It is no secret that the Panthers are looking to improve their pass rush, and while they have gone some of the way towards that by adding veteran edge rusher Bruce Irvin, there is still a lot of room for improvement in this area. It should come as little surprise then that the Panthers appear to be looking long and hard at drafting an edge rusher in the upcoming draft, potentially as early as the first round. Before we dive deeper into one such prospect, have a listen to the latest episode of The Great British Drafting Show, where we’ll talk through my entire draft board and why I’m lower on certain prospects that seem to be beloved around the nation:
The NFL has started to reach the time of the year where it is possible to find a mock draft predicting pretty much anything, and while – whether right or wrong – the predictions for what the Panthers will do in the first round have started to solidify around a handful of options, the occasional outlier still exists. One such outlier suggested that the Panthers might trade up into the top ten in order to select combine-darling Montez Sweat, but would that make sense for the Panthers?
Well, in order to come to a decision on this, let’s look at what Sweat is able to offer a prospective team, and what he doesn’t.
The Passing Game
Realistically, if you are going to draft an edge rusher in the first round, it isn’t going to be because of their ability against the run, at least not as a primary motivator. The appeal with Sweat is that he will potentially be able to use his freakish 40-time speed to pose a consistent threat around the edge – and Sweat certainly shows that kind of speed at times on tape – he’s the one wearing #9 and about to give the quarterback a hug:
Of course, speed alone is only worth so much, but Sweat also shows the ability to use his speed to square up the blocker before using his momentum to drive them backwards into the pocket:
He also showed a nice outside rip move on tape, using his long arms to get hand location on the blocker before pulling them forward and off-balance, allowing him to easily release to the side.
All of these things are good and promising, and it is easy to see why teams are excited about his potential. However, there are also some reasons to be concerned with Sweat on tape; as somebody whose game is, at it’s core, based on speed, the biggest of these concerns is his lack of ability to bend around the edge at times.
Sweat has very long legs even for his size, which is why he is quite so fast, but this also can lead to him playing quite high at times – this means that when he is able to get around the defender, he is too vertical to be able to bend with his hips and so is forced to try and twist with his lower back, something which is far less effective and leads to a greater loss of momentum:
This very vertical stance also creates some other issues, as it makes it much easier for offensive linemen to negate his bull rush by simply driving him upward:
It also leads to him exposing more of his frame than he would if he kept his pad level down, giving blockers a bigger target to aim for and so making it harder for him to get outside leverage:
This isn’t helped by his somewhat shaky hand usage, as despite the really nice extend-and-drive bull rush he flashes at times, too often, he was too slow in getting his arms up and ended up just running into a waiting blocker:
However, by far the biggest issue with his game as a pass rusher is the complete absence of an inside rush game. If he isn’t able to win outside or with a bull rush, he doesn’t win. Through the four full games I watched, the only time I saw him win inside was on a stunt where the two blockers had a miscommunication issue allowing him to run to the quarterback largely unimpeded:
This is really quite concerning, as NFL tackles will know that Sweat is going to have to try and beat them outside and will be far more suited to adapting to this than most of the players he faced in college. There were even clear instances on tape where he was able to use his speed to get the tackle to completely break their slide and he appeared to lack the ability or awareness to attack back inside:
In short, Sweat is undeniably fast – but his pad level issues limit the impact he was able to make as a speed rusher and his lack of an inside game limits him to being only a speed rusher – albeit one with a decent if inconsistent bull rush – at this point. These are things that can be developed with coaching, but for a senior from a major college program, the fact that he is still to develop beyond the point where he is now has to be a red flag.
Of course, there might be legitimate reasons for Sweat’s lack of development, and NFL teams are in a far better to probe his development potential in interviews than I am, but a worrying amount of his college production came in a clean up role:
With that said, one thing that is important to note is that what Sweat did show on almost every snap was effort, and while ‘effort rusher’ is often seen as something of a derogatory term for a player without much athletic talent – when a player with Sweat’s speed, power and length is willing to put in a relentless effort on almost every play, that does have a certain value:
And while he didn’t exactly look hugely comfortable making later cuts, his speed does allow him to cover a reasonable amount of ground in space for teams that will look to drop him into coverage at times:
As a pass rusher, Sweat’s ceiling is undeniable, and even from day one, his combination of speed, length, power and effort will allow him to have a certain level of impact, but there is an awful lot of work to do in terms of improving his pad level, the consistency of his hand usage and his complete lack of an inside game, and seeing how his pad level currently makes it very difficult to actually asses his ability to bend around the edge, even if a team is able to fix his pad level issues, how good his bend is would still remain to be seen.
Sweat has a lot of promise, but right now he promises more than he produces as a pass rusher.
Up Next: Run Defense