Did the Eagles Get Another First-Round Talent Due to Injury?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Last year it was Sidney Jones and the sequel could be Josh Sweat.
Jones, a talented cornerback out of the University of Washington, was projected to be a top-15 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft until suffering a torn Achilles at his pro day. Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas weighed the cost-benefit analysis of what was essentially a redshirt year for Jones and selected the two-time All-Pac-12 selection with the 43rd overall pick.
Jones ended up playing in only the meaningless Week 17 finale during the Eagles' Super Bowl LII season but is expected to be a big part of Jim Schwartz's defense moving forward.
This time around, it was an even more serious injury but one further in the rear-view mirror when Philadelphia decided Josh Sweat was worth the gamble at No. 130 overall.
Sweat was once one of the top recruits in the country as a prep player in Chesapeake, Va. until a devastating knee injury changed the trajectory of his football life.
On the fast track to being a college superstar and a first-round NFL draft pick, Sweat suffered a dislocated knee during his senior season at Oscar F. Smith High School that threatened his football mortality. In such cases -- similar to what happened to Teddy Bridgewater before the 2016 NFL season -- if the wrong artery is affected or the proper action isn't taken immediately, the leg could be lost, never mind a career.
In the case of Sweat, the silver lining was that the damage done was repairable and the hurdles placed in front of him, while significant, were not walls.
Sweat, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, arrived at Florida State and proved to be an effective player as essentially a multi-year rehab began. He was on the field but there were limitations as far as practice went and an addition to his equipment regimen, a knee brace that is now a part of his game-day life.
“I don’t think I had the college career I wanted at all," Sweat admitted after his first NFL practice at Eagles rookie minicamp on Friday. "It doesn’t really matter anymore. I’m here. I feel like I’m in a much better place as far as using my abilities the way they should be used."
The athleticism has slowly come back for Sweat over the past three years something evidenced by a position-bests in both the 40-yard dash (4.53) and vertical leap (39 1/2 inches) at the NFL Scouting Combine, drills used to measure explosiveness with NFL edge players.
First-round became fourth round, however, because of the injury, along with pedestrian production with the Seminoles, the latter of which can be explained by the read-and-react position Sweat was asked to play at Tallahassee, essentially a four-technique hybrid asked to respond to what the opposing offensive tackle was doing.
“If [the tackle] was late, I was late," Sweat explained "I never looked at the ball. It had nothing to do with my reaction time or anything like that. It’s a lot different here."
In Philadelphia, Sweat will be a Jim Schwartz wide-9 pass rusher who is asked to pin his ears back and get to the quarterback in obvious passing situations, something that has the 21-year-old fired up.
"I thought it was a lot more fun," Sweat said of his new role. "I got to play the edge. It’s always pass first, then you play the run. It’s so much better."
The pressure to be an immediate contributor is also minuscule with Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long penciled in as the key pieces at DE for Schwartz this season.
By 2019, however, Long and Bennett could be on to other things and even Graham is also at least a bit of a question mark as talks on an extension have inched along. Sweat, meanwhile, will be a full four years removed from the injury that changed everything for him and ready to prove the Eagles got a first-round talent at a bargin-bin price.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on the Matt Patricia mess in Detroit over at GetMoreSports.com.