In case you didn't realize it, training camp is now under a month away.
And as much as we all would like to think TC and the preseason will give us an extended look at how the starters are meshing together, the reality is that undrafted free agents and other camp bodies will get the most exposure.
So for the next month, I'm going to be taking an in-depth look at several of the undrafted free agents on the team. It's true that as the team gets better, it will be harder for these players to actually make the roster. But even if they don't end up sticking around the Colts for long, it will be nice to actually recognize a few players come the fourth quarter of a preseason game, right? Right.
First up is Daxton (Dax for short) Swanson, a defensive back from FCS school Sam Houston State. You probably only saw him play last year if you were:
A) A Sam Houston State fan.
B) A Texas A&M fan/watched Texas A&M games.
That's the small-school effect. But Swanson was as good a play-maker as any defensive back in the nation for the past three years. After transferring from Toledo following his freshman season, Swanson became an immediate starter at with Sam Houston State. In 41 games there, he recorded 14 interceptions, 31 pass breakups and 129 tackles.
Swanson's junior season is what vaulted him into NFL prospect discussions, coming down with eight interceptions and nine pass breakups. For a player who is only 5'11 and 185 pounds, Swanson obviously couldn't win his coverage battles with physicality. He had to be disciplined and keep himself in position to make plays on the ball, which he certainly did.
Swanson has the speed and acceleration to make the jump from the top of FCS to the NFL. His 4.43 time at his pro day is legit. His burst out of breaks is very good, giving him the ability to click and close on the ball. Swanson has a strong feeling for route anticipation and how the receiver is going to attack him. Ball skills are excellent, with keen sense of timing, great aggression to the ball, and soft hands. He can make the athletic catch in traffic and goes for the ball relentlessly. Primarily playing press/bail and off-man, Swanson covers a lot of ground quickly and shows real stickiness in tracking receivers. He is a generally reliable tackler who drops his weight well after contact. He was skilled enough early to play as a true freshman at Toledo before transferring back close to home in Texas. Swanson showed up big in playoff games, and comes from an excellent FCS program that is well-coached. He played well in games vs. BCS competition.
The biggest knock for me is his lack of bulk. Swanson is pretty averaged sized at 5'10" and 186, but his body frame is slender and he has maxed it out. His jam is not very physical and he doesn't force receivers off track well. He has little experience against top-level receivers or quarterbacks after transferring to SHSU from Toledo, though he did play well against Texas A&M. There isn't a lot of force behind his pads when he hits; his tackling is more about angles and timing. Because he is aggressive in going after the ball, Swanson will get burned by well-executed double moves and pump fakes (see Montana 2011). Some of that was a function of how the Bearkats are coached, so it will be interesting to see how adeptly he can adjust his style.
Swanson has been the ringleader of a very talented secondary at one of the best FCS programs in the country after transferring despite earning playing time as a true freshman at Toledo. His aggression in coverage is appealing, but his average size and athleticism probably limit Swanson to a reserve role at the next level. He'd make a nice 4th corner for a man coverage team, and that's worthy of a late 6th or a 7th round pick. -Jeff Risdon
Draftinsider.net heaped even more praise on Swanson:
Positive: Fluid cornerback with nice size as well as a history of making big plays. Quick when flipping his hips to transition off the line with opponents. Stays with receivers out of breaks and maintains solid downfield coverage. Plays heads-up football, displays good ball skills, and has a nice break to the throw as well as a burst of closing speed. Displays timing on pass defenses, gets vertical, and adjusts to knock away the throw. Battles receivers at the line scrimmage and mixes it up throughout the route. Does a nice job reading receivers' eyes, then getting his head back around to locate the pass in the air. Effective facing the action and shows good route recognition in zone coverage.
Negative: Stiff pedaling in reverse and is better facing the action. Not a sure tackler. Lacks long speed.
Analysis: Swanson was effective on the small-school level and has the ball skills to play in dime packages for a zone system at the next level.
Now that he is on the Colts, Swanson has a few things going for him in the hopes of sticking around past August.
First, the Colts in recent years have liked to either keep undrafted defensive backs on the roster or practice squad above other positions following training camp. Think of Joe Lefeged, Jacob Lacey, David Caldwell, Mike Newton and Brandon King. Sure, none of them proved to be more than role players, but each one contributed or at least stuck around longer than the average UDFA.
Unfortunately for Swanson, with an overhauled regime in command, that might not mean much.
What really could help him is his versatility, along with thin depth at cornerback and safety. I called Swanson a defensive back at the beginning of this article for a reason. He played both secondary positions in college. The Colts even changed his position on their official roster page to safety after he was brought in as an undrafted cornerback.
The truth is that Swanson's position really doesn't matter. If he makes it far enough to earn a roster spot and even see defensive snaps, Swanson would likely only play in dime packages. But he may have enough of a wide variety of coverage skills to entice the Colts to keep him when players like the recently-arrested Joe Lefeged and an injured John Boyett stand in his way.
Like most defensive rookies, Swanson's real make-or-break area will be special teams. And judging by the way the scouting reports talked about his tackling skills, he has a long way to go toward proving he can be a steady player on kickoffs and punts. It will be crucial for Swanson to prove during the preseason that he can make the jump from the FCS to the NFL and tackle efficiently.
To finish off this analysis, here's some Youtube gold on Swanson. I found the first video to be the most interesting. It gives you a look at how well-spoken Swanson is and how he thought he would be taken between rounds 3-5 in the draft.