TAMPA — Montez Sweat announced his decision to skip the NFL draft in Nashville this week to watch with his family in Stone Mountain, Ga.
But speculation is that the move could be related to a heart condition that reportedly has caused several teams to remove the 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end from their draft boards.
Depending on the organization, Sweat, 22, is either a rare athlete with long arms and 4.41-second speed in the 40-yard dash who was one of the SEC’s most productive pass rushers at Mississippi State, or a player whose medical history is flashing a giant red light.
The Bucs, who own the No. 5 overall pick in Thursday’s first round, won’t comment on Sweat’s condition except to indicate they have consulted with multiple heart specialists. Also, new strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli and his assistant Michael Stacchiotti worked with Sweat at Mississippi State and should have insight into his condition.
A little more insight: In the past, doctors at the NFL combine have prevented players from participating due to health risks, even sending one player home this year. Sweat was allowed to participate in the February-March event at Indianapolis, meaning officials deemed his condition to be low risk. He had one of the best workouts in combine history.
NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero said that “without getting too technical … (Sweat) has an enlarged heart.”
When asked about Sweat’s condition, his agents told nfl.com, “Because of privacy issues, we are not allowed to comment specifically. But I will tell you that this is not news. Montez is the same person that was medically cleared to play and dominate the SEC, the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine. No change in health, and no change in domination.”
A year ago, Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was sent home from the combine when doctors became concerned about an irregular electrocardiogram, though he had already been cleared to play by doctors at Michigan and Harvard.
Hurst’s draft stock plummeted, and the Raiders drafted him in the fifth round. Hurst started 10 games and finished with four sacks, 31 tackles and a forced fumble.
Sweat is a much better player. A converted tight end, Sweat began his college career at Michigan State. He was redshirted as a freshman in 2014. He played in two games the next year but was suspended for reasons that were undisclosed and Sweat won’t detail.
“Coming into college, I was young, 17 years old,’’ Sweat said. “Every year I matured, and obviously when I got dismissed, it was a big blow. But it just humbled me a lot and forced me to grow up.’’
Sweat enrolled at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss., where he had 39 tackles and five sacks in one season. Mississippi State offered him a chance to play, and he responded in his first season by taking all-SEC honors after leading the conference with 101/2 sacks. Last season he had 53 tackles and 81/2 sacks, and was named a second-team All-American.
It’s unfair to compare prospective draft picks to first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame players, but Sweat’s body type and style reminds scouts of Jason Taylor’s.
The Bucs need defensive linemen. Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off a 121/2-sack season but is 30. Carl Nassib showed promise with 61/2 sacks last season but can become a free agent after 2019. Noah Spence will get a chance to move to outside linebacker, and the Bucs also signed free agent edge rusher Shaq Barrett to a one-year contract.
The problem for Sweat is that the draft is deep and talented at defensive line. And among the elite pass rushers, he seems to be the only player with major medical concerns.
Nonetheless, Sweat would seem a good fit in the Bucs’ new 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles with his versatility to rush or drop into coverage.
“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.’’
If linemen Quinnen Williams, Nick Bosa, Josh Allen and Ed Oliver are gone by the time the Bucs are on the clock, would they consider Sweat at No. 5? It’s hard to say, especially not knowing what their medical evaluations tell them. But a team that’s confident that Sweat’s heart condition isn’t going to be a problem may find him as a bargain later in the first or second round.
“I think I would separate myself with my effort and my play,” Sweat said. “Just getting after the QB is what I do best.’’