What's the Story with Montez Sweat?

He had maybe the best combine ever and dominated the SEC. But how will NFL teams weigh that against his past disciplinary issues and potential future health issues?
photo of Dan PompeiDan PompeiNFL ColumnistApril 22, 2019

He has gone from basketball standout to tight end prospect to defensive end force.           

From Stephenson High to Michigan State to Copiah-Lincoln Community College to Mississippi State.

From Stone Mountain, Georgia, where he was raised by his grandparents, to Indianapolis, where he had one of the most impressive NFL combines ever.

For Montez Sweat, it's already been a journey.

Where it goes from here will come down to three headlines.

Headline 1, April 19, 2016:

Defensive linemen Craig Evans and Montez Sweat no longer with Michigan State

The story states that Sweat, who had been suspended after the first two games of the previous season, was no longer a Spartan. But it didn't explain why. Head coach Mark Dantonio did not elaborate in interviews.

One team's vice president says Michigan State is typically lenient with players like Sweat, and it takes quite a bit for a player to be dismissed there. An NFC general manager says he was told the university had multiple meetings with Sweat to try to get him straightened out.

NFL teams believe Sweat was dismissed from Michigan State because he failed tests for marijuana and was accused of stealing a bike from a rack, according to multiple sources. That tracks with what Evans said in a 2018 interview, that "[Dantonio] let me go for weed. He let Montez Sweat go for weed. He let us go for weed, man. Weed, man. Nothing else."

NFL teams say Michigan State staff members have not disparaged Sweat. "They say he's not a thug; he just was hanging around a bad crew," the vice president says. "They said he couldn't stop smoking, so they had no choice. The people there like him. They say he's not a partier."

Most of the concerns about Sweat's lifestyle choices have been quelled because he redeemed himself at Mississippi State. But whether he has reined in his marijuana use or merely has avoided getting caught remains a question for one front-office man. Overall, though, there seems to be little worry about Sweat's behavior.

"He struggled with life skills early and was naive," the NFC general manager says. "He refocused in 2017. At Mississippi State, they think he's a good guy, and they say he's matured. He wants to be good. He loves football more than money. He's not just a jackass."

Having gone through some trials, Sweat is not the most trusting young man, according to those who know him. NFL front offices believe he would benefit from having a coach he can connect with, as well as solid veteran leadership around him.

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 26: Defensive End Montez Sweat #9 of Mississippi State of the South Team warms up before the start of the 2019 Resse's Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 26, 2019 in Mobile, Alabama. The North defeated the South 34 to 24.
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

At Mississippi State, Sweat grew to trust Brian Baker, his defensive line coach who has since gone to Alabama. Baker points out that Sweat could have entered the draft after the 2017 season but instead decided to come back and sacrifice money in part so he could continue to mature and show others he has matured. "It was intentional and conscious," Baker says. "He said, 'I need to change this part of my life,' and I saw evidence of that happening."

An NFC player personnel director who sat in on an interview with Sweat says he was impressed. "He was forthcoming about the mistakes he made and was calm in the interview setting," he says. "He showed good energy and a sense of humor."

Ultimately, the ability to move past adversity might enhance Sweat as a prospect. "The way I see it is he's been through some things in life and is coming out a better person," the personnel director says.

Headline 2, March 3, 2019:

Montez Sweat sets 40-yard dash record for defensive linemen at NFL scouting combine

In two full seasons at Mississippi State, Sweat had 22.5 sacks and was voted first-team All-SEC twice. Then he lit it up at the Senior Bowl. The aforementioned vice president says he thought Sweat might have been the best defensive player in Mobile, Alabama, for that game.

Still, when the 6'6", 260-pound Sweat ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, it was stunning. "When he did that, everyone was like, 'Oh, wow,'" an AFC scouting director says. He also acknowledges Sweat moved up on teams' boards after his 40.

The NFC player personnel director says he was expecting a 40 time in the low 4.5s from Sweat. Baker, who knows Sweat the athlete as well as anyone, anticipated a sub-4.5. But no one saw 4.41 coming.

The vice president says he thought Sweat would run a 4.65 or so. He also says Sweat plays fast—but not as fast as his 40 time because he takes long strides.

An AFC general manager says Sweat's speed is evident in how he closes on the quarterback. "He's a good pass-rusher with a long body, and he's athletic and [a] good bender," he says.

For a pass-rusher, the 10-yard split time—from the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash—sometimes is considered more revealing than the 40-yard dash time because it is an indicator of initial burst. Sweat's 10-yard split was a 1.55, which is excellent, and the best of the elite edge-rushers at the combine. For comparison, Von Miller's 10-yard split time was 1.53, Khalil Mack's 1.54 and Jadeveon Clowey's 1.56.

After the combine, the headline—and most of the talk—understandably focused on Sweat's speed, but the combine revealed much more about him physically.

The vice president was taken aback by Sweat's "long arms and big-ass hands." His arms measured 35¾", and his hands measured 10½".

