Dwayne Haskins was drafted in the first round to be the Washington Redskins’ quarterback of the future, a player the team hopes will someday become the face of the franchise.
But the player who might make more of a difference right away, the one who should intrigue fans and the rest of the NFL, is the other first-round pick who stood next to Haskins on the Jefferson Memorial steps Saturday afternoon, wearing a dark checked suit and black loafers with spikes sticking out of them: Montez Sweat, an edge rusher out of Mississippi State.
Based on the measurements and times Sweat generated at the NFL scouting combine, and the mountains of praise dumped on him by analysts in the months before the draft, there is no way Sweat should have fallen to the 26th pick. Most experts considered him to be a top-10 selection and one of the three best prospects at his position.
How could they not? At the combine, Sweat ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds — a record for a defensive lineman. He stands 6-foot-6, weighs 260 pounds and has the kind of long arms and strong, giant hands that teams love from pass rushers. The Internet is filled with clips of him tormenting quarterbacks. In two years at Mississippi State, he had 22 1/2 sacks and 30 tackles for loss.
And yet he tumbled so far that Washington was able to trade back up into the first round — sending second-round picks from this year’s draft and next year’s to the Indianapolis Colts — to get him.
“High,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said, describing Sweat’s place on the team’s draft board. “Very high, yes. Very, very high.”
Which leaves a question: Did Washington get a steal, a pass rusher who can make an already strong defensive front one of the best in the league? Or are there good reasons so many teams passed on a player who should have been taken near the top of the draft?
The diagnosis of a heart condition at the combine may have frightened away some teams. Sweat was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that thickens heart muscle and can make it harder for the organ to pump blood. But the day before the draft began, a report from NFL.com said that the Houston Texans’ team doctors discovered that doctors at the combine erroneously included papillary muscle in their measurements, making Sweat’s condition seem worse than it is.
Sweat said Saturday that he was originally diagnosed two years ago during an exam when he arrived at Mississippi State. He said he played two seasons without problems and has been told by every doctor who examined him that he can play with the condition. Gruden said the Redskins’ team doctors do not believe Sweat’s condition will be a problem.
An assistant coach from an NFL team that brought Sweat in for a pre-draft visit said his team’s executives also were not bothered by the player’s condition, noting that there have been other NFL defensive linemen who have it and still played at a high level. Instead, the assistant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss another team’s draft pick, said his team was put off by Sweat’s interview, during which he appeared unfocused.
Another concern was that Sweat might not have been as dominant in college as he should have been, based on his athletic traits. But most of the pre-draft conversation centered on the medical issue.
“I have him slipping down a little bit,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during a pre-draft conference call, “because if [teams] feel somebody else is in that same range or same ballpark, it can be a bit of a tiebreaker.”
Jeremiah added that he did not expect “a major fall” based on Sweat’s medical report. In his mock draft, he had Sweat going to the New York Giants with the 17th pick — nine spots earlier than where he was actually chosen.
Sweat, who started his college career at Michigan State, was kicked off the team after his second year there for reasons that have not been disclosed. Another player who was dismissed at the same time said he and Sweat were kicked off for smoking marijuana. After a year at a junior college, Sweat transferred to Mississippi State, much closer to his hometown of Stone Mountain, Ga.
“I went through some personal problems, and I’ve really grown from that and matured from that,” Sweat said Saturday, responding to a question about his departure from Michigan State. “I showed at Mississippi State going through all that type of stuff, and I really feel like I’m a very mature person right now and just keep on growing up. I was pretty far away from home [at Michigan State] and I kind of got away from my moral values at first, but I definitely got back to them. ... Going through [junior college] definitely helped a lot. Just making my grandparents proud is the main thing.”
If the Redskins have concerns about Sweat, they did not express them publicly this past weekend. Instead, the talk was about their addition of a player they really like — a player they considered taking instead of Haskins with the 15th pick.
“I think he’s a perfect fit for us,” Gruden said Thursday night.
With Preston Smith leaving for the Green Bay Packers as a free agent and Washington’s coaches uncertain whether third-year player Ryan Anderson can become an effective pass rusher, the Redskins desperately wanted to add a high-end edge rusher in this draft to play the outside linebacker spot opposite Ryan Kerrigan. They may have gotten a steal when they found Sweat still available near the end of the draft’s first round, even if he does bring with him some mystery and risk.
“I feel like I’m very versatile. I can do a lot of things,” Sweat said. “I can stop the run. I can rush the passer. I can drop into coverage. I just want to be the best player I can be and just reach the highest level I can. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.”
A previous version of this story referred to capillary muscle in the heart. The correct term is papillary muscle.