After a crazy and exciting 3 days of the NFL draft or what I like to call “Christmas in April”, all the selections are in and teams have revamped their teams with loads of young talent.
There were plenty of noteworthy surprises and things that left us all scratching our heads. And also things that left fans and everyone alike anxiously waiting for the start of the 2019 season.
Whether it was Daniel Jones going No.6 overall to the Giants or Dwayne Haskins falling to No.15 overall to the Redskins, there were a number of selections that transpired that have anyone who follows the game, talking.
One of the biggest surprises was Montez Sweat dropping as far as he did.
A misdiagnosed heart condition and character concerns from his days at Michigan State that led to his departure might be some of the reasons for this drop.
Sweat was my No.3 edge rusher in this class, beating out Clelin Ferrell just by the hair of his chin. Ferrell has a higher floor and will be more productive out of the gate due to his more refined playing style and pass rush approach, but Sweat could eventually be one of the best players—if not the best—in this 2019 draft class and has an unlimited ceiling.
The key word in that, however, is “could”.
Sweat lit up the SEC and college football during the last two years with 22 career sacks—11.5 as a senior and 10.5 as a junior—and added many postseason accolades to his name. Sweat earned this production while still being considerably raw, lacking any consistent inside counter or power move in his arsenal and no understanding of pass protection schemes.
Considering that he’s winning on athletic ability and his 6’6″, 260-pound frame still has room to add muscle, Sweat’s best football is still ahead of him. Let’s examine what makes Sweat so promising and what he must address to reach his potential.
In addition to testing out of the gym at the Combine, running the fastest 40-yard dash for a defensive lineman, ever, there are countless players who look like Tarzan in February and play like Jane in September. Work ethic, competitive fire, intelligence, and an overall blue-collar attitude can make a mediocre or average athlete a solid NFL player that lasts longer than the “freak of nature” athletes that enter the league every year.
Sweat has both the athletic skill and worker bee mentality in his favor. While a freak athlete blessed with exceptional length (36″ arms), size, and burst, he’s a damn good football player who maximizes every ounce of his God-given tools within the 53′ x 110′ white lines of a football field with effort.
Sweat is a freak and it shows up consistently on tape.
When getting cut blocked, most players either get absorbed by the block or defeat the cut but lack the body control or athleticism to stay upright. Against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, Sweat defeats the cut block, remains upright, spins towards the ballcarrier and pursues down the lin to the football.
He’s athletic enough to play the SAM linebacker spot that Preston Smith occupied for the last few seasons in Greg Manusky’s base 3-4 defense. Because the NFL is so oriented to 11 and 12 (1 RB, 1TE/ 1 RB, or 1 RB/2 TE), most teams are in subpackage defenses (Nickel, dime, etc. ) more than half the time. It will allow Sweat to play a true defensive end spot in these subpackage looks.
Good news because it’s Sweat’s best spot.
Sweat has exceptional burst off the football. Exceedingly twitchy, especially for someone at his dimensions, note how fast he comes off the ball in these three clips.
(Sweat is at the bottom of the screen in all three examples.)
With long, explosive strides, Sweat eats up ground and consistently wins the edge. He overwhelmed most of the tackles he went against this year.
This suddenness off the snap allows him to clear the offensive tackle’s hip and beat them to their point. Offensive tackles have difficulty setting in a balanced stance and they immediately lose their base. They also are forced to open their shoulders–opening the gate too early–and it allows Sweat to get his long arms extended into an off-balanced target and corner the edge into the quarterback’s lap.
This combo of elite burst and length could lead to a potentially devastating inside counter and power move once he adds some weight to the lower and upper half of his frame and when learns to convert speed to power properly.
Sweat does a solid job of getting his long arms extended and locking out tackles. He uses his length to stack and set the edge at the point of attack and sheds or cleans up once the ball carrier has committed.
Here he is at the top of the screen against No.11 overall pick, Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams.
Once he gets into an NFL strength and conditioning program, he could become a dominant run defender as he adds some weight and strength to his length.
This probably my favorite aspect of his game. As opposed some players with his rare, freakish physical gifts, Sweat plays his ass off on every snap.
Whenever watching his tape, there were rare instances (if any at all) where Sweat wasn’t running hard, pursuing with intensity, and giving maximum effort, regardless of the situation.
These are just a few clips of many that show his relentlessness when he steps between the white lines. His effort will ultimately lead to keys plays for his team because he plays to the echo of the whistle.
