Under Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers have looked far and wide in search of replenishing their outside linebacking core. For a defense built on the fundamentals of getting to the quarterback, Tomlin has explored many different outside linebacker skillsets and backgrounds in order to keep the Steelers defense up to speed. With the Steelers seventh round pick this year, the Tomlin-led Steelers once again opted to explore uncharted waters and select Western Michigan’s Keion Adams.
The Steelers’ selection of Adams in the seventh round makes him the first MAC outside linebacker selected during the Tomlin era. With Adams, Tomlin has now seen the franchise add outside linebackers from six different college football conferences.
While a few of Tomlin’s unique outside linebacker selections such as Chris Carter or Bruce Davis have not worked out to the team’s likings, the Steelers’ head coach does have an intriguing track record when it comes to developing players from the MAC.
It was seven years ago when Tomlin and the Steelers decided to dip their feet in the MAC with the sixth-round selection of Central Michigan’s Antonio Brown. The first MAC player under Tomlin’s tenure, Brown worked mostly special teams during his rookie season before earning a bigger role in his second season – a similar road that may await Adams.
After Brown, Tomlin’s MAC track record regressed back to earth with the selections of Dri Archer and Rob Blanchflower, but the team did get back on track in 2015 with Central Michigan’s L.T. Walton.
While Brown and Adams do share a few similarities such as their undersized height and weight for their respective positions, the Western Michigan pass rusher’s path to success will likely replicate Walton’s journey rather than Brown’s.
Stashed on the team’s depth chart behind Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Ricardo Matthews last season, Walton was called into action after injuries to Heyward and Tuitt. Walton started the team’s final four games of the 2016 and performed admirably in place of Heyward and Tuitt.
Like Walton, Adams will initially challenge Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats for a depth position. With Chickillo and Moats both not guaranteed a roster spot, Adams could be in a premium position to crack the roster due to his hustle and speed.
Should Adams take Walton’s path one foot further by cracking the team’s 53-man roster as a rookie, the Western Michigan pass rusher will likely be slotted behind Bud Dupree, James Harrison and fellow rookie T.J. Watt.
While the only chance that Adams is given the platform to start on defense as a rookie is likely at the expense of multiple injuries to the outside linebacking group, the rookie pass rusher could move into a significant backup role in year two. With a year of polish, Adams could very likely follow Tomlin’s MAC blueprint and be a spot contributor by 2018.