“Either you’re somebody or you’re nobody”
Famous words uttered by Denzel Washington while portraying Frank Lucas in the movie American Gangster and while the Pittsburgh Steelers are not in the same business as Lucas, training camp is the best business opportunity for players to become somebody worth remembering rather than a nobody.
There are a lot of nobodies at every training camp across the NFL at this very moment. Many will be cut as teams begin their roster cut downs but a few players at the Steelers’ camp in Latrobe are making their names known.
Ola Adeniyi is certainly not a nobody, he has not been since he exploded onto the scene last preseason, recording three sacks in four games. Adeniyi is currently continuing right where he left off, earning the praises of head coach Mike Tomlin early in this year’s camp.
Along with Adeniyi, undrafted free agent Tuzar Skipper is also becoming somebody fans should get acclimated to very fast. Skipper, also an outside linebacker, has been having a great camp by all accords, with Tunch Ilkin penciling him in as his early bet for “camp phenom.”
Now what do the two outside linebackers have in common? Yes, they are both pass rushers coming out of Toledo. But the connection between the two and a handful of other Steelers runs deeper than that as both hail from the MAC.
If there’s one thing to be certain it is that the Steelers have showed and are continuing to show a consistent ability in turning nobodies into somebodies with prospects from the MAC.
The Steelers used one-third of their draft selections this offseason on players heralding from the MAC. Another Toledo product, Diontae Johnson was the first selection and while the quick wide receiver may spend 2019 seeing minimal reps, critics have been raving about his route running ability since he was drafted.
Tomlin and his brass came back to the MAC with the late round selections of Sutton Smith and Ulysees Gilbert III. Smith has excelled at every level, dominating as a running back in high school before becoming an excellent pass rusher at Northern Illinois despite his size. The Steelers are clearly intrigued by Smith, even giving him reps at fullback during OTAs.
While every team has different drafting tendencies due to specific reasons, the New England Patriots and their love for Rutgers prospects is the first that comes to mind, the Steelers clearly value MAC prospects. The team has selected at least one prospect from the MAC in five of the last six drafts.
2019 – Diontae Johnson, Sutton Smith, Ulysees Gilbert III
2018 – Chukwuma Okorafor
2017 – Keion Adams
2016 – N/A
2015 – L.T. Walton
2014 – Dri Archer, Rob Blanchflower
Certainly not a list of names that is going to cause any jaws to drop but rewind the clock back a few years further and you will find the hidden gold mine the Steelers discovered in the MAC.
There is Roosevelt Nix (Kent State), who has put life back into the smashmouth football mantra since signing with the Steelers in 2015 as a fullback. Then there is James Harrison, the undrafted Kent State linebacker who went on to become the franchise leader in sacks. And of course, look no further than Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, as the duo formed a lethal combination for most of the last decade.
The Steelers learned quickly that they had a diamond in the rough with Brown and now a few undrafted pickups from the MAC such as Adeniyi, Skipper and J.T. Jones are hoping to follow suit. Thankfully for them and the rest of the MAC products, they are in good hands as no team has had a better track history of turning camp bodies into somebodies than the Steelers.