Montez Sweat has a keen awareness of how NFL teams value pass rushers.
“Pass rushers are definitely at a premium in the NFL,” Sweat said in his Combine media interview. “It’s a passing league. Teams want people who can get after the quarterback.”
Sweat got to the quarterback at Mississippi State. He had 22 sacks combined in the last two seasons, and a spectacular Combine workout may have raised his stock.
For teams looking to add defensive playmakers in the draft – and the Detroit Lions likely are one of them – Sweat is one of many prospects in a deep class of edge rushers.
Nick Bosa of Ohio State and Josh Allen of Kentucky are rated by most draft experts as the top two edge prospects with Rashan Gary of Michigan and Sweat in the next group.
Brian Burns of Florida State has gotten little mention as a top 10 candidate, but his production, athleticism and build could make him go higher than many expect.
Sweat, who began his college career at Michigan State but left after one year without playing for the Spartans, has modeled his playing style after Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, who’s seventh on the all-time list with 139.5 sacks.
“I think old-time pass rushers like Jason Taylor – he has a lot of my skill set,” Sweat said. “He’s long. He’s fast. I watch him a lot.”
It’s hard to quibble with Sweat’s choice of Taylor as a player to emulate. But calling a player who retired after the 2011 season “old-time”?
For some of us, old-time is Deacon Jones (1961-74).
Following is a breakdown of the top eight edge candidates, with one to watch and others, along with the Lions’ position breakdown, draft priority and key stat:
Edge draft rating: Strong at the top with athletic playmakers who provide depth.
Lions’ position breakdown: Signing of free agent Trey Flowers adds a productive starter who’s strong against the run with a quick first step that makes him an effective pass rusher. Romeo Okwara led the Lions with 7.5 sacks in 2018. Rookie Da’Shawn Hand played more snaps inside than on the edge last year and excelled at both spots.
Lions’ draft priority: Adding an athletic playmaker still a priority, with a strong chance it will be with the eighth pick in the first round.
Key Lions stat: 43 sacks in 2018 tied the Lions for 11th, but they did not have an individual with double-digit sacks. The scheme, and coverage by the secondary, produced sacks.
Top 8 edge prospects:
(Note: Some teams might rate players as outside linebackers. Workout results are from Combine or Pro Day.)
1. Nick Bosa, Ohio State: 6-4, 266.
Profile: Combine performance -- 4.79 40, 29 reps in the bench and quickness – showed he’s recovered from a core injury that limited his 2018 season. Long arms, big hands and quickness among the qualities that make him the top edge prospect.
2. Josh Allen, Kentucky: 6-5, 262.
Profile: Productive 2018 season -- 23 tackles for loss with 17 sacks – and strong Combine (4.64 40, 28 reps in bench) add up to a top 5 draft candidate. A combination OLB/DE in college, with a quick first step, translates to being an edge defender in the pros.
3. Rashan Gary, Michigan: 6-4, 277.
Profile: Biggest question about him isn’t ability, but why his production hasn’t matched his physical tools (4.58 40, 26 bench reps, quickness in agility drills). Size, quickness and versatility to play multiple positions add to his value.
4. Montez Sweat, Mississippi State: 6-6, 260.
Profile: Combine performance – which included a 4.41 40 -- summed up in one word: Wow!!! Began career at Michigan State, went to junior college and transferred to Mississippi State, where his sack totals of 10.5 in 2017 and 11.5 in 2018 and Combine performance elevated his stock.
5. Clelin Ferrell, Clemson: 6-4, 262.
Profile: Injuries kept him from being timed in the 40 at the Combine and Clemson’s Pro Day. Agility drills and 25 reps in the bench at the Combine were solid efforts. Production was there in his three-year career: 50 tackles for loss with 27 sacks in 44 games. Consistency a chief asset.
6. Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech.: 6-4-6, 271.
Profile: Combine invite was rescinded because of an off-field issue in his freshman year. Reported Pro Day results – 4.82 40, 24 bench reps – were good. Dominant in Conference USA as four-year player, three-year starter. Set FBS career record with 45 sacks, 17.5 of them in 2018.
7. Brian Burns, Florida State: 6-5, 249.
Profile: Another who backed up production with a strong Combine – 4.53 40, 36-inch vertical jump, 10-9 broad jump. Athletic with good frame to play edge. Three-year player, broke in with 9.5 sacks as combo rush end/linebacker, finished with 15.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks in 2018.
8. Jachai Polite, Florida: 6-3, 258.
Profile: Combine numbers were somewhat disappointing, to put it politely. A four-year player with impressive 2018 stats -- team-high 17.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and nation-leading six forced fumbles -- a product of ability to get penetration. Intriguing pass rush potential.
One to watch: Chase Winovich, Michigan: 6-3, 256.
Profile: Solid Combine – 4.59 40 and good in agility drills. As his first name implies, he chased whoever had the ball as a four-year player after a red-shirt 2014 season. In his last three seasons he posted 44.5 tackles for loss, eighth most in school history, with a conference-high 18 in 2017. Also had 18 sacks. No question about his desire to seek and destroy ballcarriers but needs to find instincts.
Others: D’andre Walker, Georgia; Christian Miller, Alabama; Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion; Austin Bryant, Clemson; Shareef Miller, Penn State; Jalen Jelks, Oregon; Jordan Brallford, Oklahoma State; Malik Carney, North Carolina; Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan.