It’s been said, “You can’t have too many men who can get the Quarterback,” and it’s not a hard position to defend. T.J. Watt plus anyone makes a pretty good unit. T.J. Watt plus a growing talent like Alex Highsmith is that much better. But imagine how warm and fuzzy you’d feel with a third OLB of that quality! Protection against injury and a true rotation to keep everyone fresh throughout the game? [Sigh]
Here is the current roster. Pittsburgh routinely keeps four active players for this position, often with a swing LB who can play inside as well. (See Arthur Moats). Both the OLB #4 guy and the swing LB must play special teams as well.
- EDGE #1 – T.J. Watt (6’4″, 252 lbs.) Superstar. Under contract until 2026.
- EDGE #2 – Alex Highsmith (6’4″, 242 lbs.) Rising star. Under contract on a rookie deal until 2024.
- EDGE #3 – Taco Charlton (6’6″, 270 lbs.) He meh‘d his way out of Dallas, but has looked quite solid here in the ‘burgh. Does the job as a #3, but could be improved on; and could also grow better if he “gets it” in this system. Unrestricted Free Agent, but one who is likely to view the Steelers as a good place to get his career back on track.
- EDGE #4 – Derrek Tuszka (6’5″, 246 lbs.) The Broncos’ 2020 7th Rounder is a developing journeyman and fine special teams player. Superb motor, but limited athletic assets for this ultra-athletic position. Under contract until 2023, at which point he will be an RFA.
- PRACTICE SQUAD/FUTURES Delontae Scott (6’5″, 246 lbs.) This 2020 UDFA features condor length, and could be a gem if he learns how to use it. We have no idea about his progress, if any.
All in all, I think we can call that a good room, but not a great one. The Pittsburgh front office has no pressing need to draft another pass rusher, but should definitely consider any bargain that falls fell in their path. In most years that is a forlorn hope. Pass rush talent gets overpicked, not overlooked. But things may be different this year because the 2022 Edge Rush class features excellent talent from the top on down. It should surprise no one if Colbert & Co. pick off a straggler from that herd down in the 3rd or 4th round.
A VERY EARLY SUMMARY OF THE TOP 2022 EDGE RUSH TALENT
These are extremely tentative grades and descriptions, but I’m going to go out on the proverbial limb with my current far-too-specific grades in order to reinforce the point.
|1:01||EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan. (Senior). 6’5”, 270 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. The NFL has a draft order so that no team with T.J. Watt can ever pick the likes of Aidan Hutchinson. ‘Nuff said. Top 5 talent.|
|1:01||EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon. (Junior). 6’5”, 258 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Go ahead and dream if you must. Now clean up the mess and forget about it. No supermodel for you; no Thibodeaux for the Steelers. Top 5 talent.|
|1:15||EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue. (Junior). 6’4”, 275 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A game wrecking 4-3 DE who might rank even higher if the testing shows an ability to play in space. Top 5-10 talent.|
|1:15||EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan. (Senior). 6’5”, 250 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Ojabo would be a major target of Steeler Nation if he played a position of higher need. And it’s darned tempting anyway! Don’t write him off as the 1:20 pick if the Board goes kerplooey in the wrong direction. Ojabo is a miracle athlete with proven production, who could be a true star by adding grown-man strength and professional technique to his game. This goes to a nice, introductory scouting profile from around New Years.|
|1:25||EDGE Jermaine Johnson, Florida St. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 265 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Tremendous floor and a terrific ceiling make him an obvious Round 1 talent. Has the versatility to be a 3-4 OLB too, despite the size. Here is an interesting scouting summary from before the Senior Bowl. This solid looking January scouting profile describes a Bud Dupree type, with great length and run-control ability, plus very good explosion, but not a lot of bend. This January scouting profile from the respected Daniel Kelly worries that Johnson may have “maxed out against collegiate competition,” which could make for a disappointing pro.|
|2:01||EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia. (Junior). 6’5”, 275 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Yet another pass rusher who could destroy the universe if paired with T.J. Watt, Walker’s calling cards are speed, power, and the ability to combine the two. Lots of room to grow because he tends to win more on assets than technique, he’d be pushing toward the Top 10 if he’d only shown more than just-acceptable bend. Gives off sort of a Bud Dupree vibe, with better development and NFL-great athleticism instead of “Combine Buster.” Built like a classic 4-3 DE, but studies like this good January Bleacher Report scouting profile emphasize his movement skills in space and his experience as a stand-up OLB.|
|2:24||EDGE Arnold Ebiketie, Penn St. (RS Senior). 6’4”, 250 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. An explosive speed rusher and athlete, with decent size, excellent agility, and serious bend around the corner. That pure potential underlies his entire grade and could let him start early as a one trick pony, situational rush specialist, but inconsistency and lack of strength litter the tape and need to be fixed if he wants a full career. The athleticism and bend wow the author of this January Bleacher report scouting profile, but the strength issues do not and the explosion is questioned. This thorough January scouting report sees all the explosion, but questions the bend.|
|2:24||EDGE Kingsley Enagbare, S. Car. (Senior). 6’4”, 265 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. The sort of half developed player whose stock could soar or sink with the Combine, Enagbare has all the assets you want except very average bend. Also has experience as an occasional, undersized 5-tech, which shows some selflessness. The biggest question is whether he will test out as a linear athlete, or someone whose flexibility simply wasn’t accessed in the way he was used in college. This goes to a solid enough January scouting profile from Bleacher Report.|
|2:24||EDGE Drake Jackson, USC. (RS Sophomore). 6’4”, 250 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A younger, better pedigreed version of Alex Highsmith before we knew about the Steeler-level football IQ and work ethic. Will be better in Year 2 after a year of strength training and professional discipline, but could easily turn into a true star if he has the right stuff on the inside to reach his potential. Has experience as a 3-4 OLB, so he can hit the ground running. This January scouting profile ends with a typically solid Round 2 grade. This January scouting profile joins others in emphasizing his distinct lack of grown man strength, and how much he has accomplished without it. Lots of room for growth.|
