[Editor’s Note: Please welcome Brett Mock to our writing staff here at Stampede Blue! Brett was the founder of Coltszilla and later wrote at Colts Authority, and we’re thrilled to have him on-board as a writer here. Please give him a warm welcome!]
Since Chris Ballard joined the Colts as the team's new General Manager, he has set out on trying to reshape the roster. It didn't take long to become clear that if a player did not fit in the team's long-term plans, Ballard would not hesitate to cut, make a trade, or simply decline to re-sign that player.
One of the early casualties of this philosophy was tight end Dwayne Allen, who was traded to the New England Patriots along with the Colts sixth round pick in the 2017 draft for a Patriots 4th round pick. Notwithstanding the debate the could be had regarding which team got a better deal, what it means for the Colts is that they've improved their draft positioning and unloaded one of the larger long-term contracts from the team's budget. It also means that they're putting more pressure on former General Manager Ryan Grigson's project tight end Erik Swoope.
With that in mind, it is important to take a close look at what fans might expect from Swoope in a larger role. As Dwayne Allen was a well-rounded tight end, any analysis on Swoope should consider his abilities as a blocker and a receiver and how it might impact the team.
In the final game of the 2017 regular season, Swoope continued playing a larger role in the passing game. The play above displays that he is both agile enough and fast enough to keep defensive backs who are covering him honest. If he makes his break inside before the defensive back can react, he can maintain enough separation to make big plays down the field.
To save your eyes, I did not include copies of game film from Dwayne Allen to directly compare but in breaking down the film I concluded that two things limited his game in this capacity. The first is that Allen's best skill as a receiver was the ability to find and exploit holes in zones. He would sit down and be ready to receive the ball from Luck and typically had sure hands in these situations.
When Allen did have enough speed to get open further down the field on occasion, Luck often did not look his way. I would say that overall from the game film on both players, Swoope is going to be a more dynamic downfield threat in the receiving game than Allen -- at least in the Colts offense.
This play against Minnesota is another example of a difference between the two players as a receiver. Allen often ran outs and curls finding spots in a zone but he rarely used athleticism to juke a defender, resulting in separation. While Swoope has not had enough opportunities to know whether he can consistently make plays like these, his tape makes it very clear that linebackers will have a really difficult time keeping up with him.
This is another example where speed alone is too much for the linebacker who failed to effectively jam at the line. By the time he read the play properly, Swoope was gone.
Without Allen on the field, Swoope will have to show a greater affinity for making contested receptions. He caught the attention of fans, coaches, and commentators by putting together a season where he flashed big play ability but he simply did not see the field enough on most downs to get a lot of opportunities like this one -- which more closely resembles what a tight end will do most of the time.
Andrew Luck did not make the best pass here as it was a little behind Swoope and jammed him up a bit. However, Swoope will need to be better prepared for throws like this one. He needs to practice getting his body and hands into a more desirable position on these two-step missiles.
Of course, if he can do more of this, using his speed and athleticism to blow past corners for long gains, we might be able to forgive the occasional contested drop or two. Simply put, this is the kind of thing few tight ends in the NFL do to a corner and it gives justification to be excited to see what kind of offensive flexibility Swoope will bring to the table.
The biggest clear difference between Allen and Swoope will be as a blocker. While Swoope will show great effort, and can be effective when he's on the move or in space, he's not nearly as strong or balanced as Allen in this area. In the play above he was effective, but the defender was still able redirect Swoope even though he was off-balance. If he finishes this block, Gore will get extra yards.
Similarly, in this play his lack of balance is abused by the defensive end who tosses him to the side and shuts down any chance Turbin has to bounce through a hole or redirect. This doesn't happen on every play but it's something that I don't think would have happened to Allen.
On the very next play Swoope tries to make up for getting thrown around by locking up the defender but Doyle chipped his man and if the play was coming in his direction, he might have been called for holding.
As I mentioned, Swoope does better in space. Here he is asked to pull and get a body on a the defender. He did what he needed to do but still didn't drive his man out of the play. If he could finish the block and drive the defender back it would be better but the other free defenders closed the hole by the time Gore got to it.
This play also shows that he will need to focus on reading the defense and knowing how to shadow and engage better. His helmet is down and at the snap he seems to assume the defender will try to run to the inside gap. Instead, Khalil Mack abuses him for getting off-balance and makes the tackle before the runner can get anything going.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Erik Swoope has come a long way from a guy who left college as a basketball player and who had never put on football pads in his life. He shows some promising speed and athleticism as a receiver, lined up as a tight end or as a wide out, and should give the Colts some offensive flexibility in the passing game.
As a blocker, he still has real work to do and will be noticeably less effective than Dwayne Allen. Of course, if the offensive line improves and requires less tight end help, that could make up for some of this difference and it is also more likely that Doyle (so long as he stays healthy) will be asked to take on more of the heavy lifting in this area.
One final note is that he reminds me a lot of Antonio Gates physically. The basketball background is the obvious reason I would pay attention to it but it's worth taking a look at the player side-by-side and fun to dream about what could be if he takes on a bigger role.
Swoope's First Year Contributing
15 REC - 22 TAR - 297 YDS - 19.7 AVG - 45 LNG - 1 TD
Gates' First Year Contributing
24 REC - 389 YDS - 16.2 AVG - 48 LNG - 2 TD
Gates' First Year as a Focus
81 REC - 964 YDS - 11.9 AVG - 72 LNG - 13 TD
Don't expect Antonio Gates numbers from Swoope but a lot can change when you're asked to play a bigger role on your team's offense. Hopefully he can split the difference and end up with 500 receiving yards and a half dozen touchdowns.