There are some indulgences that I just can’t shake. I’ve never once eaten one chocolate chip cookie in my entire life. I don’t think I’ve ever owned enough pairs of fun socks.
Howie’s got that same problem with defensive ends. Lucky for us, I suppose.
Investing heavily and often in EDGE pressure is the way to go in today’s NFL, so the selection of Florida State’s Josh Sweat, a talented defensive end who slipped due to injury concerns, makes perfect sense. Even more so, when you remember that 3 of Philadelphia’s Top 4 EDGEs are over the age of 30, and only one is signed beyond the 2018 season.
The current depth at defensive end will only help Sweat, who dislocated his left knee in 2014 and is considered an injury risk moving forward. Not much was heard about the rechecks at the Combine for Sweat, but let’s read between the lines: EDGE defenders put a lot of stress on their knees when they bend the corner, and the massive reconstructive surgery demanded from such an injury could likely leave instability moving forward. Sweat will, unfortunately, have a red flag by his name for at least the first few years of his career.
But he’s put together three full seasons of play (with limited practice participation—another not great sign) over the past three seasons at Florida State, and put up excellent Combine numbers. These signs bode well for his long-term availability.
You don’t find athletes like that at EDGE very often. While acknowledging the risks of Sweat, this pick screams high upside, at a position of value, with huge contract implications for a team in need of room.
With that said, let’s go through the full scouting report on Sweat, to best understand what he brings to Philadelphia, and what work he can do to find rotational reps sooner rather than later.
Josh Sweat is an active rusher who regularly works his hands into every pass rush rep. His greatest skill is his hand usage, by which he generates and softens rush angles. When combined with his flexibility and ability to rush a tight corner with tilt, Sweat has clearly defined rush plans that he hits with frequency and allow him to generate quick pressure.
You’ll notice that Sweat relies heavily on two combos: a two-handed little swat to rip move that he sets up by “banging the drum,” or taking little chop steps to threaten the offensive tackle with a two-way go; and a stab to swat move, with which he first threatens the outside shoulders (a la a speed rush) then turns inside into the long arm/stab, and eventually clears hands with the swat.
This is what we might call “polish.” It’s NFL translatable and ready. But what makes Sweat truly dynamic is the freelancing and stringing together of moves he can do off of these ideas.
Take, for example, the swat to rip. The swat is used to slap the tackle’s hands away, and thereby soften the angle through which Sweat has to rush to get to the quarterback. Quick, calm, and balanced offensive tackles can get swatted, but reset themselves and ride an EDGE around the corner. Sweat can process on the fly, recognizing when he needs to add another move to the sequence to arrive at the quarterback’s landmark.
Often playing from a 4i- or 4-tech, Sweat immediately starts without the advantage of the edge, and has to work himself there. Hence we see the multi-sequences of sweats, as Sweat works from a whole man, to a half man, to the EDGE and pushes the peak of the pocket.
Sweat loves to lean on that long arm, however (because he doesn’t like to play through physicality, which we’ll get to) so he’ll resort to that stab move whenever he feels like he has an angle to attack.
Through that stab move, however, there are multiple secondary moves. Sweat lacks a bull rush, which is a bit wanting, but what he does flash: a push pull move, and a shotput as well.
The thing about the push pull is that it rarely seems to be a planned move, despite the fact that Sweat sees multiple opportunities to hit it every game. Instead, Sweat usually decides to hit it seemingly on the fly—which bodes well to his ability to sequence it in more regularly with his rushes.
The shotput is a big time move for Sweat, who has excellent power but needs to incorporate it more often when he attacks the passer. A good processor, Sweat plays very well when looking through an offensive lineman and reading the backfield. The ability to work the long arm into a shotput will allow Sweat to respond to quarterbacks climbing the pocket.
As we’ve seen in a lot of Sweat’s clips, he’s rushing very often from a 4- or 5-technique—which is not even remotely what he’ll be doing in Philadelphia. Sweat’s stance is often parallel instead of stagger, and he’s flat to the line instead of tilted—that is to say, he’s reading the tackle instead of anticipating the snap of the ball.
This alignment helps him two-gap in Florida State’s defense, and heightens his ability to read the backfield and fill lanes in the running game. But as a pass-rusher, it prevents him from attacking quickly upfield and winning the edge with first-step explosiveness. This will not be the case in Philadelphia, where he’ll regularly line up as a 7- or even 9-technique, which not only allows him to anticipate the snap, but puts him on a far easier track to get to the passer.
Yet, when discussing the selection, Joe Douglas referenced Sweat’s get off. On those few reps on which Sweat had a clean edge and the freedom to anticipate the snap, we saw flashes of the explosiveness detailed in his 39 1/2” vertical jump, 10’4 broad jump, and 1.55 10-yard split.
This rep looks like none other for Sweat. There’s no banging of the drum, little hand usage at all—just a swat to clear. Not a great surface-area reducer like Derek Barnett, he wins this rep almost exclusively on his off-ball explosiveness.
The third step is a key step for rushers, as that step often dictates the path he’ll take and moves he’ll deploy. If a speed rusher can get even with the offensive tackle by his third step, he should be able to frequently win the edge and get pressure. When we break Sweat’s steps into still frames on this rep, here’s what we see.
