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DAndre Swift Delivered A Breakout Game Against the Jaguars
In the box score, he absolutely crushed it: 123 total yards and a touchdown. This included a 54-yard run and several gains of 5-19 yards between the tackles.
Boxscore Breakouts are a promising sign for a player's acclimation to the NFL game. However, they aren't foolproof signs that the player has emerged as a weekly fantasy starter.
In the case of DAndre Swift, I would not bank on him as a weekly starter in most formats that start 2-3 running backs. Not yet, because Swift's performance included a few issues that were a part of his game as well as some that might be exacerbated from working alongside a future Hall of Famer in Adrian Peterson, whose style of play is the complete opposite of what Swift does best.
Swift Was A Deceptively Difficult Rookie Evaluation
Swift was a polarizing 2020 NFL Draft prospect within the community of draft analysts that I know. Some saw Swift as the unquestionable top running back in the class. Others didn't have him within their top five at the position.
I know I'm regarded among the draft and fantasy community as pretty strong at evaluating running back talent, so when I tell you that he was the most difficult player for me to evaluate in this class, I think it accurately reflects the polarization within the community of draftniks, draft writers, and scouts with whom I associate.
Evaluating a player is like creating a multidimensional puzzle. Scouts deconstruct a player's game into dozens of pieces and when they put it back together, the player will look different.
This happens because the puzzle pieces have a life of their own. They grow and regress under the specific conditions where they play. When a player's game is reconstructed based on the expectations of the NFL game, that player's game will look different than it will in a college environment.
When a scout performs this deconstruction and reconstruction well, a player's game comes alive on the page and matches what the reader will eventually see on Sundays—good, bad, simple, or complex.
This process of deconstruction and reconstruction is why Swift's game was the most difficult evaluation that I performed this year. On the surface, Swift looks like an easy evaluation because he was productive between the tackles at Georgia, made defenders miss, caught the football, and has tools to work with as a blocker.
If limiting the basic assessment of Swift to the question, "Is D'Andre Swift good enough to perform in an NFL starting lineup," then, yes, it's an easy evaluation. This is how many have felt about Swift. And with the right fit, Swift could develop into the most productive back of this class.
However, J.K. Dobbins, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Jonathan Taylor have strong scheme fits and Swift's landing spot is at best, temporarily cloudier. At worst, the history of this Detroit Lions organization is so awful that counting on the right things to happen in Swift's favor seems to be betting against Mother Nature.
I've seen Frank Gore comparisons for Swift. Both have a low center of gravity and are known for their work ethic. Even as a rookie, Gore had more refinement as a decision-maker, superior balance, and better skills as a route runner.
I believe DeAngelo Williams is a tighter physical and stylistic comparison for Swift. Williams earned at least 800 total yards from scrimmage during 8 of his 12-year NFL career and topped 1,100 yards 4 times. Williams also scored 20 touchdowns in 2008 and delivered at least 7 scores during 4 other seasons.
Behind a strong Steelers' offensive line, a 32-year-old Williams earned 1,274 yards and 11 touchdowns during 10 starts in 2015, the penultimate season of his career. If Williams had not spent the first five years of his career—prime years for a runner—in a time-share with Deshaun Foster and Jonathan Stewart as well as working without a franchise quarterback, Williams's career might have had more upside years than it did.
Like Williams, Swift is a dynamic runner with excellent quickness and tackle-dragging power for his size who can produce behind a run-heavy, power offense but could be even better when operating from a spread attack—imagine if Williams were a little younger and his career coincided with the 2018 Kansas City offense?
Swift operated in a conservative Georgia offense that used gap, zone, and man-blocking plays that occasionally spread the field and fed Swift a steady diet of draws. One of the difficult decisions I had to make with Swift's evaluation was how nuanced he actually was as a runner.
There are enough runs where Swift didn't display the patience and savvy expected for the scheme. He reacted too early with cutback attempts between the tackles and in the open field. However, there were also enough instances where Swift was successful and displayed patience and nuance to manipulate opponents in similar circumstances that determining the caliber of Swift's vision and decision making was a difficult call.
I made the determination that Swift's decision-making lapses—that are common with most prospects—were lapses in judgment as opposed to lapses in the craft of running the football. What I saw from Swift was a willingness to take calculated risks and fail, which is different than being ignorant of the nuances of running the football.
This is an important difference when evaluating a player because if I thought Swift was lacking in craft, he'd have been graded as low as high-end Contributor Talent in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. I saw Swift have enough success executing concepts where he also had failures on film that it was best to describe him as a player with a lot of starter value to his game but requires some clean-up of isolated problems.
Another difficulty with his evaluation was determining his speed, acceleration, and quickness. Swift's Combine Metrics don't neatly encapsulate his athletic skills as it does for a majority of backs.
Swift ran a 4.48-second, 40-Yard Dash, which is a fast time for a running back. However, Swift rarely had breakaway runs in college. When he did, they were gains well over 50 yards because he had a long runway to reach his top speed.
The reason Swift needs a long runway is a slower-than-average acceleration phase of his game—especially for a player with his long speed. This is why he's often caught before he can build to his top speed and his breakaway runs (40-plus yards) were so rare at Georgia.
To compound the matter, Swift's 7.12-second, 3-Cone Drill is also slower than average. However, one of the things Swift has been known for is his sudden cuts and crisp footwork that has left a trail of SEC defenders flopping on the ground like hooked fish on a boat.
