NFL Draft

Steelers 2021 Wants, Needs, And Draft Prospects – Edge Rushers

Want = a position the team could improve with a good draft pick.

Important Want = should improve rather than could.

Need = a missing starter.

This series looks at each position to evaluate the level of want and some of the prospects who might be available in those early rounds.


Bud Dupree came on like gangbusters in 2020, proving that the Steelers brass was right about him all along. They were right to pick him at 1:22 back in 2015, right to exercise the 5th year option for 2019, and right to slap him with the franchise tag in 2020. And now he will be gone in 2021, barring a minor miracle.

Dupree teamed up so well with T.J. Watt in 2020 that it seems almost impossible to imagine the rest of the league failing to get in a bidding war for his 2021 services now that he will be a UDFA. The bidding may be depressed due to the ACL tear that ended his 2020 season, but one really cannot see it getting so low that Dupree would return to the extremely cash strapped Steelers on any of the deals they might be able to afford.

Fare thee well Bud. Send us back a Round 3 or 4 compensatory pick and we’ll bless you forever. [Sigh]

Moving forward, the team will be featuring the sensational talents of T.J. Watt on one side, and those of rookie sensation Alex Highsmith on the other. Plus Ola Adeniyi as the OLB3 unless he too departs in free agency. Here is the 2020 roster:

  • T.J. Watt (6’4”, 252 lbs.) is a superstar. Full stop. The Steelers first pick of the 2017 draft will be negotiating a mega-deal during the offseason, and he’s going to get it. Only the amounts are in question because Pittsburgh is strapped for cap space and no one really knows how badly Covid will have scr*wed the amount that will be available. The two sides will no doubt struggle mightily to find some mutually acceptable compromise, however shocking the numbers will look to we outsiders. If they can’t, Pittsburgh will exercise its 5th-year option and force Watt to play 2021 for “only” $10 Million, with a $14-15 Million franchise tag to follow in 2022.
  • Bud Dupree (6’4”, 269 lbs.) was the Steelers 2015 pick at 1:22 and will be gone after free agency, leaving only a compensatory pick in his wake. Grab your Terrible Hankies Steeler Nation, and waive them tearfully as the ship leaves port. Dupree has matured into a speed rusher who can convert his burst into power, and who also possesses tremendous length and strength to set the edge in the run game. He’s never had the bend to be a true #1 pass rusher, but he may well be the best #2 guy in the league. He was perfect as a running mate for Watt.
  • Alex Highsmith (6’4”, 242 lbs.) exploded on to the scene as a rookie in 2020 (Pittsburgh’s 3rd round pick). His biggest asset seemed to be a pro-ready array of pass rush moves and counters, so one expects his biggest Sophomore Leap improvement to be in the area of adding some grown-man muscle.
  • Ola Adeniyi (6’1”, 248 lbs.) has been effective as an occasional pass rusher who manages to create some pressure, but has been impeded in run stuffing by his lack of length. A nice but improvable #3. He will be a free agent in 2021.
  • Cassius Marsh (6’4”, 252 lbs.) was Seattle’s 2014 pick in Round 4, and has bounced around the league as an also-ran journeyman ever since. The Steelers poached him off the Colts practice squad in 2020 after Dupree got hurt. He looked okay in limited action, but not much more. He is a free agent for 2021 who could probably be signed inexpensively if the roster spot needs to be filled.

Steeler Nation may be tired of seeing the endless succession of Round 1-3 picks being spent each year on Edge Rushers, but don’t be surprised if exactly the same thing happens again in 2021. Edge and Corner are the team’s single biggest defensive needs going into the 2021 season. There is a pretty good cluster of talent from the mid-1st to the mid 2nd, and then an enormous cluster that currently has Round 3 grades. FWIW, the few prospect meetings know about this early have all been with young men in that latter group.

One final note before we get to the prospect descriptions. Pittsburgh has quietly developed something of a “type” in it’s taste for Edge Rushers, as you can see from the roster. Throw out Adeniyi, and every OLB on the roster is 6’4”, long limbed, and very SPARQ-y. The weights range from 250 or so (assuming Highsmith bulks up as expected) to the high 260’s, but that high number is the crazy-athletic Bud Dupree who moves like a smaller man. Thus we can probably pay more attention to the guys in that size range.

