ATHENS — Kirby Smart knows his players like few other coaches, and the 44-year-old Georgia head coach knew a phone call to D’Andre Swift was in order late Thursday night.
Swift, who carried the Bulldogs to a third-straight SEC East Division title and top-five ranking last season, was disappointed to be left out of the 2020 NFL Draft first round.
“I reached out to him immediately when he didn’t get picked and the back from LSU *Clyde Edwards-Helaire) went in his place,” Smart said Friday on the Paul Finebaum Show.
Swift had been almost universally projected as the No. 1 running back in the 2020 NFL Draft class.
When Edwards-Helaire was picked by Kansas City with the final pick of the first round, it was a gut punch for Swift. Particularly after all the hype surround Swift this week in his hometown of Philadelphia.
On Friday night, the Detroit Lions made Swift their first pick of the second round, choosing him with the 35th overall pick.
Smart knew that could happen, but he knew the night earlier his former star running back needed to hear from him.
“Your heart goes out to him because he’s such a great kid,” Smart explained. “He led our team, he led our program. He stayed for the bowl game injured and wanted to be a captain.”
Swift was the No. 35 overall pick, going in the same precise slot in the NFL Draft as Nick Chubb in the 2018 NFL Draft two years ago.
“Somebody is going to get the steal of the draft because D’Andre Swift has so much talent,” Smart said a few hours before the Lions jumped on the opportunity to land the potential franchise back.
“I think Nick (Chubb) reached out to him, because he, too, was an early second-round pick, and that looks like what D’Andre is probably going to be.”
Swift joins a franchise in need of a spark in the running game. The Lions haven’t finished in the top half of the NFL in rushing since hall-of-famer Barry Sanders retired 21 years ago.
Former UGA quarterback Matt Stafford and Auburn tailback Kerryon Johnson are in the same backfield.
Swift will give them another young leadership presence in the locker room.
Swift stepped up last season at Georgia, becoming the voice of the team the second half of the season.
A shoulder injury limited Swift against LSU and Baylor, but Swift explained he felt the need to be there for this team at the Sugar Bowl while others skipped the event or found themselves dealing with suspensions.
Swift possesses a rare blend of power and cut-back ability, in addition to his excellent route-running skills and accomplished blocking in pass protection.
“He impacted our program in so many ways outside of football,” Smart said. “Did everything right.”
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