Can Eagles rookie Josh Sweat step up in the wake of Derek Barnett’s injury?


The Philadelphia Eagles can’t seem to catch a break. After losing a heartbreaker to the Carolina Panthers, it was reported that rising star defensive end Derek Barnett is going to miss the rest of the 2018 season with to recover from shoulder surgery. With a the London game coming up before the much needed bye week, the Eagles are expected to start Michael Bennett in place of Barnett. However, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prefers to rotate his defensive ends, which means that 5th round rookie Josh Sweat is going to get more playing time. Can the Florida State product step up to the task? Let’s take a closer look at Sweat, and what he brings to the table.

The first thing to consider about Sweat is his extensive injury history. The five-star recruit was highly touted as the best defensive line recruit in the country coming out of high school in Virginia. Sweat was a complete monster, playing tight end, defensive end, and even punting. But before he even got to college, his playing career almost ended. A gruesome left knee injury caused left Sweat not only with a torn ACL but also fear that there was severe damage to his arteries. Luckily, Sweat was able to play three years in college, but not without suffering another knee injury- a meniscus tear- during his sophomore season.

At the 2018 NFL combine, Sweat put to rest any concerns about his knee. The 6’5, 250 pound athletic freak ran a 4.53 second 40-yard dash, the fastest for a defensive lineman. His 34 ⅝ ” inch arms put him in the 98th percentile compared to his peers. And Sweat’s 39 ½ inch vertical jump proved that he had completely regained all of his previous explosiveness.

During the 2018 season, Sweat has been limited to only 15 defensive snaps by the Eagles. To better understand what he can do for Jim Schwartz, it is essential to consider how Sweat was utilized in college. In three years, he played in 35 games while recording 138 total tackles, 29 tackles for loss, and 14.5 total sacks. In his final collegiate season alone, Sweat was exceptional in the tough ACC conference, as he amassed 18 hurries, 10 QB hits, and 6 sacks. Sweat lined up all over the defensive line for the Seminoles, but mainly playing from the 4-technique hampered his total production. When matched up inside over guards, Sweat was able to effectively use his length to get into opposing backfields quickly. He used his sheer strength and power to consistently drive back offensive linemen. The FSU product’s unique frame allows him to flatten off the edge and tilt his body inside to get an edge while pass rushing. The Eagle’s wide 9 technique scheme will play perfectly into Sweat’s strengths. This scheme will allow Sweat to gain more leverage since he will be lining up wide of the offensive tackle. The one knock that Sweat has is that he is inconsistent off the snap. On tape, Sweat was sometimes slow in moving after the ball was snapped, but this can be fixed with proper coaching and more experience.

Head coach Doug Pederson definitely believes in Sweat’s ability to step up stating:

“I think he’s done a great job. He’s working the service team, working his reps there, and he’s getting time with the D-line and does a great job. I think he’s explosive off the ball, he’s long, has been around the passer, can be disruptive, so this will be a great opportunity for him.”

Every effective defensive end requires three key traits: bend, spend and power, and strong hands. Sweat checks every single box. His combination of size, length, and explosion lead to him having an extremely high ceiling if he can just stay healthy. Sweat will join a veteran heavy defensive end rotation with Michael Bennett, Chris Long, and Brandon Graham. Learning from these players, and going up against the first team offense in practice have given Sweat the confidence he needs:

“It helps me tremendously especially because I haven’t shown them anything in a game yet and for them to say that they trust me and they’re ready for me to go out there and they trust that I can do what I’m supposed to, that helps me out a lot. Makes me a lot more comfortable.”

This upcoming game against the Jaguars serves as a key game for Sweat. Having the ability to go up against an injury decimated offense, and a mediocre quarterback in situational pass rush situations will enable him to get film to study over the bye week. It seems like Sweat is ready to embrace the challenge.


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports