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2018 NFL Draft: Josh Sweat

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Evaluating one of the highest upside players in the 2018 draft.

NCAA Football: Delaware State at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Sweat arrived on Florida State’s campus as a 5-star recruit who was at one point considered the best high school prospect in the country. However all that almost ended abruptly when he suffered a grotesque dislocated knee while playing for Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. As one of the best high school players in the country Sweat never came off the field for Oscar Smith, playing offense, defense, and special teams. It was on a special teams play — an extra point attempt no less — that his career almost ended.

Perhaps the most telling stories from Sweat’s off the field background come from his reaction to that injury. In addition to his doctor’s rehab plan, he researched additional workouts to help speed his recovery. Sweat also remained a part of the football team, sitting with his teammates on the sidelines during games. He somehow managed to recover fast enough to push his way in to the Seminoles’ starting lineup during his freshman year the following fall. Something he has now admitted may have been a mistake due to the lingering issues he’s faced with the knee since.

A torn meniscus slowed him slightly during his sophomore campaign, but he still managed to collect 7 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss as part of a dominant Florida State front. His final season in Tallahassee was a bit of a let down for both the team overall and Sweat individually from a statistical standpoint. FSU finished just 7-6 and Sweat managed just 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. However, he’s still been viewed as a likely day 2 pick and his massive combine performance — more on that later — could even push him in to round 1.

The Titans have shown some interest in Sweat and plan to host him as one of their 30 official pre-draft team visits as you can hear from the man himself in the video below from his pro day at FSU.

During the video Sweat spends a lot of time talking about his relief at finally getting his knee brace off. He had practiced and played with the brace for his entire three year college career — a side effect of him rushing to get on the field for the Seminoles as a true freshman — and he feels much more comfortable now that he’s training with it off. Florida State really should have redshirted him in 2015 to allow his knee to recover properly. If they had done so, they likely would have gotten an even more productive player than the one they got in 2016 and 2017.

Sweat is generally described as a quiet guy, but he grew as a leader during his time at Florida State. he and Derwin James — among other FSU players — were caught loafing as they expected a teammate to make a tackle late in a close game against North Carolina. The wide receiver broke the tackle and took it the rest of the way for the touchdown as UNC went on to win 37-35.

That play stuck with Sweat and he spent last spring working on the practice field to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“I came out here the first day, and started to run out to the ball, and everybody just followed,” Sweat said. “Everybody wasn’t doing it at first, and I made sure I was the one doing it. That’s the reason we lost, I’m just going to flat out say it. But everybody gets on the same page when they see it.”

That level of accountability followed by action to right the wrong is something that would play well in the Titans culture. Obviously, you’d prefer it to never have happened in the first place, but Sweat took responsibility and turned a negative in to a positive example for other players at Florida State.

MEASURABLES

With the knee brace off Sweat dominated the combine in March, showing that the knee injury hadn’t sapped him of any speed or explosiveness. Check out this ridiculous spider graph.

On top of the results shown in the graph, Sweat posted a 10-yard split time of 1.55 seconds during his 40-yard dash run which is just silly for a guy his size and shows an incredible burst. Sweat didn’t participate in the all-important 3-cone drill at the combine, but his pro day numbers ranged from 6.88 to 6.95 seconds. The low end of that range puts him in the top 5% of all edge rushers in combine history and would have ranked behind only Sam Hubbard’s 6.84s 3-cone among all defensive ends and edge rushers at the 2018 combine.

Titans fans, you should probably be sitting down for this next statement...

Josh Sweat, to me, has the potential to be The Freak 2.0. Look, I know that’s a ridiculously high bar, but how can you look at a guy with that combo of size, speed, vertical, and wingspan without thinking of Jevon Kearse? Similar to Sweat, Kearse’s usage in college prevented him from racking up big sack numbers as he finished his three year career at Florida with just 16.5 sacks, two more than Sweat’s 14.5 over the same number of years. However, Kearse’s usage was that of an off-ball blitzing linebacker, while Sweat has often been used as a 4i or 5-tech in Florida State’s defense. Kearse transitioned to an edge rusher in the NFL and Sweat will do the same. While their paths were very different, the end result has a chance to be similar.

Another more current comp for Sweat would be Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Like Hunter, he’s an elite athlete, but also plays with a surprising amount of power and leverage for his size.

