RUSSELL: Montez Sweat ready to prove other teams 'passed up on a winner'

Chris Russell
May 30, 2019 - 10:50 am
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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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With the 26th pick in the first round of last month’s NFL Draft, the Redskins selected Montez Sweat out of Mississippi State.

Truth be told, it’s very likely he would have been the 15th overall pick – if Dan Snyder didn’t personally intervene and make sure the Redskins walked away with Dwayne Haskins.

Either way, the Redskins got both young men, who they hope will be the foundation of the franchise for the next ten years or so.

The last time the Redskins had two first round draft picks (2005), it didn’t exactly work out that way. Carlos Rogers (No. 9 overall) and Jason Campbell (No. 25 overall) were both gone far too soon for the hopes and expectations that the franchise had.

The time before that? LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels went No. 2 and No. 3 overall, respectively, in 2000. That double-dip worked out better than Rogers and Campbell, but quite honestly, still not as good as it should have. Arrington was out halfway through Joe Gibbs’ second stint as head coach, and Samuels was forced to retire after suffering a neck injury in 2009.

The Redskins need Haskins and Sweat to be two franchise-changing players. Both need to be a home run or a slam dunk. It’s that simple.

There’s been much hype over Haskins, and rightfully so. He’s the quarterback and the higher pick. The more impact player in year one, and perhaps over the long-term, figures to be Sweat.

So who is Montez Sweat, and what don’t we know about the 6-6 edge rusher?

Coaches on both sides of the ball at Mississippi State sang his praises. One on the offensive side of the ball said, “Montez is a hell of a player and person.”

One on the defensive side described him initially as a “good-hearted kid” who Mississippi State took a chance on after a failed run at Michigan State and then a stint at a Mississippi community college.

The defensive coaches' first reaction to seeing Sweat on a football field, in person? “Holy Cow!”

He was described then as long and fast with “explosion out of his hands and hips.”

However, Sweat didn’t know enough about football, and one person familiar with Sweat’s past said he “wasn’t mature enough" at that time. 

Over two years at Mississippi State, Sweat racked up 22.0 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss along with just over 100 total tackles.

According to SIS Info Solutions, Sweat had 20 quarterback knockdowns, 94 pressures, 50 hits, and 58 hurries during his two seasons with the Bulldogs.

He lined up on either side of the ball, in a three-man front and in 2018 in more of a four-man front look.

The Bulldogs led the country in total defense and were second in scoring defense last year just behind Clemson, who won the national championship. They allowed the fewest yards per play in the country (4.13)

After one year with the Bulldogs, Sweat considered going to the NFL and leaving school.

After word got back to Sweat and his family that most NFL teams had a third-round grade on him with little variance, Sweat smartly decided to stay in school and get better. He did.

“I had a long talk with my coach – coach Brian Baker (now at Alabama) and coach [Todd] Grantham. Also, a lengthy talk with my grandparents,” Sweat told 106.7 The Fan last week at Redskins Park. “They wanted me to go back and get my degree. My coaches and myself thought there was more to do on the field where I can up my production, just go back and do the same thing I did last year, just a little better.”

Sweat added on his decision: “When I look back at it, it all worked out for the better.”

He became a first-round pick that should have gone higher, if not for an apparent misdiagnosis of a heart issue at the combine in February.

It was thought that Sweat was dealing with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening of the heart walls, but according to multiple reports, Sweat was told before the draft that he was misdiagnosed.

The Redskins were convinced that the misdiagnosis was correct and felt good enough about Sweat’s future to trade back up into the first round with Indianapolis, surrendering their second-round pick and next year’s second-round selection.

“It’s always a motivation,” Sweat said of the teams that bypassed him for whatever reasons they had. “If I would have went number two, I would have been upset at the number one pick.”

Sweat wasn’t done serving notice. “Obviously, all those teams that passed on me, I intend to show those guys that they definitely passed up on a winner. I just intend to show that throughout the rest of my years in the league.”

Sweat has drawn comparisons to Julius Peppers, who had a similar height and frame and played college basketball at North Carolina before becoming the No. 2 overall pick of the Carolina Panthers back in 2002.

One of the coaches back at Mississippi State said of Sweat that he “looks like a power forward, not a defensive end.” But make no mistake; the coach said that while Sweat could have played basketball on a professional level, “Montez is a football player.”

Sweat realized quickly where his bread was going to be buttered. “I played basketball in my early years but when it all comes down to it, I’m a football player. It’s what I do now.”

In our conversation with Sweat, he did point out that he’d be a high-value athlete in the NBA, too. “I’d have a double-double, no doubt,” he chuckled with confidence. Sweat says he'd play either small forward or power forward and envisions himself as “versatile like Draymond (Green),” saying that he could “guard anybody from the guard to the center.”

Being compared to Peppers means you have a high standard to live up to. If he can be 75-percent of what Peppers turned out to be, the Redskins landed a good player. Peppers was thicker than Sweat is (Peppers played at around 290 pounds, while Sweat is listed at 260) and racked up 159.5 career sacks. Peppers had more bulk; Sweat has more speed.

However, being compared to Peppers and being motivated by the draft is not what really makes Sweat tick. It’s his grandparents. While his grandmother was open to Sweat turning pro over a year ago, his grandfather, armed with input from Baker, a former Redskins assistant in Jay Gruden’s first year, and the NFL reports, insisted on Sweat buckling down.

Sweat used that advice the right way, bolstering his stock from a likely third-round selection into one of the new cornerstones of the Redskins franchise. His mission moving forward is to represent the love and work ethic his grandparents installed in him: “When you talk about why’s, my grandparents are definitely my why!”

While I personally had a Robert Griffin III thought bubble in my mind when Sweat said that, you can tell how important they are to him. “Just getting up and making them proud every day is motivation and what I intend to do every day,” he said.

It’s important for Sweat to always think about his why all the time because of what led him to Mississippi State in the first place: a long suspension in East Lansing that led to his departure.

He went from a kid to a man at Mississippi State and now is a professional with the Redskins, where he’s in a great spot.

“I love he’s there,” said the defensive coach that knew Sweat. The coach had a fear at one point that Sweat would be put in a spot that he would be “getting paid and getting laid. I was worried about that.” But the coach allowed, “He’s in the situation I hoped he would be in.”

Why? Because of Ryan Kerrigan’s influence and work ethic, largely along with other elements that Sweat has embraced in his life.

“I saw a guy who made an investment to do what he had to do. He knew he had to make better decisions and he checked those boxes,” said the coach. “It’s what you do consistently and what you’re all about.”

“Montez is a great kid.”

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