The Falcons’ problems on the edge have been a staple of the team for over a decade. You have to go back to John Abraham to find a former Falcons’ pass rusher that was worth his weight. Abraham played for the Falcons from 2006-2012. Then, you have to go even further back to find a Falcons’ defense that finished in the top ten in sacks (2004). Failure to pressure the quarterback has been the Achilles’ Heel of the Atlanta defense since the turn of the century, and it is not going to be any better if the Falcons don’t nail the upcoming draft.
Right now, here is who the Falcons would be relying on off the EDGE and how they graded last year according to Pro Football Focus
#Falcons Edge Defenders (2018 Ranks):
Adrian Clayborn – 50th of 103
Takkarist McKinley – 70th of 103
Vic Beasley – 103rd of 103
— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) April 10, 2019
Those three wouldn’t instill confidence in Nick Saban, let alone a professional football team. The Falcons have to get help at the EDGE position in this draft and attempt to end the sack drought that has gone on for far too long in Atlanta. There might not be a better place to start than by drafting Montez Sweat in the first-round.
I first became familiar with Sweat as an SEC fan. The 6’6″, 245-pound defensive end played an integral role in Mississipi State’s turnaround following his transfer from Michigan State after the 2015 season. Sweat tallied 10.5 sacks in his first season there as a junior and bumped it up to 12 sacks as a senior.
The first thing you’ll notice about Sweat is his physique. He has ideal height and length but without an ounce of fat on his body. Then you’ll recognize his unimaginable speed for a person his size.
There were rumors coming out of the Reese’s senior bowl that Sweat was outrunning many of the defensive backs during sprint drills. At the time, it sounded more like a figure of speech than reality until Sweat broke the record for a defensive lineman at the NFL combine with a 4.41 40-yard dash. With that kind of length and speed, it’s hard not to be viewed as a potential top-ten selection.
The tape on Sweat, however, is not as forgiving as his Combine results. While he can utilize his length to get into advantageous positions, he has yet to develop meaningful counter moves that allow him to beat pass blockers. His burst is also shockingly underwhelming for a player who can get off the line and run a 4.4. He’s rather stiff and does not have the ideal bend for a defensive end. Sweat can develop in these areas, but not every elite athlete becomes a pass rushing specialist. Look no further than how Vic Beasley’s career has unfolded. Sweat is going to need the right group of coaches around him to reach his full potential.
I’d like to say Sweat will dominate in the run game. His length and ability to create separation off of blocks will allow him the opportunity to be successful. But I’d be lying by saying I wasn’t wary about him getting off blocks in the NFL due to his slender build. Sweat is going to have to add some weight if he wants to play 4-3 defensive end.
There is a lot of promise in a player like Sweat, but contrary to what many may believe, he’s not going to be a dominant pass-rushing defensive end at the next level. He doesn’t have the bend, flexibility or moves to strike fear into the tackles in the NFL. His best projection is a stout run-defender with a high motor that can be a complimentary piece to a pass rush. If the Falcons are looking for the next generational edge rusher to end their decade long woes, Sweat is not their guy.