Sweat vs Kearse vs Hunter

Metric Sweat Kearse Hunter
Metric Sweat Kearse Hunter
Height 6'-4 3/4" 6'-5" 6'-5"
Weight 251 lbs 262 lbs 252 lbs
Arm Length 34 5/8" 34 1/4" 34 1/4"
40-Yard Dash 4.53s 4.58s 4.57s
Vertical Jump 39.5" 37" 36.5"
Broad Jump 124" 122" 130"
3-Cone Drill 6.88s DNP 6.95s
20-Yard Shuttle 4.28s 4.24s 4.47s
Bench Press DNP DNP 25 reps

Titans fans have talked for over a decade about finding the next Freak. He was the guy that took the defense to the next level from 1999 to 2003 and in my opinion it’s no coincidence that the team took a turn for the worst when he left for Philadelphia in 2004. Since that time the team has seen good edge rushers like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Derrick Morgan, and Brian Orakpo — and, of course, the one magical season when Elvin Bethea somehow managed to possess Jason Babin’s body — but no great ones. Even worse, we’ve seen a lot of guys like Kamerion Wimbley who were actively bad during their time in Nashville. This franchise is due for their next star pass rusher and Sweat could very well be that guy.

FILM REVIEW

As I mentioned above, FSU deployed Sweat very strangely given his skill set. They used him in several different spots along their defensive line, most often working as either a 4i-technique or a 5-technique hand-in-the-ground defensive end. He was very good in that role, but in my opinion it limited his stat production and impact in the pass rush.

This is a typical alignment for Sweat at Florida State, particularly in 2017. He’s just on the inside shoulder of the tackle as a defensive end in a 3-4 front, essentially playing where Jurrell Casey would typically line up in the Titans base defense. That’s unusual for a guy that’s just over 250 pounds, but Sweat’s ability to play with great strength and leverage allowed him to be successful inside. On this snap, Alabama is in a jumbo set with an extra tackle lined up to Sweat’s side. The extra tackle blocks down on him as Bama looks to open up a hole between Sweat and the outside linebacker next to him. Sweat does a nice job of holding his ground in the hole which forces Scarbrough to bounce and end up going down for no gain.

This next rep is pretty typical in Sweat’s tape. He basically lives in the opponent’s backfield if you try to block him one-on-one in the run game. Watch him stay low out of his stance and blow the right tackle 2 yards in to the backfield while working his way to the back. This is the thing that surprised me most watching Sweat’s tape. I had known about the hype coming out of high school and the freakish athleticism, but the best aspect of his game at Florida State was his ability to move the line of scrimmage against the run. For reference, the tackle that he manhandles here is #54 Will Richardson. NC State lists him at 6’-6” and 322 pounds, a full 70 pounds heavier than Sweat.

Here’s another example. This time Alabama is running an outside zone, but Sweat walks the left tackle a full 5 yards back in to the path of the running back, forcing him to go around and giving his teammates time to rally to the ball and make the tackle for little gain. This is a perfect example of why box score scouting doesn’t always work. Sweat gets no stat for this play, but it’s outstanding work and without it the running back would have had a lane to work with.

This time he’s at it again. Lined up in a 4i technique, he pushes the right guard deep in to the backfield forcing the running back to turn east and west. This time his teammates let him down as the edge runs himself out of the play and the linebackers get hung on blocks, but Sweat’s ability to move the line of scrimmage is pretty incredible to watch. Especially when you consider that he’s really playing out of position here.

Sidenote: The back here is Nyheim Hines, another guy that the Titans have shown interest in and could be a potential mid-round pick. This is a really nice run by him.

This time he’s lined up as a defensive end in a 4-man front, something that he would be asked to do frequently if he was drafted by the Titans. Once again, the Wolfpack are trying to run an outside zone play to his side. This time he collapses the edge by pushing the right tackle in to the full back and essentially blowing the play up by himself. Once again, he won’t get credit for this tackle for loss, but this is 100% his effort making this happen.

It’s really quite impressive how often he’s able to abuse these poor offensive linemen in the running game. This time it is NC State’s right guard who finds himself 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage thanks to Sweat’s incredible use of leverage.

OK, last one. This is another one from the same game and this time he actually gets credit for the tackle for loss.

Sweat’s floor as a player is pretty high in my opinion because of his ability to be stout against the run, but what the Titans and other NFL teams want in the 1st round is the ability to impact the opponent’s passing game. This is where FSU’s usage of him really hurt his draft stock. Too often he was asked to rush from an interior position and that left him unable to use his speed.

When he did get to rush outside, he showed a nice repertoire of moves, starting with a little bend-rip as he shows on this play (although he doesn’t get the tackles hands down to allow him to turn the corner here).

