Sep 1, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) gets ready to take a snap from center Travis Swanson (64) in the game against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas defeated Jacksonville State 49-24. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Lions selected Travis Swanson in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft with the hope that he could be eventually replace long time starter Dominic Raiola. On Thursday, Swanson inked his rookie deal, leaving top picks Eric Ebron and Kyle Van Noy as the only unsigned prospects from this year’s draft. Raiola is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but he is 35 years old. Does Swanson have what it takes to step in and take the reins and did the Lions get good value with their third round pick? Let’s take a closer look at his scouting report to find out.
After viewing three games (LSU, Alabama, Rutgers), I gave Swanson a 6.5 grade (mid third round). Here’s an excerpt from his scouting report:
Travis Swanson – Center – Arkansas Height: 6050 Weight: 312 40 Time: 5.28
Strong Points: Prototypical height and weight. Adequate footwork to mirror defenders when pass protecting in a phone booth. Quick snap and step. Mobile enough to execute short pull and lead block fill LB. Moves quickly to the second level and consistently gets good initial fit to seal defenders from play. Effective positional blocker in the run game; consistently takes good angles. Smart player who can make all the line calls – keeps his head on a swivel and works well with guards to switch off vs. stunts and loops. Competitive, team leader with high football character who is durable and tough.
Weak Points: Lacks elite athletic characteristics. Limited position versatility – struggles reaching versus speed in space and needs to be protected on both sides. Plays high at times and lacks a strong anchor. Is not heavy handed. Doesn’t possess the power in his lower half to drive DL off the ball as an in-line run blocker – needs to get stronger. Lacks great contact balance and body control – struggles sustaining blocks in space, bends at the waist and falls off blocks. Spends too much time on the ground.
Summary: Swanson has started all 50 games of his Razorback career, tied for the second longest active streak in the country. Though not an elite athlete by any stretch, Swanson utilizes toughness, smarts and competitive play to compensate. He’s a solid pass blocker with adequate agility and balance to mirror defenders in a short area or through contact, but lacks the foot quickness to slide out and cut off speedy defenders in space. Though he may be able to play guard in a pinch, his best opportunity to contribute at the next level will be at OC where he is protected on both sides. He generally plays with wide base, but is top heavy and lacks the power in this lower half to anchor versus powerful bull rushers. His lack of strength and power also prohibits him from creating movement off the LOS as an in-line run blocker, but he’s an effective positional blocker who is mobile enough to mini-pull and execute second level blocks. Most important to the center position, however, is a prospect who can make all the line calls and is smart enough to adjust to defensive stunts and blitz packages and Swanson certainly has that ability. When you combine his smarts with his competitive play, durability and experience in a big time conference, you have the makings of a low risk prospect. Third round prospect who will need to get stronger, but has starter potential in year two or three.
While some have questioned whether drafting a center in the third round was a smart move for the Lions, fans can’t deny there is need at the position, albeit not immediate. Swanson will do well with Raiola as a mentor, and with time will prove to be an adequate replacement for the aging center.