While many are still hurting over Devlin Hodges failing to make the 53-man roster as the number three quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers still ought to take solace in the fact that the organization elected to carry a pair of deserving rookie undrafted free agents onto the team as the regular season is set to get underway.
Guard Fred Johnson made the team as the number nine offensive lineman, though the Florida product had been consistently running with the second-team offense since the spring, so that wasn’t exactly a surprise. Toledo pass-rusher Tuzar Skipper’s upward ascent over the course of the Summer, however, was a compelling story.
He capped it off with one of the better preseason showings we have seen from a Steelers player in some time, highlighted by a league-leading five sacks, who of which forced fumbles. He recorded two sacks and two special teams tackles in the preseason finale to cement his place on the roster at outside linebacker, behind T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, and Toledo teammate Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
Not only have fans been consistently high on him over the course of the Summer, so too has been Pro Football Focus, who recently named him as a member of the All-Rookie team for the preseason, joining New England Patriots edge defender Chase Winovich, whom the Steelers will see on Sunday.
There may not be a better feel-good story from this year’s undrafted free agent pool than Tuzar Skipper. Originally a tryout at the Steelers rookie camp, the odds were stacked up against Skipper of being able to make the 53-man roster, but he proved everyone wrong and made the cut. Throughout his dominant preseason, Skipper recorded 13 pressures, 10 defensive stops and an 87.1 pass-rush grade.
Skipper not only went undrafted, he was unsigned. The Steelers invited him to participate in their rookie minicamp and was one of a number of players in for a tryout basis—among them Hodges—who earned a contract after the weekend. And that was his third rookie minicamp in which he participated, finally getting a deal.
It’s fair to say that he made the most of his opportunity, though the truth is that his reality during his first season in the NFL, assuming there ever is more than one, will likely be to sit on the bench. He figures to be a healthy scratch for most of the season, barring injuries, as the 10th linebacker.
That won’t stop it from being an exciting feelgood story about an underdog making it in the NFL, however, nor dampen enthusiasm about his future. Another truth is that the Steelers’ outside linebacker group could look a fair bit different in 2020 with Dupree set to hit free agency and Chickillo scheduled to have a base salary that year that is quite simply more than he’s worth. That leaves the door open for players like Adeniyi and Skipper to get their foot in the door for the future.