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Washington’s Montez Sweat is nearly a perfect NFL defensive end prospect

Retired defensive end Stephen White breaks down why the Mississippi State product will be one of the best players to come out of the 2019 draft.

Washington picked Montez Sweat 26th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, even trading up to do so, sending a pair of second-round picks to Indianapolis. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Sweat ahead of the draft:


That’s the sound I kept hearing in my head while I was watching Montez Sweat’s tape.

This dude’s acceleration after beating the blocker was just ... whew!

I’ll be honest, I’d never seen Shaquan Montez Sweat play a down of football before I watched him run that ridiculous-ass 4.41 at the NFL Combine at 6’6 and 260 pounds.

To say I was intrigued would be a massive understatement.

I do admit to being a bit worried that I’d ultimately be underwhelmed by his film, though. I mean, seriously, a man that size, who can run that fast? That might unconsciously make a man set his expectation level a little too high. Because, really, that size and speed combination in a “normal”-sized defensive lineman is fucking absurd!

Well, it turns out I was wrong. In fact, Sweat’s tape may have been even more impressive than his combine workout.

The funny thing, to me at least, is Sweat is what my rush defensive end Create-A-Player would look almost exactly like, both in stature and in the way he plays the game.

[Draft grades? Draft grades! Let’s grade the 2019 NFL Draft first round]

Sweat is quick — but his moves are what makes him tough to handle.

First of all, he has a great get-off which is something I value quite a bit. I don’t think we talk nearly enough about how important it is to be able to fly off the football without having to guess and get a bunch of flags for offsides penalties.

Even for power rushers, getting off the ball well usually gives them an advantage by putting immediate pressure on the offensive linemen. Once you have a guy bailing out of there you can really take advantage of them.

At Mississippi State, Sweat consistently came screaming off the ball like a world-class sprinter exploding out of the blocks. He was so fast at times that opposing offenses couldn’t even effectively run bootlegs or rollouts to his side.

Even when opponents tried to put a blocker over there for him, they just couldn’t account for how quickly he got up the field before the quarterback could outflank him.

And he was able to haul ass at the snap like that in all four games I watched without getting a single offsides penalty.

Secondly, Sweat used a rip move to great effect on a regular basis, which just warmed this old defensive lineman’s heart. I’m an unapologetic rip move enthusiast, and I will always prefer them to arm-overs when it comes to escaping off a block. That’s just my personal preference.

Well, this Sweat guy uses his rip move like a weapon. He knows how to really sink it in under the offensive tackle’s outside armpit. When he finishes that move you see he has his fist high in the air, which usually forces the blocker’s hands up off him.

His rip moves were violent, efficient, and effective, and he never got tired of using them. I loved the fact that he just kept wearing offensive linemen out with them all game for the four games that I watched.

I always encourage young pass rushers to have several moves in their arsenal, but you also need to have one or two go-to moves as well. And if an offensive lineman shows he can’t block your go-to move?

Don’t let that ass off the hook by trying something new. Just keep punishing them with it until they find a way to block it, if they ever do.

Well, it appears Sweat had a similar philosophy, because he did not take his foot off their necks in the games that I watched.

Another personally endearing part of Sweat’s game is how he mixes in some long-arm moves here and there, because that is my favorite power move ever.

And it’s no wonder that he is good at them since the guy does have arms that are almost 36 (!) inches long. But you’d be surprised how many college players should be using long-arm moves and never do. Thankfully, Sweat was not among them.

Sweat has an extra gear to get to the quarterback — and he won’t give up on a play.

Combined with all of the other traits that I’m partial to, Sweat’s functional strength was also impressive on tape. You can be as fast and as quick as you want to, but my prototype defensive end would be able to hold his own at the point of attack, too, and Sweat certainly fits that bill.

I know his bench press numbers from the combine weren’t overwhelming, but his tape says he is more than strong enough to me. Not only did I not see blockers getting the better of him, I was able to see him get push plenty of times in the backfield. So I’m not worry about how strong he is and you shouldn’t be, either.

In addition, I’d want my top defensive end prospects to employ sharp technique and be good with their hands when taking on blocks. I’d also want them to get full extension with their arms when they did take them on so that they could keep the blockers off of them. That puts them in position to more easily escape off of blocks so they can make plays.

Well, that’s once again, exactly what I saw on Sweat’s film. He held up well against base blocks by offensive tackles, and he did a nice job taking on tight ends and H backs as well. Although he didn’t have a ton of tackles in the four games that I watched, Sweat played the run really well and did a great job of setting the edge for the most part.

He was also physical as hell, especially when taking on pullers, so there are no concerns from me about whether he is some kind of “finesse” guy or something. Yeah, he is fast and athletic, but he is hard-nosed as well and I believe Sweat is going to be top-notch run defender as well as pass rusher once he gets to the league.

Lastly, Sweat’s aforementioned uncommon acceleration is another reason why I would consider him close to being perfect defensive end prospect for me. The fast 40 times are great and all that, but I care a lot more about how quickly a guy can cover the 7-10 yards it usually takes to get from the line of scrimmage to the quarterback. And I’m not talking about running in a straight line, either, because there is usually going to be someone standing between you and the quarterback trying to keep you from him.

With Sweat, not only does he have the moves to beat the offensive tackles, he also has that sixth gear that will allow him to convert a lot of his pass-rush wins into hurries or sacks.

In addition, Sweat showed an ability to turn on the jets after changing directions. Once he had an offensive tackle bailing to try deal with his get-off, he hit the brakes, swatted them on by, then hit the turbo button to get to the quarterback in a flash.

Yes folks, in addition to everything else, Sweat’s lateral movement is also outstanding. This kid has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to his physical gifts.

Oh, and he also hustles his ass off.

Sweat isn’t flawless, but he’ll be one of the best NFL players in this draft.

Now, I’ve been careful to describe him as defensive end prospect instead of edge rusher here, because for as athletic and fluid as Sweat looked with his hand in the dirt, the few times I saw him drop in coverage, he didn’t look all that comfortable to me.

He also had an issue when he tried to come up and make a tackle in space after dropping in coverage.

It wasn’t pretty.

I’m not saying he can’t get better at those things, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that he can. However, I’m just saying that there are no guarantees with that, and I don’t really think you want to have him doing a lot of dropping in the first place. I understand why some teams might want to make him into a rush linebacker where he is in coverage every so often. But I would much rather see him getting off the ball and upfield with his hand in the dirt on most plays, because that is what appears to come most naturally to him.

But hey, that’s just me.

I believe that if the team that drafts Sweat puts him in the best position to succeed, he will end up being a perennial double-digit sack guy from the edge. I also think he will eventually gain enough weight on his tall frame to be able to kick inside a little bit and wreak havoc from the B gaps, too. I haven’t even done 10 draft profiles yet, so I can’t say this for sure, but he looks to me like a guy who would be a top-10 pick in most drafts. Because of my personal preferences, I definitely wouldn’t have a problem drafting him that high.

No matter where he goes, however, barring injury, Montez Sweat is likely to be one of the best players to come out of this draft.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched former Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat play against Kentucky, Auburn, Ole Miss, and Iowa. Those represented the fourth, sixth, 12th, and 13th games on Mississippi State’s schedule last season, respectively.