The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Olasunkanmi Adeniyi will be the number three outside linebacker this season.
Explanation: For most of the past few years, the Steelers’ number three outside linebacker—even ahead of James Harrison, ahead of Arthur Moats—has been Anthony Chickillo. For the moment, he’s the only player at the position behind the starters who has any kind of meaningful experience, but the team has spoken excitedly of Adeniyi.
I think this is a situation in which talent, and specific talent, wins out. Adeniyi is going to have his chance to demonstrate that talent, and the coaching staff will have little choice but to decide to play him over Chickillo, because the latter has never been an accomplished pass rusher, at least outside of practice.
Outside of T.J. Watt, the Steelers have had a hard enough time bleeding sacks out of their edge defenders. In four years, Bud Dupree’s single-season career-high in sacks is six. Chickillo’s sack count is not great relative to his playing time, but his pressure rate is even worse. What Adeniyi has done merely in the preseason has already shown more potential than Chickillo ever has in a stadium, no matter how glowing any training camp report about him might be. The coaches already seem to know this based on the way they have talked about him.
Let’s say Adeniyi does actually show that he can be a better pass-rusher than Chickillo. I don’t think that suggestion is too far out of left field. The thing is, that’s not the only thing that goes into playing outside linebacker.
Chickillo knows his assignments, which was the first reason he started getting on the field. He can drop into coverage and play the run. Adeniyi has shown the potential to be good against the run, but he needs to be trusted to drop.
It’s possible that Adeniyi might not even dress if he can’t play on special teams. Say Sutton Smith also makes the roster and becomes a special teams ace like Chickillo. Those two will dress, and if the helmet distribution doesn’t break favorably, there is a realistic scenario in which he’s not even active. Ask James Harrison about that.