Baker says he was more surprised by Sweat's weight than by his 40 time, though. According to him, Sweat's playing weight was somewhere between 245 and 250. "I wasn't sure he could get to 260," Baker says. "He was making himself sick over his weight."

Adding weight while increasing speed is quite an achievement—which speaks to Sweat's dedication and determination.

At his height, Sweat looks lanky. Before college, he was known as much for basketball as football, and he had offers to play college hoops. That could lead to some assumptions about him as a football player.

"People see a long, linear build and know about his basketball background, and they think he's not necessarily a physical guy," Baker says. "But Tez will punch you in the mouth. He's a physical player for his build."

The AFC scouting director says he has "zero issues" with Sweat's run defense, citing his strong play at the point of attack and ability to leverage. The AFC general manager says Sweat flashed ability as a run defender but has been inconsistent.

The NFC personnel director says Sweat can stay on a path. "You don't see him get knocked around," he says. "He has heavy hands, and he can shock tackles. He can bull rush or win with speed on the edge. The length shows up all the time because he can keep blockers off him."

Sweat's 36-inch vertical jump and 10'5" broad jump confirm all of this. "The numbers scream he has a lot of power in his body," the AFC personnel director says. "For a guy that big, to have that much power, is really impressive."

Sweat also impressed in the three-cone drill, which gauges short-area quickness. His time of 7.0 seconds was faster than the times of many wide receivers, defensive backs and running backs. It also was faster than the times of the other top pass-rushers who participated in the drill at the combine: Ohio State's Nick Bosa (7.10), Kentucky's Josh Allen (7.15), Michigan's Rashan Gary (7.26) and Clemson's Clelin Ferrell (7.26).

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: Defensive lineman Montez Sweat of Mississippi State works out during day four of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If there were any doubts about Sweat's ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, they were allayed by the combine. The NFC player personnel director says he proved his ability to drop during coverage drills in Indianapolis.

But there really shouldn't have been many doubts after watching tape, anyway. Sweat played in four different defenses in college, for four defensive coordinators. In 2017, he was an outside linebacker in a 3-4, and last year he played defensive end in a four-man front.

"He went from rushing and dropping and doing different combinations to a grunt position, playing four-high, inside shading the tackle, having to play knock-back and play the run," Baker says. "So he'll understand what's going on wherever he goes because of the exposure he's had to different things."

Says the NFC general manager: "I believe you could use him in a 4-3 or a 3-4. He's been compared to Aldon Smith as a player, and like Smith, he can play either position."

The AFC scouting director says Sweat reminds him of Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. "He has a similar body and is a similar type of rusher with the same straight-line speed," he says.

Sweat's workout confirmed what scouts saw on tape, and it also hinted that he has even more ability than he's been able to tap into.

Headline 3: March 17, 2019

Combine tests reveal Montez Sweat has heart condition

In 2017, Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was considered a potential top-10 pick in the draft until he was diagnosed at the combine with a heart problem believed to be similar to Sweat's. The NFC personnel director says many teams took Hurst off their boards. He was chosen in the fifth round by the Raiders.

After the tests on Sweat revealed what team sources say is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a condition in which a portion of the heart becomes abnormally thick—many teams wanted to have him examined again by their own doctors. Individual team physicals may interpret his condition differently, and some teams may be more comfortable than others with whatever risk exists.

But the fact that Sweat was allowed to work out at the combine after being diagnosed might be an indication that his condition is less concerning than Hurst's was. Hurst was not allowed to work out at the combine after diagnosis.

One front-office source told Bleacher Report his team considers Sweat a medical reject, and he knows of multiple other teams that categorize Sweat similarly.

But not every team sees it that way.

"He doesn't have the same high-risk factor as some of the athletes in the past that people have worried about like Maurice Hurst," the NFC general manager says. "He's a low risk for sudden cardiac arrest, but it is there."

The staff at Mississippi was aware of Sweat's condition, according to Baker. "It wasn't an issue," Baker says. "It hasn't affected him. He never missed a snap in a game because of it, never even missed a snap in practice. The guys who coached him at Michigan State never had any issues because of it."

Whenever Sweat's name is announced, he won't take the stage for a photo op with Roger Goodell. He will be watching the draft "where it all started," in Stone Mountain with his family, instead of traveling to Nashville, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Jim Lytle/Associated Press

Based on talent alone, the NFC general manager, NFC player personnel director and AFC scouting director all see Sweat as a top-10 pick. B/R's Matt Miller has him 12th overall on his latest big board. The AFC general manager and the vice president say his talent merits a selection in the middle to late part of the first round.

The vice president points out Sweat's stock could vary team to team because of how many premium edge-rushers there are. Bosa is considered to be in a class by himself. But teams will vary in how they rate the next group of Sweat, Gary, Allen, Ferrell, Brian Burns from Florida State, Jaylon Ferguson from Louisiana State and Jachai Polite from Florida.

The AFC scouting director puts Sweat and Allen in a category above the others.

Sweat has as much upside as any of them. But how teams weigh the headlines from his past will determine his future as much as anything.


Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danpompei.