With his incredible wingspan, I would expect this long arm move to be one that he further develops in the NFL. It’s something that he didn’t do enough of in college in my opinion. He’s able to keep the tackles hands off him using his length and then tosses him aside to close down the rush lane on Deshaun Watson here. With his wingspan, this could be a borderline unstoppable rush technique for him.

Here he is using the long arm from his spot inside as a 4i to create some pressure and force the incomplete pass.

His power translates to his pass rush game as well as you can see on this play. Miami is doubling Sweat all the way, but he just bull rushes the left tackle and left guard, pushing them back in to the lap of the quarterback as he’s trying to get rid of the ball.

The biggest thing I would want to see Sweat improve upon at the next level would be his get off. Too often he’s the last guy out of his stance and that negates some of his explosiveness around the edge. Here is an example. I froze the frame right as he’s getting ready to take off and you can see every other player is already out of their stance and getting in to their move. While that may not seem like a long time, the difference between an easy completion and a game changing strip sack is often fractions of a second. Sweat will need to improve his anticipation and jump in the NFL.

When Sweat does get a good jump on the edge, he’s virtually unblockable as Alabama’s Jonah Williams finds out here. The quarterback immediately senses the trouble and escapes to his right before throwing the ball away — a win for Sweat and the defense on 3rd and 13.

Here’s another good rep where Sweat is able to brush off the right tackle’s hands and turn the corner to get a hit on the quarterback as he’s getting rid of the ball.

Here’s another similar rush from the same game, but this time Sweat is able to finish the play and uses his long arms to snag the quarterback on his way out of the pocket.

Sweat does a nice job on stunts thanks to his excellent acceleration in the open field. Watch him come screaming up the middle on this play. He finishes here with a nice hit on the quarterback as well.

Here’s another rep where you can see the slow get off from Sweat. This time it doesn’t hurt him as Michigan foolishly tries to block him one on one with a tight end — better than Harry Douglas, but still — and the coverage downfield causes the quarterback to hold the ball in the pocket. The positives on this play though are the ease with which he beats the tight end and then his close and finish on the sack. He really puts a nice hard, clean hit on the quarterback.

If you want more film breakdown on Sweat with a few different clips, go check out Billy Marshall’s article at Cat Scratch Reader (the Panthers SB Nation site). He does really good work and has some different angles from some of these plays.

You’ll probably notice that almost every pressure/sack rep in the sampling above featured Sweat lined up outside the tackle as a true edge rusher. Unfortunately — or fortunately depending on what seat you’re sitting in — Florida State didn’t use him out there near as often as they probably should have. They insisted on kicking him inside on early downs which limited his opportunities to really use his elite athleticism to get after the passer. That’s not going to be the case in the NFL. He’s going to line up as either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker and will be asked to wreak havoc on the edges.

In addition to playing out of position, the trainer that Sweat is using to get ready for the combine and other pre-draft workouts felt like the brace that he played with in college limited some of his movement skills.

“With Josh I just felt he had to get confidence in his knee,” said Yo Murphy, who played in the NFL, NFL Europe and the CFL. “He’s an incredible athlete. I thought maybe he depended on that knee brace a little bit too much, just watching him play. It kind of inhibited some of his athletic ability and God-given talent. I just asked him to trust us.”

Sweat is now training without the brace and plans to play without it once he reaches the NFL. You can forgive him for being overly cautious with the knee considering doctors worried that he might lose his leg in the aftermath of his injury from high school. However, after a clean medical exam at the combine and a push from his trainer, Sweat seems ready to finally trust his knee again and that could help further unlock his incredible talent.

After the Ruston Webster years I’m wary of drafting guys that are just great athletes — like many Titans fans — but edge rusher is one spot where I think you have to have someone who is physically special to really be great. You don’t see many “try hard” type players turning in to elite edge rushers in the NFL. Sweat has the physical skill set to become a dominant pass rusher. The things he needs to improve — get off, counter moves, and technique — are all very coachable and the Titans just so happen to have a guy leading the way that has a history of developing athletes in to stars at this position.

Sweat is the kind of guy that the Titans should be looking at around the end of the 1st round. He’s not as polished coming out as a guy like Landry, but he’s probably got the highest ceiling of any edge rusher in the class, including Chubb. He’s the kind of guy that you have to gamble on when you’re drafting at the end of the first. Players with his skill set who had elite production in college won’t make it anywhere near 25. When you’re betting on Sweat, you’re betting on elite physical tools and the idea that better usage in the defense and playing without a cumbersome knee brace will take him to the next level. That’s not a bad bet at the end of the first round for a guy who could turn out to be a special pass rusher in the NFL.