News broke yesterday afternoon that the Pittsburgh Steelers were bringing back a familiar face, signing free agent OLB Tuzar Skipper. Skipper had been released by the Tennessee Titans back in early May after spending the entire 2020 season bouncing back and forth from the roster to the practice squad, and landing on the practice squad for the full 2021 season. Skipper has appeared in ten games with two starts so far in his NFL career with the Giants and Titans, playing 84 defensive snaps, and logging eight tackles, 0.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery. Skipper has also logged 71 special teams snaps.
— JL Sports (@JLSports3) June 1, 2022
Skipper initially started out in Pittsburgh as a UDFA in 2019 and made the 53-man roster, but was later released before the first preseason game and claimed by the New York Giants. The Giants later revered him back to the practice squad, and Pittsburgh poached him back to their roster in November of that same year. Pittsburgh ended up signing him to a two-year deal that offseason, but he failed to make the roster out of training camp, thus latching on with the Titans in 2020.
While Skipper has done little in terms of making a statistical impact in the NFL to-date, be showed promise back in 2019, becoming the preseason darling of Steelers fans far and wide thanks to his performance. In that short amount of time, Skipper managed to record nine pressures, five sacks, and a forced fumble in only 112 snaps played on defense.
Tuzar Skipper has been quite the surprise for the Steelers’ defense so far this preseason, as Skipper has recorded nine total pressures, seven defensive stops and a forced fumble en route to a 90.4 overall grade across 112 defensive snaps this preseason.https://t.co/2HZEFP3z4k pic.twitter.com/8kxKeFUskH
— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) August 29, 2019
Tuzar Skipper's five sacks this preseason are the most by any Steelers' defender dating back to at least 2006, as far back as https://t.co/wqEDi1KPcv's stats go.
By comparison, Ola Adeniyi had three last year. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) August 30, 2019
Still, Skipper is now four years removed from that debut and has struggled to stick on an NFL roster, including with teams like the Giants, Falcons, and Titans, who have notably struggled generating pressure on the QB the last several seasons. However, Skipper walks back into a situation in Pittsburgh where he has a clear shot at a roster spot in 2022, likely competing for EDGE #4 behind starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith as well as recent FA signing Genard Avery.
While Pittsburgh also signed UDFAs Tyree Johnson and T.D. Moultry to compete at the position, Skipper’s likely biggest competition to make the roster will come from Derrek Tuszka. Tuszka was originally drafted by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and bounced on and off the practice squad and active roster for Denver in his first season. Denver would then waive Tuszka off the roster prior to Week 1 of 2021, allowing Pittsburgh to swoop in and sign him to their practice squad.
Tuszka would be elevated to that active roster and appear in 15 games for Pittsburgh in 2021, recording 18 total tackles (nine solo), one TFL, two sacks, and a forced fumble on 247 defensive snaps. He also contributed a lot on special teams, playing 194 snaps there (45%) in 2021 for Pittsburgh according to Pro Football Reference.
Kudos to Derrek Tuszka. Registered his first NFL sack yesterday. And it was a big one. Fought through a hold for a strip/sack on the Titans' final drive, putting them into 3rd and 15 that led to Joe Haden's 4th down stop. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/8AJvSYo2u5
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 20, 2021
When it comes to pure regular season experience, Tuszka easily takes the cake. While a liability against the run last season, he managed to make an impact as a rotational pass rusher and a key contributor on special teams after jumping on the moving train for Pittsburgh last season, and now has the benefit of having a full season of experience under his belt as well as the opportunity to go through a full offseason with the team. Still, Tuszka is far from a lock on the roster, having been listed in my new “On The Bubble” series at the OLB position.
So, as it stands today, who do you think wins out in the battle for EDGE #4 between Skipper and Tuszka? I will throw out there that this discussion may become moot by the end of training camp if Pittsburgh decides to add a more established veteran to the room. However, as things stand here today, it seems like Pittsburgh may likely roll with who they have in-house and see how the young guys fare behind Watt, Highsmith, and Avery during OTAs, mandatory minicamp, and to start training camp before considering adding a veteran from the outside.
Given the importance of the pass rush and EDGE play behind Watt and Highsmith, the battle between Skipper and Tuszka will be one I will have a close eye on once training camp kicks off later this summer.
What are your thoughts on Tuzar Skipper and Derrek Tuszka? Do you see those two likely battling for the final OLB spot on the 53-man roster? Who do you think has the edge and what would be your reasoning? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!