Just before the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off OTAs, the team made some roster adjustments. One such move was signing outside linebacker Toby Ndukwe, who participated in the team’s rookie minicamp. Ndukwe spent last season with Sam Houston State as a graduate transfer after spending four seasons with SMU, largely as a special teams player. He appeared in eight games in 2022, all starts, and tallied 34 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, half a sack, one interception, registered five quarterback hits, and knocked down two passes. While some sources differed on his size, the Steelers roster has him at 6’3 and 250 pounds. Couple that with his athletic scores out of his Pro Day, and it’s easy to see why a team like the Steelers would bring him in for a closer look.
What makes this Relative Athletic Score profile all the more intriguing is that Ndukwe posted a 4.65 forty-yard dash at similar numbers to the Steelers’ roster numbers, not the height and weight numbers in the image. Sam Houston’s website also has Ndukwe at 6’3 and 250 pounds.
The vertical and broad jump scores are elite by themselves. Ndukwe has the physical capacity to launch forward at the snap to help give offensive linemen and other blockers pause. Then factor in his arm length of 33 and 3/4 inches, which is plenty long to help keep linemen’s hands off him, and 28 reps on the weight bench, and Ndukwe possesses the physical attributes of a disruptive player on the edge of a defense. That size, strength, and weight combination also makes Ndukwe effective against the run and give him the potential to be disruptive in passing lanes.
Against Northern Arizona early in the 2022 season, Ndukwe showed off his physical ability and speed. He lined up to the right of the Northern Arizona formation and when the ball was snapped, he engaged the right tackle before quickly shedding the block and attacking the backfield. The run was away from Ndukwe, but he quickly accelerated in an attempt to chase down the ball carrier. While the quarterback was able to gain positive yards on the play, Ndukwe was able to help bring him down.
Later in the game, Ndukwe showed off his strength on a bull rush. He lined up to the left of the offensive formation. At the snap, he angled inside of the tight end attempting to block him and powered through the running back picking him up. While the running back was able to divert him slightly, Ndukwe was still able to get into the quarterback’s face and affect the throw. The ball came out high and was picked off in the end zone.
One week later, Ndukwe and Sam Houston State took on Texas A&M-Commerce. It did not take long for Ndukwe to make an impact on the game. With just under six minutes remaining in the first quarter and A&M-Commerce facing a 4th and two, Ndukwe lined up opposite the left tackle. At the snap, Ndukwe attacked inside, using his right arm to keep the tackle from latching on. Pressure forced the quarterback to roll left and Ndukwe spun back off the tackle. As defenders closed in on the quarterback, he tried to find an outlet in the middle of the field. Instead, Ndukwe stepped in front of the weak pass and secured it with both hands. He picked up close to 10 yards before being knocked out of bounds.
One of the biggest knocks on Toby Ndukwe is the lack of sack production. He totaled five sacks in five years of college, and four and a half of them came in his first two seasons at SMU. However, Ndukwe’s physical attributes and athletic ability could help him find a place on special teams, which is where he spent the majority of his time at SMU. OTAs will be a good opportunity to show how he absorbs information and execute some parts of the defensive playbook. He will need to impress the coaching staff with his work ethic and effort to have a shot at sticking on the 53-man roster as he battles the likes of fellow rookie David Perales at OLB along with other potential special teamers.
While Ndukwe is a longshot to make the 2023 Steelers roster, his athletic ability makes him an intriguing player to keep an eye on as the team enters OTAs and possibly even training camp.