Flashes of Pop In His Hands
Although it doesn’t show up as often as you’d like to see, there are instances where the pop in Sweat’s hands jumps off the screen.
Here is a clip against Dalton Risner, the Broncos’ second-round pick and I believe a future Pro Bowl offensive lineman. Risner is outstanding at anchoring against power as both a run and pass blocker.
However, Sweat maximizes his length, shoots his hands instead of placing them, and uncoils his hip underneath the frame of Risner. As a result, Sweat bench presses a great player directly onto his back–ultimately foiling what should have been a huge play for running back Alex Barnes.
Flashes of Three-Dimensional Pass Rushing
A great speed rusher, Sweat lacks a go-to inside counter or power move. He also doesn’t convert and transition from speed to power. However, there are times on tape that Sweat flashes a repertoire of moves beyond a dominant speed rush.
Once again facing Risner, Sweat uses a crafty post/club/rip move to get home.
He also has a crafty hesitation move where he jabs inside to stop the tackles feet and then explodes out of the jab-step to the outside.
Inside Counter/Power Move Needed
While Sweat was highly productive at Mississippi State, he was generally a one-dimensional pass rusher leaning on his speed rush. Too many times on tape do you see Sweat not transition from speed to power and run around the quarterback (bottom of the screen).
Too often, Sweat gets widened if his initial speed rush doesn’t work, and it creates a huge step-up lane for the quarterback. Now, I know there is a called pressure on this play and we should remain aware that rush-lane integrity is important. However, after Sweat notices that he’s getting past the depth of Tua, he must counter back inside to close the distance and work back to the heel line of the passer.
A spin move could have worked here due to the wide horizontal set from the right tackle. Reggie White’s “hump” move could have also earned the desired result.
Note how active No.5 is at the top of the screen. He’s “rocked” or one-on-one and has more freedom than Sweat in terms of the inside move. Still, look how, after his initial move doesn’t work, he notices that he’s passing the depth of the quarterback and immediately counters back inside. This decision leads to the sack.
Sweat MUST learn to do this or he will never reach his potential as a pass rusher.
Sweat also struggles with consistently maintaining a solid pad level. Instead of firing out of his stance low and out, he sometimes comes out of high and loses his base. Opponents drive him to the ground when this happens. This play against Iowa as a great example.
Against Ole Miss, Sweat tries to get underneath this TE/H-back and “wrong-arms” the puller. This leads the run to spill to the scraping linebacker who does his job well. However, Sweat tries to do this at 6’6″ instead of sinking his shoulder tips and playing low. Instead, he stops his feet and he’s pinballed around.
He must learn to play with lower leverage, especially until he gains another 15+ pounds. Winning the leverage battle will help Sweat set edges and anchor his gap the way that a 6’6″, end with 36-inch arms should.
Hand Strike/Lack of Consistent Pop
While he uses his hands well, he doesn’t consistently show the pop he flashes on tape. He places his hands into the frames of tackles and it causes him to get punched off the snap at times.
Here’s Sweat trying to place his hands on the breastplate of the tackle instead of striking violently and locking out. Because the tackle Willis has a nasty punch off the snap, Sweat gets launched off the point and it opens a huge crease for Josh Jacobs:
The last issue with Montez Sweat’s game is that his frame and strength through his upper and lower half are lacking. He played this season at a listed weight of 245 pounds—and it frequently showed.
While it’s a great play and Sweat does everything perfectly to earn the angle on Najee Harris. However, the 235-pound Harris takes Sweat for a ride. The initial contact is at the 31 yard-line and Harris takes Sweat another five yards.
Sweat lacks the strength in his lower half to handle Harris—and most lead backs in the NFL have this kind of size and strength.
Sweat can build on his strengths. He should have no problem fine-tuning his rush approach and acquire a go-to inside counter and power move as he adds weight and strength to his frame. If he does these things, Sweat has the upside to have a career similar to Julius Peppers—a defender who earned numerous trips to the Pro Bowl because of his consistent skill for sacking the quarterback and making tackles for loss.
Editor’s Note: Prior to a career-ending injury, Block was once the top-rated outside linebacker-defensive end prospect in the state of Colorado. Block currently scouts for the Blue-Gray All-American game and writes for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio while pursuing his degree. You can follow him on Twitter @JacksonBlock17
For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.
Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 each. You can pre-order the 2019 RSP now through December 28 and get a 10 percent discount.