2019 NFL Draft: Inside the battle between Mississippi State's Montez Sweat, Kansas State's Dalton Risner
Assessing each play in the heavyweight battle on the edge between the two top-tier prospects
Mississippi State edge-rusher Montez Sweat and Kansas State right tackle Dalton Risner will both be picked on one of the first two days in the 2019 NFL Draft, and they went toe-to-toe Saturday in Manhattan, Kansas.
I counted 13 times in which these two heavyweights squared off in true, one-on-one situations -- no tight end chipping or help from the right guard -- in the Bulldogs' convincing win. Two of those plays were low energy reps with the play going to the opposite side of the field and aren't included in this article.
Below is the blow-by-blow evaluation of how Risner (No. 71) and Sweat (No. 9) performed in the compelling clash between future early-round selections.
To start, let's get the nondescript rep out of the way. Risner gets the win here, although the run went nowhere. If anything, it displayed how strong Risner's grip can be.
In Sweat's defense, he looked to be reading and reacting more than simply attacking upfield and may have been tasked with setting the edge as the furthest outside defensive lineman.
On the next play, with the run designed to go directly through his gap, Risner had an important responsibility. He needed to get full control of Sweat to turn him to the outside to create a lane. The Kansas State right tackle did just that.
Risner's left hand may have been a bit too much on the outside here, but it would've been a very weak holding call.
Jumping ahead to the third quarter, Risner's vice grip hands worked their magic again even though he pushed Sweat toward the gap the run went through.
However, with intended path of the ball-carrier being inside, Risner simply had to sustain his block for a few seconds to complete his likely assignment.
Sweat's lone run-game win against Risner was one for the highlight reel. It came midway through the first quarter and was a scary demonstration of the power Sweat can generate at the point of attack.
In fairness to Risner, there's a chance the Wildcat fullback actually helped Sweat in getting the offensive tackle off balance by inadvertently placing his left foot directly behind Risner as he attempted to anchor. Either way, Sweat's low-center-of-gravity straight arm looked to completely overpower the Kansas State right tackle on this rep.
We all know that, above all, how an edge-rusher and offensive tackle perform on pass plays is most vital in today's NFL. The heavyweight battle between Risner and Sweat continued when Kansas State decided to throw the football on Saturday.
Here, in the second quarter, Sweat tried to quickly engage Risner and drive him back into the quarterback, but the veteran right tackle was ready for any attempt at speed-to-power.
While Risner didn't absolutely stonewall Sweat, he gave his signal-caller plenty of time and room to throw the football.
After that quality rep by Risner, Sweat showed off one of his many pass-rushing moves -- an inside fake to an outside speed rush. Risner looked to be initially fooled and gave up his right shoulder. Remarkably, he was able to recover nicely and push Sweat past the quarterback.
With less than three minutes to go in the first half, Sweat was sent after the quarterback off the edge again. This time, he deployed what looks like his most advanced pass-rushing move, a push-pull rip. The start of the rush looks similar to the first pass play shown above, where he simply engaged quickly and tried to convert speed to power. But a fraction of a second after he locked arms with Risner, Sweat used his momentum to pull Risner forward. After that, he ripped through with his right hand to get the leverage advantage and closed in on the Kansas State quarterback to force a hurried throw.
Certainly a win for Sweat there, but Risner wasn't totally lost, as he was able to maintain contact throughout the rush. He likely doesn't see that type of refined pass-rushing move often in the Big 12. He will have to deal with it in the NFL.
Later in that same drive, Sweat went full-out speed rush, and Risner was very fast in his kick slide to push the Mississippi State star past the quarterback. Well done.
However -- and this is one of two prime examples in this game of why pressure and sacks aren't always on the offensive line -- the signal-caller ran directly into danger, actually bumped into Risner and was ultimately sacked by Sweat. Technically, a win for Risner yet a win for the Bulldogs defense.
There was more of the same from Kansas State's two-quarterback system at the beginning of the third quarter. Sweat utilized a speed rush to the outside. Risner was ready for it, and Sweat tried to swipe past him. A moment later, the Wildcat quarterback drifted outside the pocket directly into Sweat who nearly got another sack delivered to him on a silver platter.
Risner had a super-quick wide set on that play and kept a steady base while he and Sweat grappled. It was a good demonstration of how Risner's light feet give him impressive lateral movement skills.
With Kansas State down 24-3 with under six minutes to go in the third quarter, they wanted to take a downfield shot. On this play, Sweat nearly beat Risner around the corner and managed to have a free hand for a potential strip sack, but once again, Risner was able to ride his assignment past the quarterback, making the arc too wide for Sweat to create a big play for the defense.
Later in that drive, Mississippi State sent an blitzer on Sweat's side in a 1st and 10 situation. Sweat got his pad level low and was able to fully extend his arms into Risner's chest. I'm assuming that combination leads to Sweat driving back the vast majority of offensive tackles he faces. Not Risner. Quality anchor against a powerful bull rush here.
This play was well-schemed by the Bulldogs, because the delayed extra blitzer did get home, though he arrived about a split-second late.
If you've been keeping track on the pass plays, that was six wins -- though not all absolutely perfect -- for Risner in one-on-one situations against Sweat. On two of those plays, the Kansas State quarterbacks drifted into Sweat's pressure, and one ended in a sack that wasn't Risner's fault.
Sweat clearly beat Risner on just one rep which led to a quarterback pressure.
For the run, Sweat had the colossal bull-rush win but was kept at bay by Risner on the three other plays.
Because the point of this article was to examine Risner vs. Sweat and not let the quarterback impact the outcome, Risner came out slightly ahead as the "winner" in this battle, although Sweat certainly wasn't nonexistent.
The best outside pass-rushers in the NFL are generating pressure -- a sack, hit, or hurry -- on between 15-20 percent of their pass-rush attempts. Sweat created a pressure on 14.2% of his rushes (1 of 7) against the star right tackle. But, if you factor in what the advanced stat sheet would show, he finished the afternoon with three pressures -- a sack and two hurries -- yet two of those were thanks to poor pocket presence from Kansas State's quarterbacks.
All in all, we were treated to a high-quality bout in which both players showcased the reasons why they're top prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft class.
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