One of the biggest themes of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 NFL Draft, at least if you go by the questions that the media posed to the coaches in the aftermath, was questioning what the team didn’t do, rather than what they actually did. Much of the questioning centered around the lack of addressing the safety and outside linebacker positions.
The only player added to either spot was Sutton Smith in the sixth round, and they don’t even seem to be too convinced that they is going to be his long-term spot, even though both Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin said that they would start him there.
A big key to the outside linebacker puzzle could be 2018 college free agent Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, whose Toledo teammate, Diontae Johnson, the Steelers drafted in the third round on Friday. Adenyi made the initial 53-man roster after a strong preseason, but would spent most of the year on injured reserve.
General Manager Kevin Colbert talked about Adeniyi during the team’s post-draft press conference, talking about just that fact. The Steelers didn’t get much of a chance to get a look at him as a rookie, so he will be an interesting player to watch this summer.
“All of that stuff that he dealt with late in the season, availability and play to help us down the stretch because of missing time”, he said. “We always talk about players moving into their second season. We’re excited about what Ola can do”.
He then went into the drafting of Smith and Ulysees Gilbert III as well, saying that “now you got three similar body types fighting for those spots”, and added that “the competition can only make them all better”. There is a realistic scenario in which all of them end up making the team.
Adeniyi was only active for one game last season, the late-season loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, during which he played about a dozen snaps. He chipped in on a tackle and was able to draw a holding call against Russell Okung, who had among the most holding calls among tackles last season.
Getting something from him, however, would be big for the future of the position with Bud Dupree entering his fifth-year option season and Anthony Chickillo under a two-year contract on which it is possible he sees only the first year.
When Butler was asked about using a rotation at outside linebacker, he talked about how Chickillo was the guy on both sides last season—they only had three outside linebackers on the 53-man roster for most of the year—and that he figured that would continue in 2019.
But he added, “we’ll see what happens with Ola. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from him”. And the Steelers have shown that they will move on from those who haven’t encouraged them, which is why Matthew Thomas is on the Baltimore Ravens right now.