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2018 NFL Draft

“SLEEPER” PICK AT #27? Why One of the NFL Draft’s Biggest Risers Would Significantly Boost the Saints Pass Rush

Every year in the NFL Draft, there are players who are originally projected to be chosen after Round 1, that end up exceeding or demonstrating to evaluators that their actual value as a potential player at the next level should be ranked or listed much higher than originally believed.

The common term for such a player is the "biggest riser", and in this year's 2018 NFL Draft class that term can certainly be applied to the player that potentially will be still available when the Saints pick at #27 overall: Florida State EDGE pass rusher / defensive end Josh Sweat.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Once projected as a 3rd Round pick a few months ago, Sweat has ROCKETED up most Draft Boards and is now viewed as a "fringe" late 1st / early 2nd Round pick.

Additionally, he has gone from being ranked in the 3rd Tier of this year's EDGE pass rusher class, to now being listed as the #3 overall prospect by a few analysts — right behind Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State and Harold Landry of Boston College.

And given the fact that the Saints have made it well known that targeting an EDGE pass rusher is considered one of their top 2018 off-season priorities, Sweat's rapid rise up most NFL Draft Boards with Opening Night just 8 days away would seemingly qualify him as a "sleeper" pick for New Orleans to make at #27 overall.

Photo courtesy of The Tallahassee Democrat

So — why exactly was Sweat originally projected so low, and what has led to his rise since that time?

How can NFL Scouts rate or label a player as a 3rd Round pick, only to change their minds just a few short months later?

The short answer (and the main concern for most prospects at this time every year) is there are lingering concerns about Sweat's near-miraculous recovery from an injury that he suffered in a freak injury back in 2014.

Sweat was a 5-star recruit in high school, and at one point he was even considered THE best high school prospect in the country. PERIOD.

But as a high school senior in September of 2014, Sweat suffered a grotesque dislocated knee while playing for Oscar Smith High School in his hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia. 

Doctors told him at first that he would NEVER play again, after the left knee itself literally came out — that round ball part of the knee which is attached to the shin, and it came out and had to be put back into the socket

Sweat had torn his ACL, MCL and PCL. A devastating injury that would end most playing careers, regardless of age or any possible "favorable" prognosis.

Despite the injury, Sweat somehow managed to recover fast enough to push his way in to the Seminoles’ starting lineup during his freshman year the following season in 2015.

However, Sweat has since admitted that decision to play as a freshman instead of taking a medical "redshirt", may have been a mistake due to the lingering issues he’s faced with the knee since.

Then as a sophomore during the 2016 regular season, Sweat tore the meniscus in the very same left knee; but yet he still managed to collect 7 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss as part of a dominant Florida State Front 7.

(Photo: Travis Register, CBSSports)

Finally, Sweat's junior season for the Seminoles in 2017 was considered by some as a bit of a "let down" for both the team overall and for Sweat individually, at least from a statistical standpoint. FSU finished just (7-6) overall, and Sweat managed just 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, while declaring early for the 2018 NFL Draft.

That led to his initial projection of Round 3, until the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month.

It was there where Sweat had the FASTEST 40 at the combine (4.53) among defensive ends.

His vertical leap (39.5") was also first among all defensive ends, and it would have ranked 4th among running backs and tied for 2nd among wide receivers. His broad jump of 124" also would've made the top 10 for backs and receivers.

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

In particular, his 10-yard split of 1.55 seconds was very impressive; given the fact that you don’t normally see those type of results from guys who usually aren’t thought to be "elite" speed receivers.

Thus, Sweat has proven to scouts, medical evaluators (at least for now), and League front office personnel men and executive types, that the knee may be finally healing up fully.

And with the EDGE pass rusher position considered to be a "premium" for most NFL teams, Sweat's apparent recovery has allowed him to rise up Draft Boards and into the conversation as a possible 1st Round selection. Some recent Mocks even have him going as high as #25, to the Tennessee Titans.

But here's the biggest question if you're a Saints fan this morning, which is: 

Is Sweat worth the Saints taking a risk at #27?

Michael Chang/Getty Images

It certainly can be said that New Orleans might be better suited to not make such a selection, given that Sweat didn’t put up the kind of production at Florida State you’d expect to see out of an "elite" EDGE pass rusher.

He tallied just 14.5 sacks in three seasons with the Seminoles, and his average capabilities as a run-stopper don't exactly make you think of him as a "can't miss prospect".

But that Scouting Combine performance was SO GOOD, that he's since been drawing comparisons to guys like Jadeveon Clowney of the Texans, and Ziggy Ansah of the Lions.

Is he REALLY that good?

Unfortunately, we won't know the answer to that at least until a few years from now.

It will be very interesting to see which team is the most willing to take a gamble on Sweat early in the draft. His tape and college production doesn’t warrant an early pick, but his jaw-dropping athleticism and notable speed coming off the outside edge, could be too enticing to pass up for teams needing a player that can make a big impact at getting to the QB.

Photo courtesy of The Tallahassee Democrat

CBS draft analyst Jason LaCanfora listed Sweat as one of his "sleeper prospects" just last week, and said that the guys (scouts) that he's talked to believe Sweat has more than enough pure talent to lure someone into taking him at the end of Round #1 in a little less than two weeks from now.

"He has the best first step in this draft for me," said one "anonymous" evaluator who has watched him closely, to LaCanfora.

"I'd put Chubb ahead of him and [Marcus] Davenport, but Sweat is the third-best pass rusher in this draft.

"And he's got all the numbers you look for, too -- height, weight, speed, all of it. Those guys don't last long on draft day."

LaCanfora notes that the issue for Sweat is a medical, primarily, with a knee perhaps worrying some teams.

Added the "anonymous" NFL scout to LaCanfora:

"Maybe he's down because people are down on him because they had him playing five-technique at Florida State at 250 pounds, but that's not how I write him up. This kid will get it done in space. He's an edge guy. Put him at outside linebacker."

Clearly if Sweat is as good as the anonymous scout believes that he is, then you can his name to the long list of potential / possible / likely Saints picks at #27.

In fact, well-respected NFL Scout and Draft Analyst Jon Ledyard even Mocked the 21-year old Sweat to the Saints in a recent 7-Round Saints-themed Mock last week for Ledyard says that Sweat has real "juice" off the edge, and the bend and flexibility to turn into a double-digit sack artist.

Photo courtesy of The Tallahassee Democrat

He can play right away due to his advanced mental processing and strong run defense with his hand in the dirt, and his selection by New Orleans at #27 would give the Saints a suddenly formidable front line.

In closing, it certainly can be said that Saints fans can consider Sweat to be a "sleeper" pick at #27 overall.

But if the Saints would like an opportunity to significantly boost their pass rush on the edge opposite of Cam Jordan, than a selection of Sweat might just actually be worth taking the risk.....


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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