Josh Sweat is a Reason to be Excited About 2021 Eagles

The Eagles struck gold landing Josh Sweat in the fourth round after concern over a serious knee injury in high school caused him to drop in the 2018 draft
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PHILADELPHIA — For all the concern over Josh Sweat's damaged knees, it was a wrist injury that sidelined him late last season.

The injury occurred in Week 15 and caused Sweat to miss the final two games of what had been, at that point, a career-season. As it was, he had six sacks, 38 tackles, and 12 QB hits on 38 percent of the defensive snaps, all of which were career highs.

Looking for a reason to be excited about the 2021 Eagles?

Look no further than the soon-to-be 24-year old defensive end.

Sweat is no worse than the fourth-best pass rusher on the Eagles, and maybe the third depending on how one might feel about the inconsistencies and injuries that have plagued former first-round draft pick Derek Barnett.

As it is, he is behind Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox as far as rushing the passer goes, but that could change this season.

Sweat, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the 130th player taken overall, showcased incredible pass rush potential during his tenure at Florida State. He had double-digit sacks season in his final two years in Tallahassee and, in 35 college games over three years, he had 29 sacks.

That he was still there to be plucked in the fourth round was due to a knee injury he suffered in high school, at Oscar E. Smith in Chesapeake, Va.

His leg got caught in the grass, dislocating his knee and tearing his ACL, MCL, PCL. Sweat described it once as a leg that "snapped in half."

Still, he recovered and played well at Florida State. The 6-5, 250-pound DE posted the fastest 40-yard dash in the 2018 NFL combine among defensive ends (4.53 seconds) and his burst off the edge has been on full display with his pass rush production increasingly getting better. 

According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles defensive end has accumulated 10 sacks on his last 498 pass-rush snaps from the span of 2019-2020 with a total of 43 pressures. 

It appears as if the defensive end has successfully removed doubts over the concerns of his knee's long-term status in his head as well, and it will be interesting to see his snap counts in the scheme of new Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.

“We did everything we had to do to get (my knee) right,” Sweat told reporters early into the 2020 season. “It doesn’t affect me at all (now).”

While the Eagles are slowly increasing Sweat’s workload, it’s fair to wonder if they believe now the defensive end can handle his current snap increase pace, rising from seven percent as a rookie to 35 percent in 2019 to its current level. 

The boost could put Sweat in the range of Barnett’s average snap count. Last year, Barnett played 49 percent of the snaps a year after getting 69 percent of them, but he could be on the roster bubble given his $10 million cap hit in 2021. The Eagles have until the start of the new league year on March 17 in order to decide to pay him, restructure the deal, cut him, or try to trade him.

Either way, the Eagles may opt to go with the better pass rusher in Sweat while giving him a larger role.

Speculation will ensue in regards to what the Eagles do with the defensive end group, but with Sweat on the final year of his rookie deal, the organization will have to figure out if the edge rusher is worth a long-term investment. 

The only way to do that is by playing him more. 

Conor Myles is a contributor for Sports Illustrated’s Eagle Maven. Listen to Conor and Ed on Eagles Brawl available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and RADIO.com. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesNFL

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.