There’s little question that North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb is the No. 1 edge-rusher in the class of 2018. It’s generally agreed that Marcus Davenport of UTSA is the second-ranked prospect at the position. But..
Then things get muddy.
As Jason La Canfora reported for CBS Sports, at least one NFL talent evaluator believes that the third slot this year belongs to Florida State’s Josh Sweat, a 6’4″, 251-pounder who tallied 56 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2017.
“He has the best first step in this draft for me,” said the evaluator. “I’d put Chubb ahead of him and [Marcus] Davenport, but Sweat is the third-best pass rusher in this draft. And he’s got all the numbers you look for, too — height, weight, speed, all of it. Those guys don’t last long on draft day.”
Per Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, that wasn’t the only scout who is impressed with what Sweat brings to the table—especially after he peeled off a blistering 4.53-second 40-yard dash, 39.5″ vertical and 124″ broad jump at February’s scouting combine.
But there’s one very big caveat.
“I wish I could just hang onto my draft grade until after we saw how he does with medicals,” an AFC scout said. “If he checks out medically then I see a coachable player with a ton of upside as a pass rusher.”
Those medicals the scout referred to concern a horrific knee injury Sweat suffered in high school. Back in 2014 Sweat, who at the time was considered one of the top recruits in the nation, shredded the ACL, MCL and PCL in his knee and dislocated his kneecap. As he told Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report, the initial diagnosis was about as sobering as it gets.
“(The doctor’s) like, ‘Hey, man, you’re probably not going to play football again. I’m 98 percent sure. And we’re probably going to have to remove the bottom of your leg.’ And that’s how he left it,” Sweat said. “He said it was likely with the dislocation, especially at that angle—because the artery runs around the back.”
Sweat’s high school teammate Kamathi Holsey told Dunne the injury derailed the career of a player who was every bit the athletic freak of nature that Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans or Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns is.
“He’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen,” Holsey says. “Before he blew his knee out, there was nothing he couldn’t do. Honestly, he would’ve been the No. 1 pick if he never blew his knee out. It’d be a different conversation. He would be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The best athlete I’ve ever seen. He’s crazy.”
If Sweat’s outstanding performance at the combine is any indication, that knee is as healthy as its been since that fateful day.
That showing at Lucas Oil Stadium (and the umpteen medical exams that came with it) have Sweat climbing draft boards as April 26 nears—so much so that Jimmy Morris of SB Nation recently mocked Sweat to the Tennessee Titans with the 25th overall pick.
“Jon Robinson has done a really nice job in free agency of filling the holes on the Titans’ roster,” he said. He signed Dion Lewis to fill the need at running back. He signed Malcolm Butler to fill the need in the secondary. He signed Bennie Logan to fill the need for a run stopper in the middle of the defensive line. That just leaves the need at outside linebacker. The Titans would love to see (Boston College EDGE) Harold Landry fall, but that didn’t happen here. That leaves Josh Sweat. There is no doubt that he has the athleticism to make an impact off the edge.”
Of course, landing in Tennessee (or another team running the 3-4) would mean playing outside linebacker—the spot Zierlein believes Sweat is best suited for in the pros.
“Sweat has the length, frame and athletic qualities to fit right in as a 3-4 SAM or rush linebacker, but he needs to go to school with a position coach or a talented veteran to help unlock his pass rush potential<” Zierlein said. “Sweat’s initial quickness and issues with contact balance could hinder his ability to play with his hand down. He has the ability to become a decent NFL starter but there is a wide disparity between his ceiling and floor thanks to concerns surrounding the current and future health of his knee.”
Positional classification as a linebacker would be a hammer blow to Sweat’s IDP value—a potential problem he shares with Landry and any number of “tweener” prospects. Waiting to see who lands where among edge-rushers is an annual rite of passage in IDP leagues.
As a matter of fact, even in a best-case scenario Sweat’s something of a project. Outside of 32-team IDP dynasties with deep rosters, his odds of being drafted in fantasy aren’t great in 2018.
But there are more than a few NFL teams running the 4-3 “Under” front who could use an immensely athletic young EDGE with the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl “Leo” pass-rusher. Sweat’s talent isn’t in question. Given everything he’s been through, his toughness shouldn’t be either.
Sweat might not make a fantasy impact right away, but he’s a name to file away for future reference.
Not to mention that given all he’s already been through to get this far, the kid deserves a little pre-draft run.