference). He has a very good understanding for angles and leverage, sliding his feet well on scoop and kick-out blocks. He has the ability to sink his pads and open his hips while maintaining the strong base needed to get movement off the line. Once he locks on to an opponent, he has no problem driving his man out. He has nice road-grading skills with his base blocks when trying to remove first level defenders and good strength in his shoulders to widen and maintain the inside rush lanes. He is a productive blocker in-line whose balance and leverage allows him to quickly get in the way of a defender. Even when he has to stand up and face up to the larger defensive tackle, he has the hand punch and placement to quickly neutralize his man and maintain the rush lane. When he stays at a low pad level and delivers his strong hand punch, he will consistently gain leverage. He has had very good success in attempts to get movement vs. the bigger defenders, as he uses his hand placement and base to maintain position and sustain. He gets a very good surge and movement coming off the line and displays excellent balance and feet working into the second level (see 2013 Samford and Southern Miss; 2012 Kentucky and Mississippi games). He is savvy enough to know when he can get under the defender's pads, doing a nice job of sliding his feet to maintain leverage.
Having allowed just one sack on his last 20 games, encompassing 1,388 total plays, it is safe to say that Swanson has no problem protecting the quarterback. He shows a very strong pass set and good balance, along with the athletic agility to recover when beaten, along with the solid anchor to maintain position at the point of attack. He also has excellent vision, evident by the plays he has made when the quarterback has a turnover (see tackle made after an interceptions vs. Mississippi in 2012). He does a nice job of keeping his weight back, staying square so he can slide and adjust to change of direction. He can anchor vs. the bull rush and shows great alertness to tricks. The thing you notice on film is his good feet and lateral agility. He definitely can slide and mirror defenders, using his hand placement to defeat swim moves. He shows a good base set to pop and drop, quick hand usage upon initial contact and tenacity in his play. He plays flat-footed with good knee bend to deliver the full force behind his hand jolt. Along with very quick recovery agility, he also possesses that strong anchor to consistently neutralize the bull rush.
I do not think there is a center in college football with the trap blocking skills that Swanson possesses. In fact, the last offensive lineman that I saw who could match Swanson pulling on plays was one tutored by his present coaching staff, Kevin Zeitler at Wisconsin (2009-11). For a center, he is quite effective angling and stalking second-level defenders (see 2013 Louisiana, Samford and Southern Miss; 2012 Kentucky and ULM games). He has the flexibility and balance to snap and lead the charge on screens, showing good knee bend to strike in space and the hand placement to sustain after contact. He plays on his feet and is one of those powerful centers with an above average base. He is very light with his feet to pull and run down the line of scrimmage and is a highly effective combo blocker, showing that rare ability to pop a defender at the first level and then use his agility to execute a crunching second level block. He comes out of his stance with good balance, especially excelling when he impacts on the edge in attempts to turn and seal.
Adjust on Linebacker Downfield
Swanson has 18 second level blocks in his last 20 games at Arkansas, a very nice total for a pivot blocker. He has more than enough strength to lock on, along with the nimble feet to mirror the linebackers. You can see he uses his body control with effectiveness when bumping two-tech types and the ability to climb with flexibility and balance when striking in space. He is also agile enough to slide his feet to sustain when walling off. When he locates his target, he excels at staying on the defender and making the cut-off. He comes out of his stance with excellent explosion and has the feet, balance and hand usage to make the cut off with ease. With that above average body control, more often than not Swanson can strike in space and has the agility to bump and climb, especially vs. 2-tech opponents.
Use of Hands/Punch
Swanson can punch donuts into a chest of a defender when his opponent gets too high in his stance. He has very quick hand placement to control the defender on running plays and is a strong puncher in pass protection. He is also savvy enough to know when to extend for lock-on and steering purposes in the aerial game. He shows an explosive and forceful hand punch on the rise. He plays with leverage and can immediately get control of the defender with his proper hand placement, effectively grabbing and gaining control.
Swanson has that intelligence level to know that he will not only play from snap-to-whistle, but maintain control, so as to not induce costly and foolish penalties. He knows when to move his feet, slide his hips and maintain a solid base. He is alert and quick to secure position vs. twists and games, as he has the nimble feet to mirror. For a center, he does a nice job of getting out on the edge to impact a defensive end, thanks to his body control and balance when sliding. He has great field vision, doing a nice job with his feet to adjust with his lateral kick and slide. He is alert to movement and change of direction along the line and reacts well to stunts and twists. The coaches call him the "complete package" at center, with great intelligence and technique, tremendous vision and a terrific sense of his surroundings. He plays through the whistle on every down and is a team-first player who is the key to the Razorbacks' blocking schemes. He consistently plays flat-footed, doing a nice job of adjusting to schemes, as he has that instinctive feel for the flow of the play.
MATT BIRK-ex-Baltimore: Like Birk, Swanson is a tenacious, aggressive, yet smart and instinctive blocker. He might not have the 330-pound frame (yet) that some teams look for in the pivot, but few centers in this game have the foot quickness, balance and change of direction agility he possesses. His hand punch consistently keeps his defenders off-balance and has that raw strength needed to leverage and sustain. He takes sound angles blocking for the running game and has no problems resetting his feet to absorb the bull rush. He plays with classic "warrior" nastiness, but also has the quickness to easily gain advantage on a slower defensive lineman.
Swanson has good bone structure, quickness and above average strength, which allow him to excel at exploding off the ball. He plays with good leverage, doing a nice job of positioning himself to neutralize the bull rush by the much larger defensive tackles. He is very good at walling off the opponent and is a good double-team type who works well with his guards. He has the quickness and balance to take on linebackers when working in space.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.