The flow in the draft tube cone of Francis turbines operated at partial discharge is a complex hydrodynamic phenomenon where an incoming steady axisymmetric swirling flow evolves into a three-dimensional unsteady flow field with precessing helical vortex (also called vortex rope) and associated pressure fluctuations. The paper addresses the following fundamental question: is it possible to compute the circumferentially averaged flow field induced by the precessing vortex rope by using an axisymmetric turbulent swirling flow model? In other words, instead of averaging the measured or computed 3D velocity and pressure fields we would like to solve directly the circumferentially averaged governing equations. As a result, one could use a 2D axi-symmetric model instead of the full 3D flow simulation, with huge savings in both computing time and resources. In order to answer this question we first compute the axisymmetric turbulent swirling flow using available solvers in commercial codes for the Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) equations in cylindrical coordinates with vanishing circumferential derivatives. Second, we modify the above solver by introducing a stagnant region model (SRM), essentially enforcing a unidirectional circumferentially averaged meridian flow as suggested by the experimental data. Numerical results obtained with both models are compared against measured axial and circumferential velocity profiles, as well as for the vortex rope location. Although the circumferentially averaged flow field cannot capture the unsteadiness of the 3D flow, it can be reliably used for further stability analysis, as well as for assessing and optimizing various techniques to stabilize the flow. In particular, the methodology presented and validated in this paper is particularly useful in optimizing the blade design in order to reduce the stagnant region extent, thus mitigating the vortex rope and extending the operating range for Francis turbines.