During Senior Bowl week, I had the opportunity to interview Maryland OT Jaelyn Duncan during the media breakfast. I had watched a fair amount of Duncan during the season and wanted to pick his brain and started out our conversation by asking him about the one-on-one sessions against the DL during practice.
“I did pretty good in one-on-ones and I can probably improve a little bit more at keeping my hip closed,” Duncan said. “There’s a lot of great talented defensive ends out here, so I can’t really pinpoint one. Everybody’s an issue here and there.”
I asked Duncan who his toughest opponent was this season, and he answered that it was someone that decided to go back to school: Penn State’s Adisa Isaac.
“I’m not sure of his name really, but probably #20 from Penn State,” Duncan said. “He’s a dog. He decided to go back.”
Issac was recognized as a third-team all-Big Ten selection this past season, returning from a significant injury that caused him to miss most of the 2021 season and posted 11 TFLs and four sacks. He was projected to be a mid-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft but decided to go back to improve as a player and hopefully boost his draft stock for next season.
I then asked Duncan about the offensive system he played in at Maryland and if he feels like his skill set translates well to the NFL.
“At Maryland, we run pro-style,” Duncan answered. “We do a little bit of it all, RPO, outside zone, inside zone. We pass a lot, but me personally, I love the passing game, but if I had to pick one, I’d probably pick inside zone.”
As I have profiled before for the site, Jaelyn Duncan is a skilled pass protector, possessing that large, long frame along with the footwork and active hands to keep pass rushers at bey. His vertical set off the snap flashes on tape, having the ability to set the depth of the pocket with hands in the cradle ready to strike his opponent.
Still, Duncan knows what he must do to improve as a prospect, as I asked him what parts of his game coaches are working with him on. My main concerns with Duncan while watching him this past season were his execution and demeanor as a run blocker. Duncan shared the same sentiment, stating that it’s not a lack of want to, but more of a technical issue he needs to work in as he transitions to the pros.
“What I’m trying to work on right now is being consistent in the all-around aspect of the sport,” Duncan responded. “So, that would be pass blocking and run blocking, but the main thing that I really think I need to work on is probably run blocking. I’m not going to say I struggle with it, but I would like to be more dominant. I think my hand placement and my initial get off is fine. I think at some points, I stopped my feet at contact, so I think I should just have to run through guys and keep driving my feet and keep pushing.”
Run blocking was my biggest issue with Duncan’s tape when watching him during the season as there were several instances where he didn’t get a body on a defender in the running game as well as a lack of nasty that you want to see in a player of Duncan’s size (6054, 298lb, 33 1/2” arms). He did show aggression as a blocker often on the ground, an issue that he attributed to the need to sync up his hands and feet rather than a lack of desire. I look forward to reading Alex Kozora’s report on Duncan to see his take on Duncan and his prowess as a run blocker.
I then concluded my interview with Jaelyn Duncan asking him if he noticed Mike Tomlin on the field for practice and if he was able to speak with him a little bit. Duncan confirmed that the two spoke with that instance not being their first interaction together.
“Yeah, we were talking a little bit,” Duncan answered. “You know, I played with his son Dino when he was at Maryland. He’s a pretty cool guy.”
For those looking to play the “Blue’s Clues” game, Duncan was teammates with Dino Tomlin at Maryland for Dino’s first three seasons with the Terrapins, having spoken a couple of times with Mile Tomlin when he visited his son on campus. Plenty of players have connections with Tomlin, but Tomlin has known Duncan for several seasons now as well as current Steelers OC Matt Canada was on staff at Maryland and served as the team’s interim HC in 2018 which was Duncan’s freshman year.
Duncan notably slimmed down for the pre-draft process, going from a listed weight of 320lb down to 298lb at the Senior Bowl. Perhaps losing some weight will help Duncan test better this spring as well as improve his movement as a run blocker as well as in pass protection. For a player that had once been considered a first-round hopeful, Jaelyn Duncan has fallen squarely into the Day Two conversation. Should the Pittsburgh Steelers want to add depth and potential competition at OT, Duncan has the size, experience, and connections to the team that make him a legit possibility for the Steelers in the middle rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.