And now, about those prospects:

  • EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami (RS Sophomore). 6’5”, 260 lbs. Will turn 21 just before the draft. Considered by many to be the #1 Edge Rusher in the class despite opting out of the Covid-ravaged 2020 season, there is a small but real chance he could fall to #24 because of that. The value could be irresistible if he does. Rousseau fits the Steelers’ OLB profile like he was created for the job. Size, length, speed to power talent,a few good moves with the top notch athleticism to learn more, and even the proven ability to drop back into coverage. This late-January scouting profile responds to buzz tying Rousseau to the Lions at #7 overall with well placed cautions about Rousseau’s youth and one-year-wonder status. This goes to a brief but useful February scouting profile that summarizes things pretty well, albeit with no real analysis. Ditto for this summary, Raiders-oriented scouting profile. This mid-January, gif-supported scouting profile ends with a Top 15 grade due to offsetting Top-5 potential against limited bend and very limited experience despite the “mind boggling” production of his RS Freshman year. The full length Walter Football scouting profile is better than most, and well worth a read for a balanced POV that ends with, ‘he may have been overhyped before the season, but is still a Top 20 prospect. ROUND 1 GRADE
  • EDGE Joseph Ossai, Texas. (Junior). 6’4”, 253 lbs. [Other sites say 6’3”, 245]. Ossai is a true pass rushing linebacker with the multipart skills to excel moving forward and in space. Those measurements, and the skill set, create a profile very much like T.J. Watt’s as a prospect! This decent looking February scouting profile ends in a late-1st grade based on that level of upside balanced by a real need to learn his craft to NFL standards. This thorough, late January scouting profile sees Ossai’s main limitations coming from being asked to do so many different tasks in college, and ends with a Mid-1st grade. This Chiefs-oriented SI scouting profile follows the trend: hugely athletic, perfect for a 3-4, questionable size for a 4-3, and in need of good coaching and hard work to bring the skills up to his potential all-pro ceiling. Ditto for this late-January scouting profile (“Athletically, Ossai is overflowing with juice”). ROUND 1 GRADE
  • EDGE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia. (RS Sophomore). 6’2”, 240 lbs. Ojulari would be a Round 1 lock if he was 2” and 15-20 lbs. bigger. Film watchers love what he does because it checks every other box. He is bendy as all get out, has pro-level skills as a hand fighter, strength-to-power assets well beyond his weight class, and the athletic talent to play in space. Needs to work on setting the edge better, but that is all but expected for young players who have these measurements. Deserves a late-1st grade as a situational pass rusher, but earns a small discount too because of the question marks about whether he can be a complete OLB as Pittsburgh uses them. This nice, Panthers-oriented SI scouting profile notes the size issue, but also points out that Ojulari has had great success as a run stuffer nevertheless. He is “the best pure speed rusher in the draft” according to this Raiders-oriented, late January scouting profileROUND 1-2 GRADE
  • EDGE Jayson Oweh, Penn. St. (RS Sophomore). 6’5”, 257 lbs. Turns 23 in December. Boom or bust baby! Oweh is a miracle athlete with the burst, bend, and length to grow into a really special player. What he lacks is the production and polish to have anything close to a sturdy floor. This point-by-point January scouting profile ends with a Round 1 grade and a comparison to Jadeveon Clowney. There is some good stuff in this Raiders-oriented scouting profile too, particularly on Oweh’s upward arc as an overall defensive player. Here is a February article on PFF’s glowing endorsement of Oweh’s “freak show” athletic levels. Here is an intriguing, gif-supported February scouting report/mock critique from a Colts POV on whether Oweh should be considered at #21 overall. ROUND 1-2 GRADE
  • EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan. (Senior). 6’4”, 277 lbs. A promising 4-3 DE who relies on his bull rush and really needs to play with his hand in the ground so he can maximize his ability as a run stuffer off the edge. He looked great on a bad team in 2020, so much so that he will almost certainly get picked in the Top 15. Which is awesome because his is a poor fit for the Steelers 3-4 defensive philosophy anyway. It would have been nice to see how he moved in open space if there’d been a Combine to watch. Not that we need more idle fantasies to chase. Here is a Raiders-oriented scouting profile from January. ROUND 2 GRADE FOR PITTSBURGH, ROUND 1 FOR 4-3 TEAMS
  • EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami by way of UCLA. (RS Junior). 6’5”, 258 lbs. Turns 22 just after the draft. The perfect example of a boom or bust prospect, Phillips has every athletic talent you could ask for at obvious Round 1 levels, plus a well known work ethic and team-leading character. As noted in this late January scouting profile, he was a consensus #1 recruit in the country for the 2017 college class! But then you have to factor in the injury history going back to a nasty car crash, which wrecked one of his wrists (multiple surgeries). Then there was a serious off field concussion, followed by losing a game or two to another. And a transfer to Miami after he initially gave up on football completely, before coming back to look much like his old self. [Just imagine what Miami’s pass rush would have looked like if Rousseau hadn’t opted out!] Is there a doctor in the house on which to base our grade? This nice looking scouting profile from a Giants POV ends with a fringe-1st grade. ROUND 1-2 GRADE
  • EDGE Joe Tryon, Washington. (RS Junior). 6’4”, 251 lbs. The size, athleticism, and physical abilities match up with what Pittsburgh looks for, but he is “only” an NFL-good athlete, not a SPARQ score miracle. He’s a complete package outside of the limited bend around the corner, with a particularly admirable motor. OTOH, there is limited film because he opted out in 2020 due to COVID. Tom Mead’s late January scouting report ends with a Round 3 grade. He was #32 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list, who said “His game is built on his strength and power more than his speed and agility.” This Chiefs-oriented late January scouting profile emphasizes how much he’s likely to improve once he gains a pro-level football IQ to speed up his read and react skills. ROUND 3 GRADE
  • EDGE Patrick Jones II, Pitt. (RS Senior). 6’4½”, 264 lbs. with shorter 32” arms and 10” hands. [MTG AT SENIOR BOWL] Will turn 23 as a rookie. An Edge Rusher who plays best attacking/holding the edge while maintaining the athletic ability to play in space. He’s got very good burst off the line, with a good floor and the native athleticism to have a high ceiling, but needs a lot of good coaching and work to iron out holes in his game that lead to very different takes by the film watchers. Note the lack of length for someone this tall, and what your author considers a terrible habit of trying to leap by opposing Tackles with both feet off the ground. That is sure to get him rag dolled at the next level until he learns better. Daniel Jeremiah had him at #42 on the original Top 50 list, based in large part on his speed to power skills. Here is a good looking February scouting profile. This late January scouting profile has some decent on-field background, and ends in a fringe-1st grade as a pure 4-3 DE. This late-January Chiefs-oriented scouting profile also concludes that he “doesn’t have the coverage chops to be a dynamic hybrid or 3-4 outside linebacker.” By contrast, James Wilford’s gif-supported February scouting report concludes that Jones “lacks the size and strength teams want from a traditional 4-3 DE [and] struggles against power on both run and passing plays. [But] he could play as a 3-4 Outside Linebacker at his current weight.” This Patriots-oriented February scouting profile also sees a 3-4 OLB, and believes he could contribute quickly as a situational pass rusher. Here is a well balanced late January scouting profile from a Giants POV. ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma. (Junior). 6’3”, 251 lbs. Will turn 22 as a rookie. A well built, violent, and successful speed-to-power rusher with experience as a stand up OLB. He’s also shown a solid anchor for setting the edge on run downs, though he could afford to be more disciplined in that role. Not the bendiest player, however, and could use some coaching to develop more and better considered pass rush moves. This January scouting profile has special praise for his burst, power, and pad level, but includes a gif that also shows some nice cornering. This late January scouting profile agrees, also noting a suspension for marijuana use along with several other teammates. ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Victor Dimukeje, Duke. (Senior). 6’2”, 265 lbs. Can he play in space as well as he does moving forward and playing the edge? If so, his native ferocity, leverage, hand fighting skills, motor, and ability to convert speed to power could make him a strong contender for one of Pittsburgh’s Day 2 selections (even with the misfortune of having grown up in Baltimore). If the length comes in subpar, that will combine with his only-good athletic talents to push his stock down. A classic high floor, maybe-low ceiling prospect. This solid looking scouting profile from January emphasizes his skill and discipline as a run defender, with solid if not special pass rushing skills. ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon St. (RS Senior). 