Yahoo Sports' top 2019 NFL draft prospects, No. 8: Mississippi State EDGE Montez Sweat

Yahoo Sports

Leading up to the 2019 NFL draft, which starts April 25, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down 10 at a time, followed by profiles on our top 30 overall players.

Previous entries: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30. Drew Lock | 29. Deandre Baker | 28. Taylor Rapp | 27. Garrett Bradbury | 26. Dexter Lawrence | 25. Jerry Tillery | 24. Josh Jacobs | 23. Christian Wilkins | 22. Cody Ford | 21. Noah Fant | 20. Andre Dillard | 19. Greedy Williams | 18. Dwayne Haskins | 17. Rashan Gary | 16. D.K. Metcalf | 15. Clelin Ferrell | 14. Florida OT Jawaan Taylor | 13. Byron Murphy | 12. Jonah Williams | 11. Devin White | 10. Kyler Murray | 9. Devin Bush Jr.

8. Mississippi State EDGE Montez Sweat

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6-foot-6, 260 pounds

Key stat: Since the start of the 2017 season, Sweat’s 22 sacks rank second only to Kentucky’s Josh Allen among power-five players.

The skinny: Shaquan Montez Sweat was a talented prep hoops player, but he committed to Michigan State as a two-star tight end recruit out of Georgia. The 220-pound Sweat was 17 when he arrived on campus; he switched over to the defensive side of the ball his freshman season and appeared in two games in 2014. Backing up (eventual Oakland Raiders third-round pick) Shilique Calhoun, Sweat logged four tackles and half a sack before taking a redshirt that year. Sweat then played in two more games in 2015 for the Spartans, not registering any statistics, before being suspended for the remainder of the season for undisclosed reasons.

Sweat left Michigan State — he said at the NFL scouting combine that he was dismissed from the school — and enrolled at Copiah-Lincoln Junior College (Miss.), where he made 39 tackles, five sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery (which he ran back for a touchdown), one blocked kick and one reception for a 33-yard TD in nine games in 2016.

Sweat then committed to Mississippi State and started all 13 games in 2017, earning first-team All-SEC honors and leading the SEC with 10.5 sacks, along with a dominant performance (three tackles for loss, sack) in the Tax Slayer Bowl vs. Lamar Jackson and Louisville. Sweat returned to school for his senior season and was dominant again, once more earning all-SEC mention and logging 53 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 13 games (12 starts).

Sweat, who turns 23 years old in September, was a standout performer at the Senior Bowl practices and during combine testing. Sweat had a heart condition detected at the combine, although he was allowed to work out there and was not asked to return to the combine medical recheck, which is usually requested of players with concerning health worries.

Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat smiles before a game against Louisiana Tech. (AP Photo)
Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat smiles before a game against Louisiana Tech. (AP Photo)

Upside: Rare dimensions — incredible height and arm length (36 inches) and V-cut upper body with good musculature. Combination of speed, length and power is nothing short of elite. Ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, which was better than all but one running back, seven wide receivers and seven defensive backs at the combine. Remainder of his athletic testing numbers were tremendous as well, exhibiting his great burst and explosion; even his 21 bench-press reps with that arm length can be considered a strong effort.

Terrific production – averaged more than a tackle for loss per game and nearly a sack per game over the past two seasons against battled-tested SEC offenses laden with future NFL talent. Played outside linebacker in 3-4 fronts and defensive end in the 4-3 — very comfortable standing up or rushing with his hand in the dirt. Virtually unblockable in one-one-one pass-rush drills in the Senior Bowl practices. Could have value as a kick blocker on extra-point and field-goal defense and could also have value as a gadget red-zone weapon on offense for creative teams.

Moves with great flexibility and light on his feet. Nice get-off and quickness to turn the corner. Slides laterally well and locate the ball on misdirection — keeps eyes and head up. Improved performance against the run and learned how better to shield blockers. Converts speed to power beautifully and has a knack for finishing. Pass-rush array runs deep — features devastating long-arm rush and can also dip-and-rip and swim past blockers. Looked natural dropping into short zones and covering chunks of grass. The type of player who can line up in a multitude of techniques and spots and keep quarterbacks and offensive lines adjusting their schemes.

Untapped potential can be unlocked with further pass-rush maturity and awareness. Competitive player with a fiery streak. Rarely seen taking plays off. Will get in opponents’ grills and won’t get bullied.

Downside: Sweat’s biggest and most pressing concerns stem from what’s believe to be an enlarged heart, which can be a serious worry (but also can be the type of condition that athletes play through without issue). But several teams reportedly have discussed Sweat’s health at great length, and it’s believed that multiple teams have removed him from their primary draft board. Similar concerns arose over Michigan’s Maurice Hurst in the 2018 NFL draft, and the top-20 talent fell to the Oakland Raiders in Round 5 (No. 140 overall).

Character concerns must be carefully vetted — was suspended for most of his 2015 season at Michigan State for undisclosed reasons, although NFL sources have told us that it involved at least one failed drug test (marijuana) and a bicycle that Sweat was accused of stealing. Sweat has refused to discuss the details publicly but has said that he felt the incidents largely were a “misunderstanding.”

Didn’t register a single pass defended in major college ball — doesn’t maximize his great length and athleticism to disrupt passing lanes as readily as he should have. Upper-body strength is not quite ideal and still learning how to better shed blocks. Quiet Senior Bowl game performance — seemed to reel it in and shut it down early.

Best-suited destination: Where he lands ultimately could come down to a franchise’s medical staff and which teams are more willing to take on a risk for health-related concerns. Pair that with his previous character concerns, and drafting Sweat – depending on the organization – could require approval from the highest levels and perhaps even ownership.

But skill-wise, Sweat fits into both odd and even fronts and has the earmarks of a dominant defender whose best football appears to be in front of him if he’s deemed healthy enough. Among the teams that could be most interested in his services include the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts.

They said it “My time at Michigan State, I started off kind of young and immature. Obviously, I was dismissed, but I’ve grown from that so much and I just want to keep on building on that and show teams I’ve matured a lot.”

— Sweat at the combine

Player comp: Jadeveon Clowney

Expected draft range: First-round pick, but the Sweat’s cardiac concerns could push him in an unexpected Draft Day freefall

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