When the 2017 rookie minicamp starts at the Seattle Seahawks’ practice facility Friday, it will be a first chance to see the 11 draftees in their Seattle workout uniforms and begin to evaluate the new talent. Final roster cuts are still a long way away but one of the intriguing storylines will be who among the undrafted free agents might elevate their chances of making the team in September. The Seahawks have become known in recent years for their inclusion of undrafted players, with nearly half the roster comprised of former UDFAs in 2016 including seven such rookies who initially made the 53-man group—George Fant, Trevone Boykin, DeAndre Elliott, Tanner McEvoy, Tyvis Powell, Tani Tupou and Nolan Frese—only one fewer than the drafted rookies, and ahead of two draft picks who didn’t make it.
Fant notably became a starter, while Tupou wasn’t long for the team and everyone else fell somewhere in between on the scale of contribution last year. Yet it’s always worth considering who among the class of 2017 might emerge as the next Thomas Rawls or Doug Baldwin. Early candidates appear to be Jordan Roos out of Purdue, an explosive and incredibly strong interior lineman according to Rob Staton, who signed the biggest bonus of Seattle’s UDFAs, and perhaps BYU fullback Algernon Brown in the Tupou role.
Those guys seem like solid picks considering need, but I’m excited to see rather who can most electrify the fan base in the fashion McEvoy did during the 2016 preseason. The kind of folk hero whose unusual dimensions and big play potential can build a party house on the coordinator’s playsheet and find permanent lodging in the mouth of Mike Bar. I’m talking, of course, of Tyrone Swoopes.
At first inspection Swoopes is a lot like McEvoy: Both first played quarterback in college before coaches sought more creative ways to deploy their talents (aka they lost qb competitions), and each came to the NFL expected to transition to tight end. While McEvoy is 6-foot-6, Swoopes is 6-foot-4 but with a better vertical leap, according to their pro day results. And though slower in a straight line than McEvoy, Swoopes is bigger and stronger and just as agile for his size (McEvoy is .07 seconds faster in his best 20-yard shuttle but Swoopes wins the three-cone drill by .11).
Tyrone Swoopes at pro day: 6'4, 247 lbs, 4.65 40-yard dash, 35" vertical. Almost identical to David Njoku.— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) April 29, 2017
Swoopes is not going to make the Seahawks as a wideout like McEvoy did, but he offers similar tilting axes of physical skill. Whereas McEvoy initially tried out as safety, like he played for spans at Wisconsin, he was always considered a likely special teams factor and also took turns lined up on offense at the end of the line. Swoopes has reportedly narrowed his frame while working on his receiving abilities in preparation for the draft.
The chief way for Swoopes to separate himself next to Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson and Nick Vannett would be to demonstrate his effectiveness as a blocker. But as importantly, I think, for Seattle’s offense is what Swoopes offers as a potential running threat. After the failed quarterback episode in 2014, Swoopes became famous at Texas for the “18-wheeler package”—a sort of jumbo formation in which Swoopes lined up in the backfield beside Chris Warren III (son of the former Seahawks Pro Bowler) like a tractor trailer behind 3,100 pounds of Bevo steak. Doing so, his junior and senior years combined Swoopes scored 19 touchdowns rushing on just 128 attempts (4.88 ypc in mostly short-yardage situations) even though he mysteriously hardly carried it after a three-touchdown outing in the 2016 opener against Notre Dame.
Five inches taller and with a less lowly-distributed base than say Marshawn Lynch, yet Swoopes is likewise a bull of a runner frequently seen pounding through tacklers, keeping his legs churning and twisting beyond contact. It would be exhilarating to see him in H-back situations from which he could be a dual threat to opposing defenses, or even occasionally (if he can keep his pad level down) lined up like a traditional fullback. For that reason, and because I just brought up his podna Lynch, I think not of McEvoy but another converted college quarterback: Michael Robinson.
Robinson was 6-foot-1 but otherwise also had athletic measurables much like Swoopes’s pro day numbers. It took Robinson a few years to gain the weight and find his position in the NFL (he also tried to enter the league as a receiver), but Swoopes already has that mass. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Swoopes taking occasional quarterback reps in training camp either, if only for trick plays (Tanner McEvoy threw a touchdown pass in 2016, remember? And led the league in QBR!) Swoopes was considered a disappointing and inaccurate passer for the Longhorns, partly because he was charged with impossible expectations rebuilding a fallen program and constantly compared to J.T. Barrett (the recruit who got away), but Swoopes’s familiarity with offensive concepts and recognizing defenses could be an attribute like McEvoy’s and Robinson’s that helps him use savvy to excel at other positions while throwing defensive coordinators off their spots.
We’ve also seen more recently how Darrell Bevell enjoyed using fullback Marcel Reece as a route runner split out or in the slot to challenge defensive personnel packages in startling ways. Of course, Reece was a legit receiver at Washington who had made the conversion the other way, but the point is Swoopes is an athlete with a highly versatile body who if established as a pass-catcher could be used in calculated mismatches in other contexts. Seattle may be waiting to sign Reece until after the vested veteran deadline passes with the start of the season, as Bob Condotta addressed in his mailbag this week, like they did with Will Tukuafu at first in 2016. But maybe Swoopes can solve that problem for them.
As always with the Seahawks, unless he can throw himself into being a special teams superhero, the roster might be too thick already to sacrifice a place for a project like Tyrone Swoopes right away. But that hasn’t stopped Pete Carroll’s staff from taking on transitional experiments before. And either way no one can stop us from daydreaming over the possibilities during camp.