The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t get themselves an edge rusher in the 2018 NFL Draft, but they did find one in the aftermarket, so to speak, and one they felt was comfortable enough to slap on the old number 92, which has most recently and most famously been worn by none other than James Harrison, the team’s franchise sack leader. That would be rookie Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
It’s fitting in many ways. Not only did they both go undrafted, coming out of the MAC (Harrison from Kent State and Adeniyi out of Toledo), they both fit a similar profile of build that many tend to overlook. Harrison was undersized for his position, and so is the rookie, both standing at around only six feet in height.
“Being an edge rusher and being a smaller guy”, Adeniyi told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “obviously I have to look up to him. I look up to guys like him, Melvin Ingram and guys like that and try to model my game after them”.
Many players that would have been coming out of college in recent years no doubt looked up to Harrison, though perhaps that was more true several years ago than in recent times. Consider the fact that he had already retired once by the 2014 season. But he was the dominant player at his position for several years, reaching the apex of the league in 2008.
There is an opening for the rookie available. While the Steelers have starters in T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, as well as an experienced rotational number three in Anthony Chickillo, they don’t have anybody else who has been on a roster before right now.
Pittsburgh carried five outside linebackers into the season a year ago, including Harrison, who is now retired, and Arthur Moats, who currently remains a free agent, though they’ve reportedly left the door open for him. Should things remain as they are, there is at least one spot available, and possibly two.
Adeniyi will have to compete with 2017 seventh-round pick Keion Adams, as well as Farrington Huguenin, for that role, among others. Adams spent his rookie season on injured reserve, while Huguenin was on the practice squad.
The Toledo product signed with Pittsburgh because he saw the opportunity. He also signed because he liked their position coach, Joey Porter, and said that they were one of the teams that “showed me love during the [pre-draft] process already”.
I had actually mocked Adeniyi to the Steelers in the seventh round, and perhaps they would have drafted him with that pick had they not traded it to move up in the third round in order to draft quarterback Mason Rudolph. He hopes to add to the outside linebacker’s legacy in Pittsburgh.
“The outside linebacker role here is what sets the tone for the defense”, he said. “If you don’t have good outside linebackers, it’s going to be falling apart because in a 3-4 scheme you have to have two guys out there who can set the edge and rush the passer”.