Look at the depth he gains comparatively, as well as the general length of his strides. He is precluded from ever taking such large and committed strides by his typical deployment with the Noles. In Philadelphia, this sort of production will be encouraged and expected.
The final strength we should note for Sweat steps away from the pass rush and acknowledges his work in the running game. Despite playing at 255 lbs, Sweat regularly demonstrated the functional power and leverage to hold his ground in the running game. As noted, he diagnoses well through offensive lineman—he is guilty of guessing, especially against read option/mesh point looks—and made a healthy share of tackles in gaps that necessitated a quick shed and athletic close. He will not be a liability as a run defender at his size.
As we illustrate Sweat the pass-rusher (yup, back to the pass rush!), we see a plus athlete with great hand usage, good processing/awareness, and the ability to string moves together. That sentence alone checks a ton of boxes.
But there are two gaps we should highlight as points on which Sweat must improve. The first is a technical flaw that severely caps his efficacy on reps he should win—but it may stem from a more serious concern.
Sweat has a tendency to bubble out, away from the tackle, when he hits his swat or even sets up for his stab move. He has the flexibility to turn a tight corner, but makes his job unnecessarily difficult by giving his opponent a wide berth and putting himself on a longer route to the quarterback.
Check out this rep from Sweat.
The offensive tackle takes a 45-degree set. From the 6-technique, Sweat takes a measured approach (no explosiveness!), bangs on the drum, and lures the offensive tackle in to his frame. Then he swats—bang! A compact, short-area motion. He hits the arm-over to clear his frame, then flattens the corner to put pressure on the quarterback. That’s textbook.
But this rep is far too rare for Sweat. It’s irregular to see his frame that close to the offensive tackle’s, in my viewing. What we see instead, far too often, is this: exact same technique, exact same set from the offensive tackle, same technique attempted on the rush.
If you watch Sweat’s third step (right foot), you’ll notice that it doesn’t gain depth—it gains width. It goes away from the quarterback. Sweat may very well land the swat, but in the process, he’s put more space between himself and the offensive tackle, and thereby given the OT plenty of time to recover, reset his hands, and steer Sweat around the edge.
This rep turns up far too often in Sweat’s tape: so many rushes die beyond the peak of the pocket. As I said, it’s a technical difficulty: you should be able to drill this tendency and greatly reduce its incidence. But I’m worried that Sweat simply does not like playing through contact.
He’s plenty physical in run defense, but as a rusher he leans on that long arm so often, and bubbles out so frequently, that I’m struck by the degree to which he keeps tackles at bay. His entire rush game is predicated on beating your hands and slipping by you—there’s no bull rush, no close-quarters combat. He doesn’t take anything tight until he finally clears your hands and has to turn the corner to reach the quarterback—and far too often, he can’t take that corner tightly enough, because he’s already run himself too wide and out of the play.
Adjacently related to this lack of contact in his rushes is his lack of inside counters (inside there is less space, and more contact. Besides the shotput move, Sweat was unable to hit any of the inside counters that he attempted, and the frequency with which he attempted them indicates that he knows he doesn’t have them.
On both of these reps, Sweat gets sets/angles that allow for inside rushes—and recognizes that, to his credit. But he doesn’t do well enough to threaten the outside shoulder on either, and when he throws his swim moves back inside, they’re without any degree of physicality or power from the inside hand to keep the offensive tackle off balance.
As a result, Sweat’s game can become a little predictable. Offensive tackles don’t get worried about the inside track, and they hinge directly to the outside path, forcing a rusher who already tends to go wide to take an even wider path. On top of that, smart tackles figure out that Sweat wants to draw out their hands so he can swat/club and clear, and they stay patient or even feint their punch (second rep), to draw Sweat off his timing and neutralize his rush early.
Sweat either needs to add a bull rush or an inside move to his arsenal to generate more consistency to his game. With his current repertoire, he is effective but predictable, and accordingly produces without consistency. NFL tackles, as one would imagine, will have even more success diagnosing Sweat’s plan and keeping him at bay.
Sweat’s fit in Philadelphia is mighty fine. Jim Schwartz could very well unlock a new aspect of his game—the speed rush—that was hardly utilized in college. Combine a successful speed rush with his already-favored long arm technique, and converting speed to power could be that extra dimension Sweat needs to become unpredictable, and thereby more consistent.
The fit only gets better when you consider the rotational snaps Sweat will take (even as a starter, years down the road) if Schwartz continues with his current philosophy of heavy DL rotation and depth. At least for the time being, Sweat would see minimal defensive snaps and likely play special teams at first, but as he earns more rush reps, he’ll only earn them to the degree to which this coaching staff feels comfortable putting stress on his knee.
It can’t be an A+ because Philadelphia did have other needs on the board, but it’s right up there. Josh Sweat is an “A” selection given his already clean portfolio as a rusher, his considerable ceiling with development, his consistency against the run, and the discount at which he was drafted. At this time, almost four years removed from the original injury, my Injury Concern-O-Meter (patent pending) is and will likely remain at a 3 of 10—and in my eyes, that’s well worth the risk of selection 130.