The 2020 NFL Draft went about as smooth as one could’ve hoped for under he circumstances. The pre-draft process, on the other hand, had no other choice but to be nixed entirely after the NFL combine.
Former Dartmouth cornerback Isiah Swann, like most Ivy League players, was not invited to the combine. Pro days and team visits are vital to lesser-known prospects like Swann, but aside from an unofficial workout and an East-West Shrine game appearance, the program’s all-time leader in interceptions stuck to the virtual game plan like everyone else in his shoes.
“I think [the lack of opportunities to perform in front of teams] definitely hurt,” Swann told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “With all this corona stuff happening the small-school guys kind of got overlooked. I think only (nine) of them got drafted. Not a lot got picked up (in college free agency). Nobody is doing the mini-camp tryouts. I’m just grateful for the invite to get a shot and prove them right.”
Swann’s biggest opportunity was to show off during the Shrine game, but that can only do so much when teams can’t have you come in for a visit. In-person workouts and pro days are avenues for teams to shore up any athleticism questions and things of that nature. Teams were obviously left to rely on the tape and virtual chats (which were limited). Some players went out of their way to try and get themselves out there more with mock pro days as well, which Swann tried his hand at.
”I don’t know how much credibility it gets. I figured I might as well do everything I could,” Swann said. “We sent the numbers out to the teams to see what happens.”
It is really impossible to tell how much teams took those numbers into account, but it really illustrates just how much this process really hurt players like Swann. He had nine interceptions for the Big Green in 2018 on his way to being Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. It really confirmed that he understood how to anticipate what the offense was trying to do, which was something his coaches were quick to note.
The biggest thing that held Swann back from being drafted was athletic ability. Teams weren’t sure if they were getting a guy who could keep up with the speed of the NFL. A mock pro day is nice, but most teams want to be able to time players themselves.
Swann understands how smaller programs are viewed, though, and he is ready to try and show people he is better than that.
“I get it,” Swann said. “I know the image of the Ivy League when it comes to athletics. FCS. Small schools. Business schools. I know the stereotypes. That’s fine. I’m out to prove what I’m about.”
Swann is looking at an uphill battle to make this team. The Bengals added Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in free agency to go along with incumbents William Jackson III, Darius Phillips, Tony Brown, Greg Mabin and Torry McTyer to round out the position group. One thing working in Swann’s favor is the technical expansion to a 55-man roster, but that is really just allowing two people from your practice squad to be temporarily activated. That is where he could end up being valuable though.
No one should hold their breath on Swann winning a spot on the 53-man roster outright. However, if he makes the practice squad he could be temporarily activated to the active roster in the case of an injury to another corner or special teams player. Special teams is what decides more of the last few roster spots than anything, so Swann proving he can have value there will go a very long way.
Swann is looking to make the most of this opportunity. He wasn’t able to put his best foot forward during this pre-draft process, but it is all about where you end up. Hopefully he is able to prove he was worthy of being drafted.