6’3⅛”, 254 lbs. with longer 33¾” arms. Will be 23 on draft day. A fine 3-4 OLB prospect, who could use some time in an NFL strength training room. He too often plays more like an undersized DE. That said, the size is dead on, the scouting profiles stress how well he uses his length to set the edge in the run game. Also a very good tackler. The pass rush moves are where he lacks the most. He’s very much a push upfield and then react guy, with little sophistication. If only he was three years younger! Pittsburgh would be all over him. As it is… We’ll see. Here is a PFN scouting profile from late January that really wants an explanation for why he played so much better in 2019 than 2020. The piece on Rashed in this Cowboys-oriented Senior Bowl review describes him as “a highly athletic and incredibly raw presence on the edge.” ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami by way of Temple (RS Senior). 6’2⅞”, 243 lbs. Turns 23 in early 2021. A somewhat undersized 3-4 OLB from Pittsburgh’s POV, Roche plays a fluid, technically accomplished game with plenty of power despite the moderate size. Combined with a good first step, and the ability to turn a corner, those assets give him a high floor, but did he hit his ceiling in college? He put up monster numbers in 2019, but they dipped in 2020 after the move to Miami, and he is not a special athlete when measured on the NFL grading curve. This goes to a particularly good PFN Senior Bowl scouting profile that breaks down the assets and limitations in detail. This good February scouting profile from a Giants POV would agree, adding that Roche won the coveted right to where a “Temple Tough” single digit uniform, an honor voted on by his teammates. This New Year’s scouting profile notes that he rarely fell into coverage even when asked to play from a 2-point stance. This local newspaper article came out after he shined at the Senior Bowl with “elite hand work.”ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Jordan Smith, UAB by way of Florida. (RS Junior). 6’6⅛”, 255 lbs. Dominated lower competition with his bend, length, and strength. Smith put up big numbers in 2019 and 2020 as a 3-4 OLB, and has the native talent to succeed in the NFL too. But he comes with an array of question marks arising from both the level of competition and being involved in a credit card fraud scam that got him kicked out of Florida and sentenced to two years probation. It all adds up to major boom or bust potential. This Chiefs-oriented February scouting report emphasizes the combination of rare natural tools with some pretty extreme rawness. This looks like a fairly thorough scouting profile from PFN circa the Senior Bowl. ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Payton Turner, Houston. (Senior). 6’5⅜”, 270 lbs. with extremely long 35” arms and equally big 11” hands. An odd tweener who would have been the focus of great interest at the Combine, the loose description from a Pittsburgh POV would be a sort of odd “elephant OLB,” but he could also serve as an undersized 5-tech DE (he has played as high as 290), or a true 4-3 DE. That last of those is where he will probably end up. Supposed to be an athletic young man, but how does that translate to an NFL grading curve? Good burst, good strength, fabulous length, but not much in the way of bend. Here is PFN’s Senior Bowl scouting profileROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Carlos “Boogie” Basham, Jr., Wake Forest. (RS Senior). 6’3⅜”, 281 lbs. Will turn 24 as a rookie. A true 4-3 DE, and a pretty good one. Could easily go in Round 2 for the right team, but doesn’t seem to fit what Pittsburgh looks for. He’d get an even steeper discount if not for the solid floor and the chance he could drop some weight to improve his apparently limited SPARQ score profile. ROUND 4 GRADE FOR PITTSBURGH, ROUND 2-3 FOR THE 4-3 TEAMS
  • EDGE Brenton Cox Jr., Florida by way of Georgia. (RS Sophomore). 6’3”, 250 lbs. This is a grade that’s all but impossible for outsiders to set. Cox was a 5-star recruit for Georgia, and the athleticism is real. In 2020 he displayed a big chunk of the key (physical) assets you look for in a 3-4 OLB: ability to play in space, burst off the edge, speed to power, etc. But he did it for Florida because he’d been mysteriously dismissed by Georgia. There was an April, 2019 arrest for marijuana possession but it is hard to see that as enough to cause the divorce. Something else is going on. That something matters. And we do not know what it is. The teams will, and that will determine his true draft position. ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Rashad Weaver, Pitt. (RS Senior). 