It’s not uncommon for college football players to model their games after a professional who plays their same position.
Arkansas center Travis Swanson, a four-year starter who has had his eye on the NFL for years, is no different, and he made sure to aim high. He chose a player who was recently rewarded for his rock-solid play with a five-year, $42 million contract.
“(Cleveland’s) Alex Mack, I’ve always watched him whenever I get the chance,” Swanson said at the combine in February. “I love the way he plays and I think I’ve patterned (my game after) him. I don’t want to say I’m him exactly, but I try to be.”
Swanson, who checked in at 6 feet 5 and 312 pounds at the combine, could certainly do worse. Mack, 28, is a similarly-sized at 6 feet 4 and 311 pounds and a two-time Pro Bowler who has regularly ranked among the best centers in football for the last several years.
“It seems like he has a real good nasty streak and a mean streak,” said Swanson, a two-time team captain at Arkansas. “To me, that’s part of the game. You need that, but not a lot of guys do.”
But all accounts, Swanson has that. His scouting report on ESPN.com calls him an aggressive player who “can get under opponent’s skin by blocking through whistle and leaning on defenders on ground.”
Swanson, however, has his warts — namely his strength. His 20 reps on the bench reps were the fewest of any lineman at the combine, which is a major reason NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki projects him to be a mid-round pick instead of a first-round pick like Mack.
“Probably something I need to get better at is just core strength,” Swanson said. “That’s the biggest thing I tried to take into account this offseason.”
It’s a process that will have continue long after the draft. But Swanson brings plenty of strengths to the table, too. He could have wide-ranging interest among NFL clubs, because he’s played in both a man-blocking scheme and a zone-blocking scheme in college.
“This past year, it was a man scheme,” Swanson said. ”I’ve been in a lot of different offenses. There’s a night and day difference. I was with Coach Petrino’s offense for four years and then Coach Bielema came in and completely changed it. So I think I got the best of both worlds.”
Swanson is more familiar with the zone scheme, however, which teams who run the West Coast offense — like the Chiefs — run.
“You have to be very laterally quick (in a zone scheme), you’ve got to have power,” Swanson said. “Obviously with any offensive lineman, you’ve got to be smart.”
The latter is something Swanson also excels in. His draft profiles on NFL.com and ESPN.com also praise his on-field awareness and ability to make pre-snap reads.
“I feel like that’s one of my strengths,” he said. “I had great coaches throughout my five years at Arkansas. Some came and went. I had three different offensive line coaches, two head coaches, multiple coordinators and you kind of get to pick the brains of every single one of them. That’s helped me out a bunch and shows versatility.”
However, when someone pointed out that Swanson was sitting there at the combine while some of his other teammates who experienced the same things weren’t, Swanson credited his ability to stay focused everyday.
“I knew where I wanted to go,” Swanson said. “I just knew I wasn’t there yet. So I kind of thought to myself early on in my career, ‘How am I going to get there?’ And I kind of just took it one day at a time and never took a day for granted and just worked.”
Now, Swanson is this close to making it to the NFL. And he can hardly wait to hear his name called, whenever it is.
“It’s going to mean the world,” Swanson said. “It’s going to bring a lot of joy to me and my family.
“But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that the work’s over. It’s just beginning.”Top 10 prospects for the Chiefs
1. Marcus Martin, 6-3, 320, USC
Three-year starter who declared for the draft after his junior season. Is 20 years old. 34-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.22 40-yard dash. 23 bench reps. 4.93 20-yard shuttle. Knee injury kept him from running at the combine. Times are from USC’s pro day.
Big hands and long arms, has the size to play guard. Actually did play guard as a freshman. Also has experience in a West Coast offense. Big body who can anchor in pass protection and is light enough on his feet to get to the second level, though slow 40 time is a concern. Is still young, so strength gains are still possible. Isn’t a nasty finisher.
2. Weston Richburg, 6-3, 298, Colorado State
Four-year starter. Is 22 years old. 33 3/8-inch arms. 9 1/4-inch hands. 5.10 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 25 1/2-inch vertical. 106-inch broad jump. 7.93 3-cone drill. 4.63 20-yard shuttle.
Very experienced. Tough and smart with the quickness and mobility to be effective on the move — is a good zone blocker. Has proven to be durable — started every game the past four seasons, and once snapped with his left hand when he broke a bone in his right hand. Excellent intangibles, is a two-time team captain. Isn’t terribly big and could struggle to move bigger linemen but gives great effort.
3. Travis Swanson, 6-5, 312, Arkansas
Four-year starter. Is 23 years old. 33 1/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.28 40-yard dash. 20 bench reps. 26-inch vertical. 95-inch broad jump. 7.73 3-cone drill. 4.65 20-yard shuttle.
