There were two Tar Heels to give up their final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft after the 2018 season in hopes of starting their professional career after having earned their degrees from UNC. One was wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who I profiled last weekend. The other was offensive tackle William Sweet, coming off a season where he was named All-ACC First Team by Pro Football Focus and All-ACC Honorable Mention by ACC media after being named ACC Lineman of the Week . Sweet’s decision was less of a shock than Ratliff-Williams’; he’d had a highly decorated season and would have had to adjust to an almost completely new offensive system for his final year had he decided to stay. At least Phil Longo doesn’t use the Leach Air Raid splits... but that’s another topic. Let’s take a look at what Sweet will offer the team with which he begins his professional career:
William Sweet was a 4-star recruit in the class of 2015, ranked the 12th best offensive tackle prospect in the country for his year. He committed to UNC out of Jacksonville, Florida, and stuck with them despite late pushes from Tennessee, LSU, and home state Florida. After a redshirt year to get his body ready for college ball, he played in all 13 of UNC’s games in 2016 and impressed coaches enough to get the starting nod for 2017. After impressing early, however, he tore his ACL in the Heels’ 3rd game and had to bow out for the year. In 2018, he came back and held down the left tackle spot for most of the season before UNC started playing with personnel late in the season to see what the future might hold. While UNC had pretty anemic offenses in 2017 and 2018, the offensive line as a whole in 2018 was a pretty pleasant surprise, allowing fewer than a sack a game and leading a respectable rushing attack for how little the pass was respected as the season went on. Sweet was a huge part of this, allowing 11 pressures and just 1 sack on 398 pass-blocking snaps according to Pro Football Focus, and a total of 71 knockdown blocks in 9 games according to GoHeels.com. After declaring for the draft, Sweet was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Sweet made positive headlines off the field, too. He won first place at the Carolina Challenge Pitch Party at the Business School for his idea of a cold-compress leg sleeve for rehabilitating athletes and others who may need it. This and his volunteer work at the Chapel Hill Ronald McDonald House and UNC Bridge Builders Program led to his being named UNC’s first Floyd McKissick, Sr. Award for student and community advocacy. He was also a member of UNC’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, a body made up of student-athletes from all sports that is each school’s athletes’ line of communication to the NCAA. All indications are that he’s a tremendously smart, quality guy.
Sweet is a decent athlete for the offensive tackle position with desirable height, arm length, and wingspan. ThreeSigmaAthlete, which measures draft prospects’ SPARQ ratings and compares them to the NFL average, found Sweet at the 45.1st percentile for NFL offensive tackles (not all Combine athletes, the way that Mockdraftable does it), and Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score testing found Sweet to be above average for the position relative to his height and weight. His explosiveness metrics, his vertical and broad jumps, were excellent, ranking in the 79th and 89th percentiles on Mockdraftable. This shows up on film; you can see Sweet pop up from his stance and explode into contact when he’s run blocking, despite that being the less developed part of his game.
Where Sweet shines is in pass protection, though. He’s most proficient at neutralizing bull rushers with his long arms and good anchor.
(note: in all of these clips, Sweet is playing left tackle. He is #51.)
On the first play, he essentially stops the edge rusher’s forward momentum and refuses to disengage. He doesn’t dominate the rep and maybe gets walked back a tad, but gives his quarterback more than enough time and space to make the throw. As longtime Carolina Panthers great Jordan Gross reportedly once said, playing offensive line is about losing as slowly as possible. In the second clip, he does more redirecting than stopping, taking the edge rusher to the side and flattening his arc to take his momentum safely past the quarterback, again, giving plenty of space. He gets some help via a chip at the end of the play, but that’s really just for effect, as the rusher was already neutralized. You also see flashes of an effective kick slide, which Sweet confirmed at his Combine. He has the pop and length in his feet and legs to cover ground nicely in his kick slide.
It’s important to note that nearly every play you’ll see here will feature Nathan Elliott at quarterback. When I showed clips of Ratliff-Williams catching balls from Elliott, it was about the quarterback’s quality of play. This isn’t that, just a comment that Elliott is left-handed, which changes the optics sometimes for a left tackle who’s typically blocking the quarterback’s non-throwing arm and blind side. That first clip is safe, for example, but looks way safer with a right handed quarterback. Just keep that in mind when projecting Sweet to the next level.
Against more speed-oriented rushers, Sweet’s unrefinedness shows through a little more (more on that later), but what he does have are good reactions. He has the arm length and strength to redirect speed rushers wide of the quarterback with a lunging shove if he’s beaten. It’s not a position you like to see him in, and the lunging in particular is something he needs to cut down on, but this ability to keep his quarterback safe on reps that aren’t very clean is valuable nonetheless.
Besides regular pass sets where he has found success using his physical gifts to do whatever he wanted in one-on-one situations against pass rushers, Sweet was really good at cut blocks and down blocks, two types of play where he didn’t have to make any reads before executing. If he’s given a specific assignment, in other words, he will execute it.