6’4⅜”, 265 lbs. with long 33¼” arms. Turns 24 as a rookie. Won in college with varied and sophisticated technique rather than dominant physical tools. Will it translate to the NFL where everyone has better technique but the athletes are a whole level better? Great motor and attitude add to the high floor. Tore an ACL in the 2019 preseason, but looked good in 2020; though it may have held him back from doing even better. Earns a moderate discount because he tends to play like a bigger man who’d fit better as a 4-3 DE, or possibly an undersized 3-4 DE with extra pass rush upside. PFN’s solid, pre-Senior Bowl scouting profile lists fast, heavy hands, great length, and explosive burst as Weaver’s primary assets. A fine combination! This simply great Post-Gazette article on Weaver’s rehab work gives genuine insight into the young man and his approach to his chosen profession. This later P.G. article quotes him saying that he has the versatility to play anywhere from standup OLB to DT. This Chiefs-oriented scouting profile from February ends with a Round 3 grade and a prototypical 4-3 DE conclusion. Ditto for this gif-supported scouting report from a Chiefs POV. ROUND 3-4 GRADE
  • EDGE Malcolm Koonce, Buffalo. (Senior). 6’3”, 248 lbs. A high motor, successful athlete from a smaller school who possesses a pretty good toolkit. He has some burst, if not a lot, can bend the corner, and has experience playing as a 3-4 OLB from a 2-point stance. Needs to add some strength to hold the edge on running plays. One of those never-stops players who will succeed through persistence as often as he will with an initial win. PFN’s Senior Bowl scouting profile highlights Koonce’s combination of arm length and bend, though he impressed as an average athlete overall. This brief February scouting profile is a study in how to say “average” in many different ways. ROUND 5 GRADE
  • EDGE Chris Rumph II, Duke. (RS Junior). 6’3”, 235(?) lbs. The descriptions make you think fringe-1st, but the size issues force a drop into the middle rounds. Especially for the Steelers, who’ve been known to ignore a lack of inches (see Deebo) but not a lack of mass. Rumph actually played in the 220’s for most of his career. That just won’t do, and one can only guess if he will keep his skills with an extra 20 pounds of mass on top. The admirable assets include fantastic hand fighting skills (“He plays like a tenth-degree black belt with his hands”), multiple pass rush moves, and superior bend, burst, motor, and functional strength for his size. Supposed to be a smart player too, which is to be expected since his father coaches the OLB’s for the Houston Texans. There is exactly one issue to be addressed: can he play big enough to succeed as well in the NFL as he has in college? ROUND 5-6 GRADE
  • EDGE Shaka Toney, Penn. St. (RS Senior). 6’2¼”, 238 lbs. with fairly long 33” arms. Will be 23 on draft day. A true 3-4 OLB with the burst, bend, and violence to be a solid NFL pass rusher, combined with excellent tools in space. Needs to get better at setting the edge but that is almost predictable for an edge rusher with his size and length limitations. Those limitations were very apparent at the Senior Bowl, where OT’s had no trouble shoving him away on pass rush drills. He will absolutely require a redshirt year in the weight room. ROUND 5-6 GRADE
  • EDGE William Bradley-King, Baylor by way of Ark. St. (RS Senior). 6’3⅜”, 254 lbs. with 32¾” arms and 10¼” hands. A prospect who actually played 3-4 OLB in college! Hard to believe, right? But it’s true. Strong, smart, and technically sound but missing both chase-him-down speed, and that special pop of athleticism that seems to make the difference in NFL pass rushers. Here is a nice looking January scouting profile from PFN. Here are some nice quotes from a December interview. This brief February scouting profile agrees that he is a straight power rusher with limited athleticism when measured on the lunatic scale of NFL Edge talent. ROUND 5-7 GRADE
  • EDGE Elerson Smith, N. Iowa. (Senior). 6’6½”, 262 lbs. with 33¼” arms and 10½” hands. Extremely long, quite athletic, and fairly quick for a man his size, he needs at least a year of professional strength training to build his ability to hold the edge and do his job against the run. Will he maintain his burst and athleticism once he gets that done? Has some athletic upside with his ability to rush the passer. Dupree Lite? This goes to a decent New Year’s scouting profile. ROUND 5-7 GRADE
  • EDGE Cam Sample, Tulane. (Senior). 6’3”, 274 lbs. Built like a natural 4-3 DE, but with college experience ranging from Defensive Tackle to stand-up OLB. That sounds perfect, but reports say he is not SPARQ-y enough to carry that off in the NFL. For Pittsburgh he projects as a player who’d be limited to specialty snaps. Played well enough to earn the Defensive MVP award at the Senior Bowl. ROUND 6-UDFA
  • EDGE Chauncey Golston, Iowa. (RS Senior). 6’4¾”, 268 lbs. with longer 33¾” arms and big 11” hands. Profiles perfectly as a run stuffing 4-3 DE who will help that kind of defense to keep its designated pass rushers fresh for the longer yardage downs. Tough, very strong, and possessing a high motor, he’s a likeable prospect. Just not so much for a 3-4 base team like Pittsburgh. This goes to a Senior Bowl scouting profile from PFN. ROUND 7-UDFA


