The 49ers are not scheduled to be one of the NFL franchises with a scout in attendance when Mississippi State becomes the latest team to try to stop the Alabama juggernaut, but San Francisco's talent evaluators should still have a close eye on the performance of one Bulldog player in Tuscaloosa.

Last Thursday's victory over the Oakland Raiders and a softer schedule over the coming weeks could see the Niners out of the Nick Bosa sweepstakes, with Nick Mullens providing renewed hope of some further wins that would move San Francisco away from the top pick in next year's draft.

If Bosa is out of their reach, the 49ers will need to look to the other edge rushers in a loaded class, and Mississippi State's Montez Sweat is a member of that class who many believe to be worthy of a first-round pick.


Sweat has dominated SEC competition in recent times: he had 10.5 sacks in 2017 and already has 10 for the 2018 campaign. Yet after failing to register one in the same matchup in Starkville last year, how Sweat fares in attempting to add to his tally against college football's best will go a long way to determining how a player who lacks some of the athletic traits looked for in top-tier edge rushers is thought of in front offices across the NFL.

Lacking the burst off the ball to immediately threaten the outside shoulder of opposing tackles as well as the bend to get around the edge consistently, the physical attribute that Sweat does possess is length.

At 6'6" and 245 pounds the former basketball player unsurprisingly has very long arms to go with plenty of power in his hands, which enables him to swat away punches and get up underneath the pads of linemen and drive them back towards the quarterback. However, that brute force is often undermined by his inconsistent pad level, which is not wholly surprising for a player of his height. Despite his obvious power, Sweat has regularly had problems making an impact when having to front up and deal with blockers head on.

What helps Sweat compensate for those issues is his motor. Sweat fights until the end on every snap, often using a nifty spin to free himself from his block, and many of his sacks have come as a result of sheer persistence.


That may be of concern to 49ers fans who have for much of the last few seasons watched edge rushers fail to win their matchups and create the required disruption. Yet it should be noted that for much of his college career, Sweat has had to play with his hand in the dirt in three and four-man fronts. With the depth the Niners have on their defensive line, that would not likely be asked of him if he is drafted by San Francisco.

Sweat would certainly not be required to be an every-down player immediately and has enough in his repertoire to suggest he could flourish operating on a more limited snap count as a stand-up pass rusher playing alongside DeForest Buckner and Co. on nickel and dime downs.


Sweat complements his hand-fighting abilities with an effective rip move and foot quickness that help him win inside and overcome his inability to get around the edge with burst and bend by doing so in more creative ways, as he did on the play below from last year's Alabama game.


Right tackle Matt Womack is initially in good position to deal with Sweat's rush, but a stutter and a sharp right-footed jab step from Sweat make him think an inside move is coming. That split second of hesitation allows Sweat to burst around the outside and force Jalen Hurts from the pocket.

Though he did not get home on the sack, plays like that suggest he is a player who has nuance to his game as well as power, length and determination. Those qualities have helped him become one of the most dominant defenders in the SEC despite a lack of top-level burst and consistent bend. After drawing a blank against Alabama last year, an influential showing versus the Crimson Tide this time around will provide further evidence of his development in 2018 and should elevate his reputation in the minds of teams like the 49ers, for whom difference making edge rushers have to be the priority in the offseason.