The Pittsburgh Steelers had a real drought in trying to find edge rushers for the longest time, which greatly helped to contribute to an extended dry spell in terms of sack production through the bulk of the 2010s as the play of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley began to fall off for a variety of reasons.
Since Jason Worilds in 2010, a second-round pick who only developed into a competent pass rusher by the end of his career, the Steelers failed to acquire a legitimate talent again until they struck on T.J. Watt in the first round in 2017.
And that was, of course, with two other, even higher, first-round investments in the position, with Jarvis Jones (a top-20 pick) in 2013 and Bud Dupree in 2015. Dupree remains with the team, of course, as a starter, but his sack production hovers around averaging six per season at this point, which is obviously not where the team wants it to be.
But could the Steelers’ latest additions to the position help solve the pipeline problem? There is optimism surrounding 2018 college free agent Olasunkanmi Adeniyi entering his second season, even though he only played a handful of snaps last year, and though he’s undersized, Sutton Smith, a sixth-round rookie, has quickly becoming exciting for many.
Even Tunch Ilkin got himself all excited about these two young pass rushers. He called Smith “a natural”, and of Adeniyi, he offered, “he is gonna make that next jump” while providing a sideline report for the sixth OTA session last week.
Of course, they won’t be the first young pass rushers talked up before they ever accomplish anything. Who knows, really, what the career of either one is going to turn out to look like? Already there are people pushing for Adeniyi to start, seeing him as a young James Harrison.
That might be jumping the gun a bit, but even the coaching staff and front office has talked about how excited they are to see what he can do in his second year after spending most of his rookie season on injured reserve following a promising preseason showing.
And as for Smith, he had great college tape, which is what got him drafted, and every report from rookie minicamp and OTAs about him has been very positive about how he appears as a pass rusher. But we really won’t know more until he actually goes up against a starting-caliber tackle in pads.
Still, it’s better to be optimistic than pessimistic at this time of year, and there is some room for optimism here. Frankly, that’s more than we could say for some years in the very recent past.