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11 for 11 draft series: Montez Sweat could make Bengals’ defense elite

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After dominating the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine, Montez Sweat is on track to be a top-10 pick. If he’s not, the Bengals become a serious contender to draft him.

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TaxSlayer Bowl - Mississippi State v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Two years ago, wide receiver prospect John Ross ran himself into the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft thanks to his record-breaking 4.22 40-yard dash.

While defensive end Montez Sweat isn’t quite that fast, he may very well find himself coming off the board in the exact same range as Ross did.

A tremendous showing at the NFL combine (headlined by his 4.41 40 time) is what established Sweat as a bonafide first-round prospect. Solid production, strong tape and positional value is what elevates him into the discussion just outside the first handful of picks. Every team needs more pass rushers, and the Bengals can’t pretend to be an exception.

Sweat has a résumé that the NFL will always value. If not for names like Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, it may not even be a discussion if Sweat is gone after the first 10 picks.

Ahead of the draft, we’re doing an ‘11 for 11’ series making the case for 11 different players for the Bengals’ No. 11 overall pick.

Up first, here’s why the Bengals should take Sweat with the 11th overall pick:

  • Outside of linebacker and offensive tackle, defensive end is a sneaky need for the Bengals. Carl Lawson is coming off of a torn ACL and Jordan Willis hasn’t proven much in two seasons. Now that Michael Johnson is gone, there is very little depth behind Carlos Dunlap and Johnson’s presumed replacement Sam Hubbard.
  • Even if Lawson is going to make a full recovery, edge rushers should always be in consideration for a franchise’s first-round pick, especially one that’s missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
  • In a draft class that’s utterly front-loaded with talent on the defensive line, Sweat has managed to rise near the top and separate himself from the second-tier players at his position.
  • Even with multiple pass rushers set to come off the board before the Bengals select, Sweat would very easily be one of the highest ranked players available.
  • Sweat ran the fastest 40-yard dash for a defensive lineman in the history of the combine. His vertical jump (36”), broad jump (10’5”), 3-cone drill (7.00) and short shuttle (4.29) all ranked in the top-six for edge rushers at Indianapolis this past March.
  • Sweat posted those numbers after measuring in at a hair under 6’6”, 260 with 35.75” arms, 10.5” hands and a marvelous 84.75” wingspan.
  • In his two seasons at Mississippi State, Sweat has accounted for 22 of his defense’s 75 sacks (29.33% market share) and 29.5 of 189 tackles for loss (15.6% market share).
  • More than just a pass disrupter, no draft-eligible edge defender had a higher run-stop percentage (12.7%) than Sweat in 2018, per Pro Football Focus.
  • With a frontline that already has Lawson, Dunlap, Hubbard and Geno Atkins, not to mention a promising secondary, the addition of Sweat could make this Bengals defense elite, despite flaws at linebacker.

Here’s why the Bengals should pass on Sweat with the 11th overall pick:

  • Despite having positional value, selecting Sweat over either Devin White or Devin Bush at linebacker would be quite the controversial move. NFL teams don’t purely draft best player available in the first round, the Bengals proved that fact last year.
  • Sweat isn’t universally ranked high. PFF has him as only their 46th best player.
  • It can be argued that Sweat’s combine performance wasn’t indicative of the athleticism he showed on the field in pads. His lack of bend around the edge is a notable flaw of his. The Bengals only have to look at Willis for a similar discrepancy.
  • While his production was decent, it wasn’t dominant. Even at SEC programs, the best NFL prospects dominate the box scores for their collegiate unit. Sweat’s production keeps the possibility of a high quality career alive, but far from a certainty.
  • There will be at least two edge rushers taken before Sweat no matter when he’s drafted. For the Bengals, who lack sufficient talent at multiple positions on their roster, adding Sweat would likely mean declining the chance of adding the best player at another position of need.

The Bengals have shown clear interest in drafting a defensive lineman early, and Sweat is arguably the best one they’ve met with over the last few weeks. If he remains available, he belongs in the most likely outcomes at 11th overall.