Experienced and durable, started 50 games in the nation’s toughest conference. Good intangibles — two-time captain. Has the feet to be a good zone blocker and is very aware. Plays through the whistle and is feisty. Big hands will help in pass blocking but he desperately needs to add strength and can be overwhelmed against stronger tackles. Is on the ground too much. Can be really good if he bulks up.
4. Russell Bodine, 6-3, 310, North Carolina
Two-year starter. Is 21 years old. 32 1/2-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.18 40-yard dash. 42 bench reps. 29-inch vertical. 109-inch broad jump. 8.26 3-cone drill. 4.66 20-yard shuttle.
Boasts outstanding strength, as his 42 reps on the bench press indicates. Is an aggressive, nasty competitor who plays with a mean streak. Decent athlete. Has played at guard. Possesses big hands and decent athleticism. Only average length, which can be a problem in pass pro. Better run blocker than pass blocker.
5. Wesley Johnson, 6-5, 297, Vanderbilt
Four-year starter at left tackle. Is 23 years old. 33 1/8-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 5.11 40-yard dash. 26 bench reps. 29-inch vertical. 111-inch broad jump. 7.40 3-cone drill. 4.64 20-yard shuttle.
Experienced, durable two-year captain with plus intangibles, intelligence, athleticism and agility. Was a left tackle in college who started seven games at center in 2011. Is a little tall for a center but has OK size, nonetheless. Knows how to get to the second level. Needs to get stronger, doesn’t have much pop. Is an agitator who gives great effort. Has the tools to be a good zone blocker.
6. Gabe Ikard, 6-4, 304, Oklahoma
Four-year starter. Is 23 years old. 33 1/8-inch arms. 9 5/8-inch hands. 5.13 40-yard dash. 22 bench reps. 26-inch vertical. 103-inch broad jump. 7.30 3-cone drill. 4.37 20-yard shuttle.
Good size and length. Smart, experienced starter with plus-plus intangibles — two-time captain and respected leader. Tested well in the agility drills but it doesn’t always show on tape. Needs to get much stronger. Falls off blockers. Does OK getting to the second level. Is aware but is not a mauler.
7. Bryan Stork, 6-4, 315, Florida State
Two-year starter. Is 23 years old. 32 1/4-inch arms. 10 1/8-inch hands. 5.44 40-yard dash. 21 bench reps. 26-inch vertical. 97-inch broad jump. 7.90 3-cone drill. 5.02 20-yard shuttle.
Consensus: Good-sized center whose short arms can be a hindrance in pass pro. Only average agility, athleticism and strength but has a strong punch and good technique. Inconsistent at getting to the second level but is generally a good zone blocker. Very aware player who gives good effort and leads by example. Has also played guard and tackle.
8. John Urschel, 6-3, 313, Penn State
Two-year starter at guard. Is 22 years old. 33-inch arms. 10 3/8-inch hands. 5.31 40-yard dash. 30 bench reps. 29-inch vertical. 102-inch broad jump. 7.55 3-cone drill. 4.47 20-yard shuttle.
Earned a masters in mathematics, is very smart. Very aware. Good awareness and footwork — he can get to the second level quickly. Only OK athleticism but competes. Flashes potential as a zone blocker. Better run blocker than pass blocker, though he does have big hands. Played guard but also has the skillset to play center.
9. Jonotthan Harrison, 6-3, 304, Florida
Three-year starter. 33 3/8-inch arms. 9 7/8-inch hands. 5.15 40-yard dash. 27 bench reps. 27-inch vertical. 113-inch broad jump. 7.97 3-cone drill. 4.86 20-yard shuttle.
Good size and length. Smart and aware. OK run and pass blocker. Is an OK athlete, needs to improve balance. Scouts’ opinions vary on his play strength. Doesn’t excel at blocking at the second level. Isn’t a consistent finisher and needs to be more consistent, in general. Might be better in a man-blocking scheme.
10. Tyler Larsen, 6-4, 313, Utah State
Four-year starter. Is 22 years old. 31 1/2-inch arms. 9 1/4-inch hands. 36 bench reps. 23 1/2-inch vertical. 102-inch broad jump. 8.22 3-cone drill. 4.70 20-yard shuttle.
Good size and very good upper body strength but has small hands and very short arms, which causes problems in pass pro. Very experienced. Aware. Average athleticism. Not a mauler. Best projects as a zone blocker.
*All evaluations and rankings are based largely on multiple draft profiles ― thanks to NFL.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and DraftNasty’s 2014 NFL Draft Manual ― interviews with draft analysts and the author’s own film evaluations. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above.