SEATTLE, WA - During his first three seasons as a Florida Gator, Seahawks sixth-round pick Freddie Swain had to scratch and claw for snaps on offense on a depth chart running nine or 10 players deep.
Limited to special teams duty as a return specialist, the Ocala, Florida native caught just 30 passes in his first 35 college games. Despite those limited chances, however, he scored eight touchdowns in that span, including five in 2018, opening the door for him to enjoy a breakout senior season.
When asked about what clicked for him closing out his college career, Swain told reporters, “Just the roles that coach [Dan] Mullen and coach Billy G. [Gonzalez] asked me to do. I was outside at first, and they moved me inside to where I can show my quickness against other people. I think it was just the role they had me change to.”
Proving himself a capable receiver against stout SEC competition, Swain's steady improvements as a junior paved the way for a far more significant role as a senior and he took full advantage. Catching a career-best 38 passes for 517 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns, the former All-State talent found a home in the slot, becoming one of the team's most reliable targets.
Rather than gloat about his personal accomplishments, Swain owes his newfound success to his teammates who never complained about the number of touches they received and simply wanted to win football games.
“I think just trusting the process and not ever getting down and keeping that chip on my shoulder," Swain said. "We came in my senior year, and we had 8 or 9 different guys that can actually play or could go somewhere else and actually start. We just came in and guys are unselfish. Whenever the ball came, we just made plays on it. We’re just happy for each other. I think that right there is the bond that we had as a unit and as a team."
The consummate team player, Swain never worried about how often he had the ball in his hands. But when he did get chances to make an impact, he found ways to help his football team, particularly on special teams.
Though his opportunities to see the field were few and far between his first few years on campus, Swain emerged as a dangerous return specialist during his junior season. He returned 22 punts for 224 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown.
Set to begin his NFL career in Seattle, just as he did in Gainesville, Swain understands his best path to the field early may be in the important third phase of the game.
“I think it will have a big impact for me at the next level. I just have to come in and compete and special teams will get me a step further on the field, besides offense. Just come in and catch the ball and don’t put the ball on the ground and get it back for the offense.”
For the past couple of seasons, the Seahawks have been seeking a replacement for Tyler Lockett as a returner to ease his workload. Lauding his study habits and high football IQ coupled with his 4.46 40-yard dash speed, general manager John Schneider believes Swain may be the right candidate to help make that goal a reality.
“First and foremost, he’s a really, really tough-minded individual," Schneider assessed. "Tons of grit, very instinctive. He’s played outside, he’s played inside, he’s a very good punt returner. I would say from a special teams standpoint, he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be in the mix right away. He's just got a great attitude about him."
As a receiver, Swain will face stiff competition for one of the final roster spots in the form of 2019 seventh-round pick John Ursua and fellow 2020 selection Stephen Sullivan. In front of him, the Seahawks already have Lockett, DK Metcalf, Phillip Dorsett, and David Moore, making it a crowded group.
Building off his strong senior season, Swain isn't intimidated by the competition. Instead, he believes the energy and passion he plays with will allow him to fit in seamlessly and he's ready to battle for reps in the slot or on the outside, regardless of where the team tries to play him.
"It’s motivating. For somebody like me, I like challenges. I like being the underdog, so anytime I can compete with a great group of guys, I feel like would fit in well and it just brings the intensity in the room up.”
While it's unclear when the 2020 NFL season will begin - or when teams will allowed to gather for on-field activities, for that matter - Swain will put in his time preparing to do whatever the Seahawks ask of him. And like the rest of this year's draft class, Schneider has no doubts he will be ahead of the curve, ready to go whenever the time comes.
"He’s got some swag about him, he’s a smart football player, he’s a competitor. He’s going to be a fun guy to watch and we’re very excited."