No rookie in the NFL this year has a steeper learning curve to climb than Erik Swoope, who has never—not in college, high school or any other level—played organized football. Yet despite the tall task that stands in front of him—trying to make a roster at the highest level of a sport he has no experience playing—he has already managed to make positive impressions in offseason workouts.
By signing Swoope to their 90-man preseason roster, the Indianapolis Colts took a low-risk flier on an intriguing athlete in hopes that he can become the next player to make the transition from college basketball standout to NFL tight end.
A 6’5” tight end with impressive vertical ability, Swoope has the physical traits that teams covet at his position, but none of that matters if he can’t translate them to the football field.
Thus far, his rapid progress has impressed Colts decision-makers, including coach Chuck Pagano, according to Kevin Bowen of Colts.com.
"To be able to just break a huddle, get in a stance, run the routes that he ran, catch the balls that he caught, I mean, off the charts, exceeded our expectations way beyond anything that you’d ever imagine for a guy that never played," Pagano said of the rookie.
According to NFL Media’s Judy Battista, general manager Ryan Grigson said Swoope's early performance has quelled concerns that he would look like a “fish out of water."
"His burst, his body control, the way he caught the football were all really, really good signs," Grigson said. "You saw raw athletic ability. He's very mature, very businesslike. He was already a pro and he never played. He's wise beyond his years."
Despite his strong start, it’s a huge stretch to expect that he’ll be able to emulate Jimmy Graham, who has become one of the NFL’s elite tight ends but, like Swoope, was a basketball player at the University of Miami before turning his attention to the gridiron.
Listed at just 220 pounds by NFL.com, Swoope is smaller than the archetypal NFL tight end. Looking good in an unpadded practice does not mean that he’ll be able to contribute in a full-contact game against the best football players in the world. Even so, hope is rising in Indianapolis that the Colts just be able to harvest him into a gem.