  • ILB/EDGE Patrick Johnson, Tulane. (Senior). 6’3”, 255 lbs. A really intriguing prospect to watch as the process moves forward, because he profiles on paper as both an Edge Rusher and an OLB; and that is not just projection, because his college team used him in exactly that kind of hybrid role. That versatility earns him a higher grade on this board (for now) than you’ll see with others. Could he really be that elusive “higher end Vince Williams,” with the really nice bonus of having the burst and bend to turn the corner? He’s reported to have a Vincenzo-level motor that never stops, which is always a big plus. Scores a full 100 for scheme fit, but could also end up being a jack of two trades and master of none. ROUND 5-6 GRADE AS A PURE EDGE, ROUND 4 IF HE REALLY IS A HYBRID
  • EDGE Adetokunbo “Ade” Ogundeji, Notre Dame. (Senior). 6’4⅜”, 256 lbs. with incredible 35¼” arms. [MTG AT SENIOR BOWL]. In college he was simply too big, strong, and long for most OT’s to handle. His game is all about explosive power and length, and those are powerful assets. But as a 3-4 OLB? It’s hard to see the fit. He projects better as 4-3 DE who might move inside on sub packages to be a pass rushing lineman. He spent some time at DT in the Senior Bowl, which seemed to confirm that, but he also scored a meeting with the Steelers, so maybe he’s less limited than the Internet suggests. ROUND 5 GRADE AS AN OLB, ROUND 4 IF HE REALLY IS A HYBRID
  • EDGE/DT Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt. (Senior). 6’6”, 275 lbs. with exceptional 35⅝” arms. A potential Round 3 sleeper as a big, 4-3 DE; but is there any real chance he could succeed as a Pittsburgh OLB? His college team actually moved him inside to DT on sub package downs. The best player on an awful team, he wins with length, strength, and above all the constant motor you like to see. Still a bit raw in his technique. ROUND 4-6 AS A POTENTIAL OLB, ROUND 4 IF HE REALLY IS A HYBRID


We all expect Pittsburgh to focus on offensive players in the 2021 draft, but every year we see Kevin Colbert stepping to the podium to boast about how they’ve tried to address both sides of the ball. That usually means a Round 1 defensive pick with a Round 2 guy for the offense. Will it be reversed this year? If so, that means a prospect for the Coach Butler in Round 2, and almost certainly no later than Round 3. Maybe both of the Round 4 picks if the board twists in an offense-heavy way?

Who will the team target on defense? In all likelihood, either a promising young defensive back or one of those names you see above.

Just don’t rule out the Round 1 possibilities either. This is a draft where Pittsburgh has a chance to go true BPA in the 1st. Tackle and RB seem more likely because of how the board is shaped, but those top few Edge Rushers could be enough to tip the balance.

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