You only need to look back to Dalvin Cook's workouts to realize that Combine Metrics aren't the sole template for a running back's athletic value. Cook's movement style didn't match the value of the exercises attempting to emulate running back play. I had Cook as one of the safest backs in his class despite the metrics crowd's freaking out about his performance during the Underwear Olympics.
Like Cook, Swift's game is built more on keeping his feet on the ground as much as possible. He has sudden pressure cuts and layers them in succession to create sharp and violent moves in two-, three-, and four-step combinations that force opponents into a futile state of guesswork.
Swift also has a lot of curvilinear movement to his game. This is the ability to bend the corner and force a pursuing defender too wide of his original pursuit angle to make the tackle.
There are even more areas of Swift's game as a receiver and blocker that could be discussed further but for the purpose of this feature, Swift's game is different from most running backs who match the NFL Combine's template and his movement as well as his isolated, but correctable, issues as a decision-maker made him a polarizing and difficult evaluation.
What Are These Isolated Problems and How Does He Look in Detroit?
Some of those isolated problems in Swift's game included looking for open space outside of the scope of the play—even when there was a clear opening within the scope of the play—and not pressing deep enough to set up favorable blocks early in the play.
When Swift has to use hard cuts, it's not the strength of his game. He can do it, but he can't lean on it in difficult scenarios when projecting to the NFL. A player who lives and dies with jump-cuts and jump-stops is Adrian Peterson.
When you watch Peterson's game, you'll see a player who can still bring it as an NFL starter and succeeds off a steady diet of these dynamic cuts. While his long-speed is a thing of the past, Peterson's short-area explosion and range of movement at his age make him an absolute freak of nature.
And while it won't matter to most of you, I occasionally receive feedback from football geniuses who worshipped Saquon Barkley, Tevin Coleman, Bishop Sankey, C.J. Spiller, and Darren McFadden and believe I'm nitpicking a player's game and don't understand what these players were trying to do. I share this because if you wonder if Adrian Peterson would agree with this video if he watched it, you don't need to wonder.
Watching Peterson's play first is instructive for studying Swift because I fear that Swift is mimicking some of the moves Peterson uses. Jump cuts and jump stops are an embedded part of Peterson's game and he still has the acceleration, short-area explosion, power to win with them at a high level. This has never been Swift's game.
So as you watch Swift's performance against the Jaguars below, notice that Swift's best runs came with pressure cuts and moves where he doesn't hop or jump with any setup of movement, and his worst moments come when he's making moves commonly found in Peterson's toolbox.
Swift needs to be watching as much Dalvin Cook film as he can get his hands on because that's the player whose style he should be mimicking. He's not as explosive as Cook but Swift's movement is at its most explosive when he's executing moves in Cook's style of play.
Overall, Swift's film performance was not as resounding of a statement about his game as his box score may appear. Cautious fantasy players were likely using the Jaguars defense as a reason to remain skeptical, but what I'm sharing on tape is squarely on Swift.
What's the Bottom Line for 2020 Fantasy?
It's unlikely that Swift, as good of a worker as he is, will figure out that he has to abandon the Peterson-like affectations of his game during the 2020 season. If he does, and he begins pressing deeper into creases to set up his blocks and maximize cutback opportunities, Swift could emerge as a weekly fantasy starter.
We're going to operate on the presumption that he won't, which means Swift's best chance of production will come against defenses that A) Lack top athletes at linebacker and safety who can run and hit. B) Lacks gap discipline to maintain their assignments and not get fooled out of them.
The Lions play Atlanta in Week 7 and the Falcons have excellent run-and-hit defenders in Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Both players responded to the challenge from interim head coach Raheem Morris against the Vikings last week, helping to shut down what was a productive run game. Based on what I saw last week, Dalvin Cook wouldn't have made a difference—see No.9 of the Top 10 this week for video.
If Atlanta plays like it did last week, Swift won't have an encore of his Jacksonville performance. If it plays as it has before the Dan Quinn firing, Swift could have another strong week. I'm leaning towards Atlanta's defense maintaining its level of play against Minnesota.
Indianapolis, Minnesota, Green Bay, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay all have run-and-hit players who will challenge Swift's current style of play. That's half of the remaining fantasy seasons if you include playoff weeks.
The bright spots for Swift include Carolina, Houston, Chicago, and Washington. If you can keep Swift as a bye-week option for Weeks 10-13, he could help your lineups. If you're counting on him for weekly starter production, I'd hope for a strong game against Atlanta and then use him as trade bait to upgrade your lineup.
The only caveat to this statement is if you see Swift completely eliminate jump stops and jump cuts from his game against the Falcons and he has several runs of at least five yards to prove his consistency with this change. It's doubtful this happens.
Adrian Peterson is still playing good enough football and Swift has enough to learn that I would use the Jaguars game and hopefully the Atlanta matchup as an opportunity to deal Swift in re-draft leagues.
If not, Swift can still be helpful between Weeks 10-13.
In dynasty formats, Swift still has plenty of promise to develop into Detroit's lead back. He's a gym rat who used to get the key card to the practice field in Athens and workout after midnight. By the end of his Georgia career, many of his teammates had joined him.
I'm more optimistic that Swift will realize that he's not remotely Peterson and that he must take a completely different path to generate consistent success. Once he does, he'll be a reliable option for more weeks than not.