|2:24||EDGE Cameron Thomas, San Diego St. (Senior). 6’5”, 270 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A natural 4-3 DE who can play in space when the situation demands it, Thomas could fit in Pittsburgh if the trend against using “OLB’s” in coverage continues. Has some bend, but it is a secondary asset to his length, strength, power, and hand fighting. Fantastic motor. This goes to a January, pre-Senior Bowl scouting profile. This nice January scouting profile emphasizes Thomas’ advanced set of pass rushing skills, and corresponding ability to contribute early.|
|3:01||EDGE Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati. (Senior). 6’5”, 255 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. He’s got the build Pittsburgh likes, and the explosive first step the F.O. adores. Same with the exceptional motor. Would grade higher if he could bend just as well. Needs to show that he can maintain his weight, and especially some sand in the pants as a run stuffer. Stats show huge pressure numbers, but not many sacks. This January scouting profile from Bleacher Report ends with a Round 2 grade. This thorough-looking January scouting profile eagerly awaits some Combine numbers to explain question marks in his film.|
|3:12||EDGE/ILB Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma. (RS Junior). 6’2”, 235 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. One of those frustrating tweeners who’s built like an ILB, but excelled in college as a pass rusher because of his extraordinary burst, bend, motor, and football IQ. Remember Haason Reddick? Same type of guy. A Rorschach Test that lets you see what you want, and thus is very hard to grade. After all, the original Reddick failed on the inside, where we wanted him, and then succeeded as an undersized pass rusher. I choose to see a prospect who really can transition to being a pass rushing Buck ILB; but I acknowledge that my vision goes through some thick B&G desire-glasses. Here is a Seahawks-oriented scouting profile from around New Years.|
|3:12||DT/EDGE Logan Hall, Houston. (Junior). 6’6”, 275 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A really good, extra-long 4-3 DE prospect who’d also make a fine DE in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 base if he can pack on an extra 15-20 pounds of muscle. That tweener status hurts his stock enough on our board to make him an unlikely pick.|
|3:12||DT/EDGE John Paschal, Kentucky. (RS Senior). 6’3”, 278 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A tweener who’d fit better in a 4-3 base than the 3-4, Paschal’s biggest calling card is his versatility. He won’t fit any Pittsburgh position well, and he won’t do any given job superbly; but he might fit the Front 5 extremely well as a hybrid guy who’d give opponents fits if they had to figure him out from play to play. A very hard prospect to grade. This January Bleacher Report scouting profile emphasizes that he is not a bendy pass rusher, but still an effective one due to length and power.|
|3:24||EDGE Boye Mafe, Minn. (RS Senior). 6’4”, 265 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A toolsy Edge Rusher who looks like a model for the body type and assets Pittsburgh likes in an Edge Rusher. Has a solid amount of every asset, and even some good experience falling back into coverage. Could easily shoot up the Board if he blows up the Combine to the level people expect, but the bigger question is whether he can pull all the pieces together in a coordinated way. This January scouting profile catches the excitement his traits have caused in the draft community.|
|4:01||EDGE Amare Barno, Va. Tech. (RS Junior). 6’6”, 245 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Has experience as both an ILB and an Edge Rusher, which is nice, but he remains very raw as a football player. Many good traits, including top notch length, but will require a redshirt year of strength and technique training to withstand pro rigors. Could be a real steal after that.|
|4:01||EDGE Zach Harrison, Ohio St. (Junior). 6’6”, 268 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 5-star recruit with all the natural talent in the world as a 4-3 DE, but who’s never put it all together.|
|4:01||EDGE Deangelo Malone, W. Kentucky. (RS Senior). 6’4”, 240 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. This year’s small school wunderkind. Dominated everyone on film with the whole spectrum of assets, but he’s a bit underweight for the NFL and it’s hard to judge reality against the lower LOC.|
|4:01||EDGE/ILB Nolan Smith, Georgia. (Junior). 6’3”, 235 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Another undersized pass rusher who would fit Pittsburgh much, much better if he has the ability to move inside and play as a Buck ILB with extremely good pass rushing chops. Average strength, average+ explosiveness, and less than average size, but his knack of converting speed to power makes up for a lot.|
|4:01||EDGE Tyreke Smith, Ohio St. (Senior). 6’4”, 265 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Has a good first step and very good bend, with power, general athleticism, a never-cold motor, and some production as well; i.e., tools that call for a solid Day 2 grade. But he has also been serially bit by the nagging injury bug, and his stats are almost all pressures vs. actual sacks.|
|4:01||EDGE Sam Williams, Ole Miss. (RS Senior). 6’4”, 268 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Will be a 23 year old rookie at a position where Pittsburgh values youth. An experienced pass rusher with middle of the road talents across the board. Many areas he can improve, but he’ll need to and he seems to lack that one defining trait to fall back on.|
|5:01||EDGE Isiah Thomas, Oklahoma. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 267 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 4-3 DE with the ability to move inside in a pinch.|
And the point is…? This class is friggin’ stacked with talent. Someone who’d be on the Round 2/3 fringe in a normal year could easily fall toward Pittsburgh’s grasp at 3:20. Ditto for fringe-3rd and 4th Round talents falling to 4:comp. Bargains could be had! And if those bargains don’t show up, it will mean the league has gorged on Edge Rushers to the point that thinner positions will still be available. The depth and quality of the Edge Rushers will shape the 2022 NFL draft.
Should the Steelers pull the trigger on a pass rushing bargain if one becomes available? It could be very hard to resist.