Sunday may not have met much to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team. But it meant a lot to guys like Kevin Rader. Rader appeared in his first NFL game and played 24 total snaps. 12 on offense, 12 on special teams. Those latter twelve snaps especially impressed Mike Tomlin. Rader finished the day with three tackles on special teams, more than enough to catch his coaches eye and potentially put him in the mix of the Steelers’ playoff run.
“We did get some quality contributions from people in expanded roles,” Tomlin said during his Tuesday presser. “Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play and I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in a coverage unit. I think that was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us.”
Here’s a look at the three tackles Rader made against the Browns.
Rader was signed by the Steelers to a futures contract in January of 2019. On the roster through the summer, he served as a capable blocker, though didn’t offer much as a receiver. Here was our training camp report on him exiting 2019. It wasn’t a glowing report, as you’ll read.
“Rader is a serviceable blocker. That’s about all I can say for him. His hands are poor, tying the team lead with five drops in camp, his routes rigid, and he fumbled at the end of the Bucs game while getting flagged for a pair of holds versus Kansas City.”
Rader was able to stick around on the practice squad for most of the season and inked another futures contract after the 2019 season. Again released at final cutdowns this year, he was brought back to the practice squad and then promoted to the 53 man roster following Zach Gentry’s knee injury. But Sunday versus Cleveland was the first time he dressed for a game due to Eric Ebron being placed on the Reserve/COVID list. With impactful blocking and impressive kick coverage, he took advantage of the opportunity. A chance created not only be Ebron’s absence but the lack of ILB depth that strained the Steelers’ special teams unit, causing guys like Rader to cover kicks and Vance McDonald to block on kick returns.
Though that group will get healthier with the likely return of Robert Spillane, Rader’s play is making Tomlin think twice about having him active on Wild Card weekend.
“Hopefully it produces some difficult challenges for us in terms of selecting who to utilize this weekend.”
Rader would need to be elevated again, reverting back to the practice squad following the Week 17 game. But new postseason rules create limitless individual practice squad elevations, meaning the team wouldn’t need to cut anyone to promote him. Rader will obviously come back up if Ebron isn’t able to go but even if Ebron returns, Rader has a chance to grab one of the final hats.