Five things we learned about the edge rushers and defensive tackles at the 2019 NFL Combine:
1. Sweat ran the fastest 40 for a DL since 2003. Edge rusher Montez Sweat, ranked the No. 17 overall prospect by Daniel Jeremiah on NFL.com, was the talk of Indianapolis over the weekend for results of his on-field workout. The Mississippi State product, whom people got to know last month at the Senior Bowl, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, one one-hundredth of a second slower than the fastest running back at the 2019 NFL Combine. It was also a faster time than any quarterback or tight end posted this year. And that’s the biggest difference between college and the pros. You can’t get to the outside on defenses full of players like Sweat.
“No one has crushed the pre-draft process better than Sweat,” NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks said. “The former Mississippi State star opened eyes in January at the Reese's Senior Bowl with a dominant week of practice and he's kept the buzz going with a spectacular performance at the combine. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound pass rusher clocked a 4.41-second 40-yard dash -- a modern combine record for a defensive lineman -- while also displaying impressive movement skills in drills. He moves like a wide receiver through the bags, exhibiting outstanding lateral quickness and change-of-direction ability. With Sweat also showing disruptive pass-rush skills on tape, he might have put himself in the discussion to be picked in the top five in some meeting rooms.”
Sweat, meanwhile, says he is comfortable in any scheme.
“I think teams are considering me both in a 3-4 and a 4-3,” Sweat said. “I talk to teams about dropping, and also about staying down in a (three-point) stance and just playing off the edge. … This is a very deep, talented defensive line group. I think I would separate myself with my effort and my play. Just getting after the QB is what I do best.”
2. Bosa didn’t medal at the Underwear Olympics, and that’s OK. Like his older brother Joey, Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa didn’t need to dominate the NFL Combine in a track uniform. Both showed enough of that in pads on game tape. The younger Bosa was fourth among defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (4.79 seconds), eighth in the bench press (29 reps), tied for seventh in vertical (33.5 inches) and broad jump (9 feet, 8 inches), and fourth in the three-cone drill (7.10 seconds). It worked out fine for his brother, who ran a 4.86 40 before the Chargers selected him third overall in 2016. Now he is a Pro Bowler with 28.5 sacks in 35 career games. Nick, whose final collegiate season was cut short because of a core muscle injury, wanted to leave no doubt that he was fully recovered.
“The toughest part is the beginning,” he said of the injury. “It’s such a unique injury in that it’s literally the muscle used to breathe, to cough, to go to the bathroom. It’s your core muscle, it’s something different than I’ve dealt with before. It’s really gradual, small steps. Once you get through it, I’m feeling better than I’ve ever felt right now.”
While being able to train full-speed for a couple months, Bosa said he has only started to feel like himself without any soreness over the past few weeks.
“He's the best player in the draft, in my opinion,” Jeremiah said. “I think he's as skilled of a pass rusher as we've seen in a while. He's not the physical freak that we've seen from Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. He's not in that class. ... But when the tape starts, you put it on, he's unblockable."
3. Jersey natives Allen, Gary vying for spots in loaded class. The 2019 draft class comes around at the right time for the Giants’ defense, which general manager Dave Gettleman said is in need of playmakers while the lack of them was a major reason for last year’s 5-11 record. From top to bottom, inside and outside, most people agree this crop is stacked. Kentucky’s Josh Allen and Michigan’s Rashan Gary are among them. Allen, who led the state of New Jersey in quarterback sacks at Montclair High School, is listed No. 3 overall by Jeremiah. Measuring at 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, Allen ran the 40 in 4.63 seconds (tied for seventh among edge defenders), did 28 reps in the bench press (second), and had a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.23 seconds (second).
“Oh yeah, I think I’m the best player in the draft, but I believe that, I think every guy here should believe that,” Allen said. “And if a team doesn’t believe that, I’ll see them during the season.’’
Gary, the former USA Today All-USA Defensive Player of the Year (2015) and two-time New Jersey Defensive Player of the Year (2014, 15), went out and posted the fastest 40-yard dash time among defensive linemen (4.58), not including edge rushers. And that’s the thing with Gary. Is he an interior defensive lineman or an edge player?
“I like both,” he said. “Me being an edge rusher, I love to get after the QB. That’s a part of my game I’m improving in, and I love doing it. I also like the fact I can do anything. You can put me anywhere and I can be that type of player you need to cause havoc.”
4. Quinnen Williams went against agent’s advice, ran the 40 again. Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, ranked the second overall prospect by Jeremiah on NFL.com, ran a 4.87 40-yard dash on his first attempt. He is 6-foot-3, 303 pounds, mind you. Despite each player getting two attempts, the first time was good enough for his agent, but not him. According to her, Williams didn’t listen and bet on himself. He went out and beat it with a 4.83. According to NFL Research, it was the fourth-fastest time by a 300-pounder at the combine since 2003. The others were Tank Johnson (4.69, 2004), Luis Castillo (4.80, 2005) and Jaye Howard (4.82, 2012). While others this week publically stated their desire to be the No. 1 pick, Williams will leave it up to NFL teams to decide.
“I really haven't thought about being the No. 1 pick,” he said. “I just want to motivate myself to be the best player I want to be, being the best player I can be with whichever team I can go to.”
5. Clemson D-Linemen show why they won national championship. The three colleges with the most players at this year’s combine are Clemson (11), Alabama (11) and Ohio State (10). It’s no surprise they are the only three programs who have won a championship in the College Football Playoff era. Clemson, the most recent champion, sent seven players from the defensive front seven alone to Indianapolis. The only question about their talent is in which order to put them.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said tackle Christian Wilkins, who is ranked No. 4 overall by Jeremiah (his top four are all defensive linemen/edge rushers). “It’s pretty awesome. Honestly, well one, I get to see my guys. I haven’t seen them since the parade. It’s good to be back with my guys again. I’ll go hang with them … like nothing’s changed. It’s definitely awesome. I’m proud of each and every one of the other guys for being here. It’s a testament to their hard work, the sacrifices they’ve made not just in their times in college, but throughout their lives to get to this point.”
According to Jeremiah, the list then goes to Clelin Ferrell (No. 22) and Dexter Lawrence (No. 31), who led all defensive linemen with 36 reps in the bench press and ran a 5.05 40 at 342 pounds. Lawrence, however, was forced to cut short his workouts because of an injury.
“As a pass rusher, he primarily relies on his strength and power to push the pocket,” Jeremiah wrote of Lawrence in his scouting report. “He does have impressive foot quickness and occasionally flashes a nifty swim move. However, he didn't get many opportunities because Clemson brought in more explosive rushers in obvious passing situations. He is a dominant run defender. He easily stacks single blocks on the front side and refuses to be cut off on the back side. Teams will need to investigate the suspension for a failed test for performance-enhancing drugs that kept Lawrence out of the College Football Playoff. Overall, Lawrence will be an immediate force against the run and I believe he has the potential to develop into more than a pocket pusher in the passing game.”