Over the last several weeks, NFL Draft prospects have been poked, prodded, and interviewed by evaluators across the country. Each player entering the NFL Draft has some sort of measurable data now on record, and if they don’t, then they will by the end of their Pro Day. Physical attributes such as weight or arm length carry more value to some positions than others. The same can be said of the timed drills, such as the 40-yard dash or the three-cone drill. While film rules all, these data allow evaluators to paint a picture of the athlete. With an athletic profile created, general managers and personnel can now interpret and project that player into their coaches’ offensive or defensive system.
General Manager Brandon Beane and Assistant General Manager Joe Schoen have a ton of experience scouting college and pro players. Beane helped GM Dave Gettleman from 2013-2017 to construct the Panthers’ draft boards. Schoen helped evaluate players for the Dolphins in 2013, where he served as the director of college scouting, then in 2014-217 as the director of player personnel. So while neither front office executive was making the decisions, their roles were critical to their general managers’ overall philosophy when it came to college and pro players.
Cover 1’s Fernando Schmude and I rounded up all of the players that these three men have helped sign or draft and generated the athletic profiles that they tend to look for. This will possibly help us narrow down targets that the Bills may be looking at ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft. Today, we are going to analyze and interpret the edge rusher position. Based on the front office’s history, we found averages across all measurements. Defensive end isn’t an immediate need but will be soon after this coming season. I used the average measurements of past Beane, Schoen, and Director of Player Personnel Dan Morgan signings and picks in the following three drills to narrow down the targets. The averages are as follows: a forty-yard dash time of 4.79 or better; an arm length of 32.5 inches or better; a 20-yard short shuttle time of 4.45 seconds or better; a weight of 248 pounds or heavier.
With the data sorted, defensive end Montez Sweat was one of the high profile targets that stood out. He wears #9 in all of the following clips.
Every year, there’s one player that dominates the pre-draft process; the 2019 installment is led by Montez Sweat. Sweat dominated the Senior Bowl and the Combine and vaulted his name into top-ten talk. But should he have already been in that conversation? I believe so. After all, given his size and domination in the country’s most difficult conference the SEC, why wouldn’t he be?
Sweat would be a great fit in the Bills’ defense because he has the length and power to play as a base defensive end from multiple alignments. Whether he is at the point of attack or away from it, he has the ability to disengage and make the tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Sweat was the number one run defender in the country, registering a 12.7 run stop percentage.
Defensive ends in the Bills’ scheme are typically bigger because the staff wants them to be able to hold the point of attack or set the edge versus the run — you know, do their 1/11th. Sweat has no issues setting the edge here, and it forces RB Alex Barnes to cut it up inside. That’s why arm length is a key trait for defensive ends in the Bills’ scheme; they must be able to control lineman.
But I would like to see him show more physicality against the run. He’s not the type of defender that is going to go kamikaze and blow up two guards coming to block play-side. Instead, he likes to use his 35.75-inch arms and athleticism to beat blocks and make tackles. We see that here against Florida. Rather than getting to the heels of the offensive linemen and meeting force with force, Sweat drives upfield 1-2 yards past and makes the guard come to him. Then uses the extra space and momentum by the attempted kick-out block to be the catalyst for his technique of disengaging. He is catapulted into the hole and makes the tackle on the running back. The problem with going that route is that it leaves a wider hole and gives the back an opportunity to gain a couple of yards. He made the tackle, but it’s plays like these that led to Sweat averaging 2.0 yards in the depth of his tackles.
But when you look at Sweat’s explosive numbers from the Combine, such as his 36″ vertical jump or 125″ broad jump, you know the Bills’ front office and coaching staff must be chomping at the bit to get him on the roster. After all, they are guys who helped sign or draft Mario Williams, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Charles Harris, and Frank Clark. His explosiveness and speed set up his entire game. He can routinely threaten a tackle’s kick-slide with speed rushes up the field. Once the tackle loses the half-man relationship, Sweat can hit the corner, bend, and flatten to the QB. The line from the apex to the QB doesn’t even have to be flat; his tackle radius is so big that he can still wrap up a QB who tries to climb the pocket.
The Stone Mountain, Georgia native can cover so much ground in the blink of an eye. Here you will see Sweat process run to pass, then take two giant strides to speed past the block of TJ Hockenson. Sweat has the corner, so he rips through the block with his near arm and uses his left hand to prevent a throw by the QB.
Sweat loves to throw in shoulder shakes and jukes while rushing wide, and sometimes he will catch tackles flatfooted. That’s when he will transition to power to soften the edge, rip to keep his frame clean, and use his length to get a piece of the ball at the release point.
As Bills defensive end Trent Murphy said when he was signed, “At the end of the day, you kind of have to beat hands and get down the edges of guys,” and Sweat shows us what Murphy means. He uses a speed rush upfield, but right tackle Dalton Risner punches out. With Risner in decent shape, Sweat now has to beat Risner’s hands. He does that by unlocking the wrist and ripping through.
Putting him in a wide alignment with his speed and length can be a tackle’s nightmare. On the snap, you see Greg Little angle set to close the distance, but Sweat quickly creates distance with a two-handed shove, transitions to a long arm, then slaps down Little’s outside hand to finally beat down the edge. It’s flashes like this that helped Sweat rank 9th overall among all edges in PFF’s pass rush productivity statistic.
After several speed reps upfield, Sweat is able to get tackles like Jawaan Taylor to overcompensate in their kick-slides, which will routinely open up inside lanes. Just look at the plant and drive to the rim by Sweat. The explosiveness forces a hold.
Sweat doesn’t just get into the heads of offensive linemen; the quarterback can often be seen checking his rush. Sweat again darts inside and causes a pressure, which leads to an interception.
Where Sweat needs to improve is in his pass rush plan, counters, and hand usage. These skills will drastically improve with daily coaching at the next level, and that’s when he will become a force.
Sweat’s the type of player that has gotten away with being more athletic than others, so he routinely would use the same moves and get away with it. When good linemen matched his athleticism with their kick-slides, he rarely had a counter.
On Sundays, he will struggle to win 1-on-1 matchups and affect the quarterback if he is trying to juke his way past linemen. They will simply remain patient, mirror, and lock him up.
The former high school tight end tested as one of the top athletes ever. He posted a 9.88 RAS, per Kent Platte, and ranked second in SPARQ among edge defenders in this class.
So it was no surprise that he fit the Bills’ archetype. Let’s be honest, he probably fits every team’s archetype, given his measurables. But what is so exciting about Sweat the prospect is that he dominated the SEC and still has room to grow. Think about this: Sweat got a hit on the QB, AKA he was in striking distance, 43 times (QB sacks + QB hits) in two years of play. His natural gifts will help him be a good player early on his career, but as he augments his pass rush plans and hand usage, it will unlock a different level of play. Sweat’s God-given talent gave his defensive coordinator a ton of flexibility, and more importantly, it gave Sweat the ability to create.
That’s why I have Sweat graded as a first-round talent and one of the better players in this draft. I don’t believe the reported heart condition at the Combine will affect his draft status. If Sweat is on the board at nine, I think the Bills will run to the podium to announce the selection. You can bet Head Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane are enamored with this kid’s talent and potential.