One of the major issues that plagued the 2017 New England Patriots was their lack of speed an playmaking ability on their defensive front seven, especially after Dont'a Hightower was lost for the year due to injury. Even though the defensive captain will be back this year, finding players to upgrade the overall athleticism up front needs to be highly on the list of the Patriots' goals this draft season.
Enter Florida State's Josh Sweat, an outstanding athlete that might just be what the Patriots are looking for. Let's break down if he might be on the team's radar.
Name: Josh Sweat
Position: Defensive edge
School: Florida State
Stats: 12 games, 56 tackles (12.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks, three pass breakups
Size: 6046, 251 lbs
Combine numbers: 4.53 40-yard dash, 39.5” vertical, 10’4” broad jump
Expected Round: 2nd/3rd
Strengths: The features that stand out first and foremost when watching Sweat's tape are his ideal height to play on the defensive edge, his top-notch athleticism and his versatility: No matter where he lines up – he has experience playing 4-technique, 5-technique, and 7-technique on both sides of the line as well as stand-up –, Sweat shows adequate burst to attack the line of scrimmage against both the run and the pass.
In general, he has usually been productive throughout his career at Florida State no matter if the opposing offense attacks via the pass or the run: Versus the pass, he uses a wide array of moves to win one-on-one battles. While not always successful, Sweat employs his technique well, is able to get low against taller offensive tackles and tries to stay disciplined when it comes to hand placement and not over-pursuing.
The same has to be said about him against the run: Sweat plays with patience and sets the edge well; he understands he does not have to be overly aggressive on every play. His quickness and elusiveness also allow him to chase after runners or quarterbacks, and be successful on stunts to the inside.
Weaknesses: As impressive as his athletic skill-set is, Sweat still has some areas he needs to improve. Above all else stands his frame: In order to be consistently be successful when it comes to challenging offensive linemen or fullbacks in the NFL, the 21-year old will need to add some bulk particularly in his lower body. He has adequate strength but would need to add 10-15 more pounds to be able to better hold his ground.
Other question marks are Sweat's injury history – he missed a game each over both of the last two seasons and suffered a torn ACL and knee-dislocation during his final high school season –, his counter-moves when being neutralized on initial contact, as well as his inconsistency when it comes to timing the snap. He also needs to become quicker when it comes to getting out of his stance
Overall, though, these issues are certainly correctable or manageable to a certain point.
What would be his role? While Sweat played almost exclusively on the line of scrimmage for the Seminoles, his moving skills in open space make him an intriguing target to be converted from a defensive tackle/end hybrid into more of a traditional outside/SAM linebacker in the mold of former Patriots' defender Jamie Collins – another hyper-athletic player who spent his college career playing on the line of scrimmage.
How many downs can he play? Four. Early on in his career, however, he will likely have a more clearly-defined role, most likely as a pass-first defender: rushing the passer and covering running backs and tight ends on passing downs. Sweat has the ability to perform in the kicking right away, though.
What is his special teams value? Sweat has the athleticism to work as both an interior blocker or edge rusher on field goal attempts; he could also play as a front-line blocker on kickoff and punt returns.
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, versatility is one of Sweat's major strengths: He has played on both sides of the line of scrimmage lining up on the interior and the edge from various techniques. Sweat also is no stranger to playing out of a stand-up alignment which would make a potential transition to linebacker easier.
Will his role change from year 1 to year 2? The sooner he adds more bulk and gets more consistently with his pass rush moves, the sooner Sweat will be able to develop from a part-time pass rusher/coverage player into an every-down defender.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? If the Patriots view him as more of a defensive lineman, then he would have to beat out the likes of Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr., Adam Butler, Eric Lee and Geneo Grissom for playing time – and ultimately even a roster spot. If, however, the team tries to convert him into more of a linebacker, his closest competition would likely be Marquis Flowers and Harvey Langi.
Why the Patriots? One thing the 2017 season showed is that the team lacks high-end athleticism in its defensive front seven. Sweat would provide just that and with the correct coaching and strength/weight development could become a top-rotational player at whichever position he ends up – considering his versatility anything would be possible. The Patriots more so than any other team likely knows how to get the best out of it.
Why not the Patriots? New England owns selections #43, #53, and #95 and one of which will likely have to be spent on Sweat. With the Patriots also a candidate to invest a first-round pick in a front seven defender, the question will be whether or not the team is willing to invest another high-round selection in a player that is a project to a certain extent – especially if he is viewed as more of a lineman than a linebacker.
Verdict: The Patriots picking Josh Sweat could depend on which role the team might have in mind for him. If he is viewed as an end-of-the-line player à la Trey Flowers, New England might opt to pass on him considering the depth and youth it already has at the position. If, however, the team sees him as a potential linebacker conversion, seeing it invest a second- or third-rounder in him and his potential would not be a surprise.