As mid- to late-sixth-round draft selections, it’s quite true that neither defensive end L.T. Walton nor outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo is anywhere close to what could be considered a lock to make the 53-man roster out of their rookie training camp. By and large, anything past the fourth round is generally on shaky ground in terms of making the roster.
Last season, for example, the Steelers ultimately lost both of their fifth-round draft picks, though one initially made the practice squad and the other spent time on the 53-man roster before being cut. The Steelers also released their fifth-round draft pick the year prior, and he spent no time on the roster or the practice squad.
In spite of whatever odds they may be facing in terms of winning for themselves a roster spot on the 53-man roster, however, that is not to say that they were players that were targeted by the Steeler specifically for a reason, as I believe both individuals fit a particular profile that the team is interested in pursuing in the future.
More specifically, Walton—a 6’5”, 320-pound defensive end—and Chickillo—a 6’3”, 267-pound outside linebacker—both present that Steelers with a size profile that suggests that they can be variable, meaning that that can contribute to multiple defensive fronts.
With the Steelers’ increased use of their nickel defense last season, which approached nearly half the time, the defense found that they had to find ways to mitigate their reduction in size against the run.
One way to combat this was to designate inside linebacker Vince Williams, at 250 pounds, the nickel linebacker in order to add some size as other parts of the defense got smaller.
For 3-4 defensive fronts, what often happens in sub-packages is that the nose tackle is removed from the field, the defensive ends slide inside as defensive tackles, and the outside linebackers hug the line of scrimmage as defensive ends, forming a smaller version of a four-man front.
When you have larger outside linebackers and defensive ends, as would be the case with Chickillo and Walton, you mitigate some of the loss of size that you experience in sub-packages. Of course, first-round outside linebacker Bud Dupree, at around 270 pounds, very much also fits this mold.
As is often the case, of course, college players, particularly those who do not specifically fit into a particular size profile for a given position, are often moved from one position to another when they advance to the next level, which is the case for both Walton and Chickillo.
The Steelers believe that they saw traits in their college tape—and in Chickillo’s case, the Shrine Game—that suggest a successful conversion can be made. They also believe, for example, that Walton’s best pass rush comes from the interior.
Whether or not these players specifically are able to develop into solid contributors to the Steelers’ defense, it seems that the front office has begun shifting its drafting philosophy to incorporate the reality of sub-package football.