The NFL combine is a great place for prospects to improve their draft stock and for one Montez Sweat, that’s exactly what he did. He dropped jaws when he set the record in the 40 yard dash for defensive lineman with a 4.41 official time. I feel like experts can oogle at 40 times a little too much and that causes them to lose objectivity in the moment of the combine. The most important time when it comes to defensive lineman is the ten yard split and that’s where he wowed me. His split was 1.55 which is lightning acceleration and proof that his first step is elite. That’s what I took away from his combine that his tape didn’t always show.
Sweat has truly great length, burst, and works with his hands in an elite way to fight off lineman and make plays in the run and pass game. Looking at edge defenders, it’s more important than ever to not look at sacks and take that as an answer for him being a great DE/OLB in the NFL. Sweat totaled 23 sacks in his two seasons at Mississippi State. He found his rhythm near the midpoint of his first season at Miss St and carried it into his final year, but then it trailed off toward the end against better competition. He’s projecting as a 4-3 defensive end and that would fit perfectly with what the Chiefs need in this draft.
Among the things Sweat does well, quite a few of them come against the run. His first step allows him to surprise offensive lineman and get into gaps and running lanes quickly. His length allows him to keep lineman at a distance and throw them off when a running back comes his way. But his gap shooting is very fun to watch.
Sweat takes one step to the outside of the formation and then uses it to thrust himself into the running lane, confusing the tackle in front of him. In the process he gets too far up field but his length makes up for this error. He is able to lung back to the running back and wraps him up with his huge wingspan, recording the tackle for short gain.
Not only can Sweat avoid blocks, but he has the strength to lock up with lineman and move when he needs to. Gap shooting is important in an aggressive defense and it could potentially help him hone his pass rushing in the NFL; make it more consistent. But his ability in the run game is why he should be on the Chiefs radar in the first round of the draft. It doesn’t take a genius to know the run defense was abysmal and Sweat could help improve that.
Sweat clearly has blazing speed, and that helps him close the gaps between himself and the quarterback, which not only can get him sacks but it also speeds up a quarterback’s internal clock which can benefit the defense more than sacks.
Sweat uses his length to push the offensive lineman off his spot initially,this allows him do what he wants to with the tackle. Being off balance doesn’t bode well for lineman, and Sweat uses it to his advantage. He doesn’t have great or even good bend as an edge rusher, but pushing the tackle around allows him to use his speed to get around and find a path to the quarterback. He takes too long to throw the ball and Sweat forces an incompletion, next time it could be a fumble or an interception depending on when he gets to the quarterback.
There is one caveat with Sweat, he has little no bend and doesn’t show well with having to change direction. He’s never going to be a 3-4 OLB because his hips are stiff and can’t cover at all. The coverage isn’t an issue for the Chiefs because they are finally switching to a 4-3 defense. But here’s what I mean about the bend.
You can see how explosive Sweat’s first step is on this clip, he gets to the tackle almost immediately and the impressiveness expires just as quickly. He tries to dip under the tackle but his flexibility prevents this from being a clean movement and he gets stuck with his shoulders all wonky. You can see him trying to keep his balance with his off hand because the tackle knows Sweat is stuck and just has to keep pushing him and Sweat can’t shed the block.
This is the biggest issue for me, his inflexibility in his hips makes him easy to read if he goes outside the tackle to try getting around a block. He can sometimes rely too much on his speed to get around corners which results in him getting run out of the play. Now, he has a few good pass rush counters like push/pull and rip/slap moves that he’s developed and found success with. He needs to refine his outside moves, but his speed should help that along.
I wasn’t overly impressed with Sweat’s film; in big games I felt he disappeared a little too much in the pass rush game. In the Bowl game against Iowa he played basically the whole game and had one tackle to show for it. Iowa is known for running the football, as most Big Ten teams have been in the past, and they have a big offensive line. He didn’t rise to the challenge and it showed. I’m not saying he isn’t a first round talent, if he should slide to the Chiefs that would likely be a result of his heart condition, although he was allowed to participate in the combine drills without limitations.
Sweat would certainly help the Chiefs in the run game and could be an asset to new defensive line coach Brendan Daley. If anyone could coach him up, Daley can do it and I would like to see Sweat a Chief, just wouldn’t trade up too high for him. If he were to fall in the range of six to seven picks from the Chiefs I would get behind that move.