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Montez Sweat Headlines Most Athletic Pass-Rusher Crop in Years at NFL Combine

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 4, 2019

Mississippi State defensive lineman Montez Sweat runs the 40-yard dash drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
AJ Mast/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — It's been called a good year for defensive linemen and edge-rushers since evaluators started looking at the 2019 draft class in August 2018, but following an epic day of workouts for the group at the NFL Scouting Combine, it's fair to call this one of the best groups ever.

Mississippi State's Montez Sweat headlines that group after his show-stealing performance. 

The modern defensive lineman record for fastest time in the 40-yard dash now belongs to Sweat after the senior pass-rusher posted a blazing time of 4.41 seconds in the sprint. That's not only fast for a defensive lineman; it's just plain fast. Sweat's time, for comparison, was faster than Odell Beckham Jr.'s (4.43). It was good for the second-fastest time for running backs in this class, trailing only Oklahoma State's Justice Hill at 4.40 seconds.

Sweat didn't just run fast; he showed off all-around athletic traits by tying for the fifth-best three-cone time among defensive tackles and edge-rushers with a seven-second posting. The three-cone is important because it shows change of direction and short-area quickness. In the 20-yard (short) shuttle, Sweat proved he's not just track fast. His time of 4.29 seconds was tied for seventh-best among defensive tackles and edge-rushers tested.

Sweat's stock is soaring after a great week at the Senior Bowl and his showing in Indianapolis. Now scouts have numbers to match up with film. And the film was already good enough for Sweat to be ranked No. 11 overall on my board before he blazed down the track.

With a basketball background, Sweat plays with balance and power. He showed quickness, an ability to bend around the edge and a power move when closing on the quarterback that earned him a top-15 grade at season's end. A player one area scout called "a dog—just a natural competitor," Sweat leaves Indianapolis with the most buzz of any player in a loaded defensive line class.

The top end of the draft might not change much after workouts, but Sweat is now in play for pass-rush-needy teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 5 overall), Detroit Lions (No. 8 overall), Green Bay Packers (No. 12 overall) and Miami Dolphins (No. 13 overall). 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Other standouts from the week include Florida State's Brian Burns. 

  • Weigh-in day was the most important for Burns after rumors circulated among scouts that he played in the 220-pound range at Florida State. Weighing in at 249 pounds was a win for him, but running the 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds was a massive victory to those who assumed Burns had bulked up and couldn't perform athletically at his higher number. Burns' drill work was also fantastic, followed by strong times in the three-cone (7.01 seconds) and a 36-inch vertical jump. It might not be as big of a jump up the board for Burns as it will be for Sweat, but he solidified himself as a target in the top 15 picks of the 2019 draft.
  • Alabama's Quinnen Williams might make the Arizona Cardinals' decision at No. 1 overall tougher. Williams, at 303 pounds, ran a blazing 4.83 in the 40-yard dash. Williams' explosiveness and natural athleticism were shocking at over 300 pounds. His work in the bag drill when doing positional work showed power to match his agility. Reports from scouts in Indianapolis echoed statements made by Alabama coaches this season—Williams is as good off the field as he is on it.
  • Rashan Gary gets labeled as a "traits" prospect, and those were on full display when he lined up on the track. At 277 pounds, he ran a 4.58-second 40—which was better than some top running back prospects. Gary turned more heads with a 4.29 in the short shuttle and a 38-inch vertical jump—two drills that show off his explosiveness. Gary has been knocked by many in the media for not having elite production at Michigan (3.5 sacks this season), but teams betting on his being put in better situations to beat offensive linemen to the ball will fall in love with his athleticism and upside. He has a chance to be a top-five pick.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
  • Nick Bosa suffered an injury in Week 3 and didn't return to the field for Ohio State in 2018, leaving many to forget how impactful and promising he was as a prospect. Sunday in Indianapolis should have reminded everyone. At 6'4" and 266 pounds—with massive thighs and a trim waist—Bosa bested his brother Joey's time (4.86) in the 40 by running a 4.79-second sprint. Most impressive was his 7.1-second time in the three-cone drill and 4.14-second time in the short shuttle. Bosa's technique is better than his athleticism, but this workout checked all the boxes for NFL evaluators. As long as his medicals come back clean, he's the unquestioned best player in the 2019 draft class.

How does this group compare to previous years? No only does 2019 feature the most front four defenders ever in my top 15 players (there are now seven), but the athleticism is unparalleled. Sweat set a record for modern defensive lineman testing. Gary's 4.58 puts him in the 97th percentile for speed and his 38-inch vertical is good for 95th. And he did that at 277 pounds. 

The 2019 draft class isn't just deepest at defensive line positions. It's also historically athletic.