With the Pittsburgh Steelers opening up training camp at the end of the month, a hot topic for the team will be the various training camp battles likely to ensure to fill out the roster at different positions. The defensive line boasts arguably the deepest positional unit on the defensive side of the football, having entrenched starters Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu to lead the charge along with the likes of Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Isaiah Buggs, and Henry Mondeaux as depth. Normally, the team likes to keep six DL for the regular season, but the notion could be made that another could stick on the roster given the depth at the position and the potential role that player can serve for the team.
Given that Buggs and Mondeaux are both on the fringe, I wanted to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each player and pose the question of who should make the final roster after preseason action.
Here is some background information on both players heading into the 2021 season:
Isaiah Buggs / DL / Alabama – 6’3, 295lb
Career Stats: 19 games played/one started, 14 career tackles (nine solo), one QB hit
Draft Status: 6th round (192nd overall)
Henry Mondeaux / DL / Oregon – 6’4, 280lb
Career Stats: 11 games played, five total tackles (three solo), one TFL, two QB hits
Draft Status: UDFA in 2018
Buggs benefits by being nearly a full year younger than Mondeaux as well as having draft capital attached to his name and the size you want from a defender on the interior. Overall, it has been an up-and-down professional career for Buggs heading into Year Three. He has come off as unmotivated at times to the coaching staff and has be criticized for struggling to maintain his playing weight, being out of shape at times. Also, for being around 300lb, he has had troubles in the past anchoring against the run and being stout upfront.
However, we saw this past season some signs of improvement coming from the Baltimore Ravens game in Baltimore where Buggs initially struggled in the first half like most of the defense did in terms of stopping the run, and stringed together some good plays to give confidence that he can be a good depth piece moving forward. On this first play, we see Buggs head-up on the center on a 4th down in the red zone. Buggs does a good job getting his hands inside the center’s chest on the snap, playing with good leverage and reads what #8 Lamar Jackson is doing. Once he sees Jackson take off to the right, he sheds his block and gets in on the key 4th down stop to end the drive.
We see a similar play right before this where Jackson tries to scramble out of the pocket to pick up the necessary yardage, but Buggs does a great job disengaging from the center and converges on Jackson for the stop.
Buggs also showed off his ability as a pass rusher in the Ravens game. Here we see him lined up as the zero technique on #68 Matt Skura and gets his hands on Skura’s shoulders, then proceeds to swim over his shoulder while ripping that same arm through to put pressure on Jackson in the pocket, forcing him to throw the ball early.
On this play near the end of the 3rd quarter, we see Buggs get home on Jackson, lining head-up on the center and tries to rip through on the left side but counters with a swim with his left arm over the center’s shoulder joining Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt in the backfield of the takedown of Jackson for the big loss.
Henry Mondeaux had a different route to make it in the NFL. Going undrafted in 2018, Mondeaux signed initially with the Atlanta Falcons and was released prior to the start of the season. He found his way on the practice squad at the end of the year and later signed a future’s contract with the Chiefs before getting released by them in May of 2019. He ended up signing with the Steelers a week later but was waived in August and signed to the practice squad for the entire season. The same could be said prior for the 2020 season until he was promoted to the active roster on October 23 for the rest of the season.
There is no denying Mondeaux’s motor and drive to earn a roster spot in the NFL. The guy literally plays like his hair is on fire at all times, showing great pursuit of the football and tries to make an impact despite lacking ideal size inside. Here against the Bills, we see Mondeaux get good hand placement on the LG and successfully executes the rip with the left arm swim over the shoulder of the blocker, closing quickly on #17 Josh Allen to force to ball to come out quickly while delivering a hit on the QB.
He has provided great effort when asked to be subbed in, looking competent and executing his assignments to the best of his ability. Watch this play against the Bengals where Mondeaux does a great job on the stunt with T.J. Watt to crash outside on the RT while getting the RG to commit to him, giving Watt an open lane to the QB for the big sack.
Mondeaux has no problem doing the dirty work for the defense and even has made himself useful in other areas as well. He is a good athlete for his size and was even utilized in the Titans game as the fullback on the goal line, doing a great job on the stretch run to the left but picking up the backer coming downhill in the gap while also tripping up the defensive lineman in pursuit from behind, giving #24 Benny Snell Jr. an open lane to walk into the end zone for the score.
Would it be the 1990s, I personally would recommend Mondeaux to make the full-time transition over to fullback thanks to his size, effort, and ability to generate a push. He also showed in 2020 that he carries legitimate special teams value as a man over 280lb on kick coverage and return units. Watch him on this kick return at Tennessee find a man in the open field and put him on the ground to help clear a return lane for #14 Ray-Ray McCloud.
However, the lack of size and power limit Mondeaux’s effectiveness as an interior defender, especially when matched up against size inside. Even when he does generate a push of the pocket, his ability to finish the play isn’t the same to other higher-caliber defenders in the room as evidenced on this rep vs Dallas where he had the QB in his grasp but leaves his feet and falls down to allow the passer to scramble for first down yardage.
When it comes to skillset, Buggs and Mondeaux offer different things to the team. While listed as a DE, Buggs has shown good play at times as a nose tackle head-up on the center due to his size advantage on Mondeaux, plus is a more natural pass rusher given his 9.5 sacks season back with the Crimson Tide in 2018. Mondeaux is lighter and more dynamic in the open field, showing more pursuit of the football and appears to be the better option in the twist/stunt game to force blockers to commit to him to free up the other studs along the defensive front. Mondeaux also offers that rare ability to play valuable snaps on special teams as a defensive lineman and could possibly serve as a backup fullback option should Derek Watt go down and be a willing blocker up the middle for Najee Harris inside the red zone or near the goal line in heavy packages.
When it comes to a football perspective, I believe Buggs has the higher upside as a traditional defensive lineman who can push Carlos Davis for the backup spot at NT behind Alualu and should be given the opportunity to win the job should he have his weight in-check and show he is properly motivated heading into 2021. However, should he be caught slacking in camp or show up out of shape, I would have no qualms siding with Mondeaux who has his overall upside as a defender capped, but can contribute in a variety of ways to the team, making himself available any way he can.
What are your thoughts on Buggs and Mondeaux heading into 2021? Do you think that one could push the other off of the roster, or do you see both players likely getting their walking papers after the preseason concludes? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!