FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas center Travis Swanson stayed away from the Internet, Twitter and any kind of social messaging in hopes of drowning out the non-stop draft talk throughout the past two months.
Swanson didn’t want to get caught up in where he might get selected. High, low, it didn’t matter. He simply wanted to find an NFL home over the three-day draft.
Swanson got his wish Friday night, when the Detroit Lions selected him with the 76th overall pick in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Texas native was the only Razorback pulled off the draft board in Friday night’s second- and third rounds.
Swanson, who was rated as a third- or fourth-round prospect heading into the draft, became the third center selected Friday. Colorado State’s Weston Richburg was taken in the second round by the New York Giants, while Southern California’s Marcus Martin was taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round with the 70th pick.
But the Lions were impressed by Swanson’s dependability in the SEC.
“He’s got a lot of starts against really good competition,” Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said Friday night. “That usually bodes well for guys early, gives those guys confidence when they get here, so that’s definitely a factor.”
Swanson was a constant on Arkansas’ offensive line throughout his career, starting every game since his freshman season (50 consecutive starts). He also was a two-time captain for the Razorbacks, who especially served as a key figure in Arkansas’ first season under coach Bret Bielema.
Swanson may not be asked to start right away in Detroit. The Lions have a veteran center in Dominic Raiola, who is 35 years old. Mayhew also said Swanson can bring flexibility to the Lions with the ability to play guard as well.
“The biggest thing I will focus on is to learn as much as I can,” Swanson said in a conference call with reporters in Detroit after being selected. “I want to contribute whether that’s at center or guard. I am just going to come into work every single day and I know if I do that each day then it will take care of itself.”
Swanson’s position coach in Detroit will be former Razorback Jeremiah Washburn.
“I’m excited to get an Arkansas guy in here,” Washburn said. “For us, he fits the profile of the guys we want in our room. Experience, tough, smart, versatile. He had all those qualities, so we’re really excited to get him.”
It was the fourth straight year Arkansas has had a player selected in the third round, following Ryan Mallett (2011), Jake Bequette (2012) and Knile Davis (2013). The Razorbacks were hoping to add one more, but defensive end Chris Smith was not among the first 100 players selected over the first two days of the draft.
Smith – who said before the draft he was hoping to be selected between the second and fourth rounds — is expected to be pulled off the board soon.
“I’m just ready for the whole process to get over with,” Smith said before the draft. “I’m ready to get going and get back on the field.”
Several other former Razorbacks are waiting for good news today as well, whether it’s through the draft or free agent agreements shortly after the seventh round ends.
Place kicker Zach Hocker, fullback Kiero Small, defensive tackles Robert Thomas and Byran Jones, and wide receivers Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon are among the group waiting. Hocker said it would be “incredible” if he were selected tonight, but knows that place kickers aren’t often selected in the seven-round draft.
“Anyone who is trying to make the league would love to get drafted,” Hocker said in a text message Thursday night. “But you have to understand the reality of it, it’s all a business and based on opportunity. If you make the most of that opportunity someone is going to notice and you could possibly make a team. … Even talking about getting a chance to play in the NFL, drafted or free agent, is a blessing in itself. Lord willing, if I get that opportunity, I want to make the most of it.”
Hocker said he worked out for four teams since Arkansas’ pro day and felt it went well. Bielema said before the draft he believed Hocker — who is the school’s all-time leader in points scored — is talented enough to be selected today.
“I think he’s a guy that could potentially get drafted because some special teams coordinator convinces somebody that this is a kid that can kick in the NFL for a long period of time and see exactly what he can do,” Bielema said.
Bielema also said there had been plenty of late interest in Small, who plays a position that isn’t utilized as much by NFL. But he said Small has had four or five individual workouts with teams leading up to the draft.
“My hope and prayer is that he goes to a team that truly uses his skills,” said Bielema, who added Small will contribute on special teams in the NFL. “Not somebody that is just trying to draft the next best person on the board. I think that it’s got to be somebody that really truly wants a fullback and can engage him.”