Here, his down block just destroys the line of scrimmage. He shows solid drive power and nastiness to open up the huge hole that Dazz Newsome proceeds to take advantage of for a huge play.
I don’t have a clip for a cut block, but trust me when I say that he regularly stops defensive linemen and gets their hands down as they try to redirect.
The final thing I want to say about Sweet in this section is that he shows some good traits climbing into the second level. He’s not much of a mover in general, but he has enough pop in his stance to get to linebackers and wash them out of plays when that is his assignment. This also helps him execute combo blocks pretty well, as shown here.
Will Sweet is, unfortunately, just not a very polished player at the offensive tackle position. I’ve alluded to it above, but he wins with his gifts, not so much with technique. He doesn’t have much of a punch in pass protection, preferring to allow edge rushers to make the first move on him. When he does punch, his hand placement is all over the place. Sometimes he’s on target and into a guy’s chest, at which point his technique looks textbook. Almost as often, though, he’s right on the cusp of bear hugging his adversary. His lack of initiative also causes a lot of trouble when he faces a rusher with a good first step; he gets put in chasing mode a lot and loses the wide base and anchor that give him the kind of success that will translate to the next level.
The running back’s help saves Sweet here, as he’s chasing immediately thanks to a good first step and push-pull move from the DE.
Relatedly, Sweet also doesn’t play with a ton of leverage in the pass game with one notable exception, which is when he takes on a rusher going inside and puts him to the ground as if he’s down blocking. That’s fun to watch. When that doesn’t happen, though, he loses ground more often than he gains it, and while it didn’t matter too much against the fairly mediocre pass rushers he faced in 2018, it’s the kind of thing he’d get feasted on for in the NFL. Consider this rep:
This isn’t a good pass rush. The rusher gives a soft outside fake before rushing back inside, and Sweet catches him easily. But he still gets knocked back several steps, twice. It doesn’t affect the play and probably earns him a positive grade for exactly that reason, but it’s not projectable, either, because an NFL-quality rusher would probably bully Sweet right into the QB’s arm on this play for anything other than a swing pass. This doesn’t happen because of a lack of functional strength, though; he benched 28 reps of 225 pounds at his Pro Day and has shown the ability to stand his ground several times on tape. It’s because he’s a reactor, meaning that the outside-to-in move, as weak as it is, still gets him off balance as he tries to mirror it and thus susceptible to being beaten.
Coming back from a torn ACL in 2017, a lot of Sweet’s movements in open space looked pretty labored in 2018. He couldn’t often keep up with plays on the field, playing slower than his listed 5.27s 40-yard dash time. That time could be an indication that he’s all the way recovered, or it could mean nothing; we won’t know until we see him in game or at least practice action again. I won’t clip this because it feels mean, but just trust me on this one.
And finally, I’m not sure Sweet really understands run blocking? Unless he’s blocking down or combo blocking, which, again, he’s really good at, he run blocks like he’s pass blocking: he takes his man to the edge and widens his arc for the running back to go middle. He rarely drives his man up the field in one-on-one situations. It’s reasonably effective for designed runs going up the middle, but becomes totally useless for read-option plays or for running backs who like to bounce outside. Here’s an example:
Maybe this was designed, I’m not 100% sure, but look how every other member of UNC’s line us either at or ahead of the line of scrimmage on their blocks while Sweet takes his backwards and outsdie as if he’s forming a pocket. It works for Antonio Williams to squirt through the B gap for a touchdown, but I find it hard to believe the result isn’t similar if Sweet holds his ground and takes the man outside, or drives him upfield. And you see this a lot with Sweet’s run blocking.
His limited mobility in space also meant that he wasn’t much good for wham blocks or pulls; he was beaten to the spot by the defender nearly every time UNC tried it with him from the games I saw. For this reason, I don’t think he’d make a good guard.
William Sweet is big, long, and strong, with flashes of ability with his hands and feet to be a very good pass blocker. As of now, that’s all his play reflects. He doesn’t look well-coached, and the injury during his 2017 season definitely took away from his development as a player. The good news is that he’s an incredibly smart guy who, by looking at the way he can take on specific assignments, is coachable and will execute anything he’s taught specifically to do. His eyes and football feel are going to be the next things he needs coached into him, because they seem to have been deprioritized because of his success in college despite technical shortcomings. As of now, I’d feel much more comfortable with him in a man scheme than a zone scheme, which requires a lot more movement than I’d feel comfortable assigning Sweet, but if a team were to select him, it would be for his pass blocking, where I feel he’s pretty scheme versatile. He’s a project for sure, but one I’d feel pretty safe taking a low-risk bet on in the 6th or 7th round, particularly with confidence in my offensive line coaching. I’d look for a team like the New Orleans Saints or New England Patriots, teams with set offensive lines and a history of taking toolsy players at the position group and turning them into solid NFL players.