The Pittsburgh Steelers’ undrafted free agent class was light, as the team only signed seven players. One of those came from the FCS ranks, as Pittsburgh signed defensive lineman James Nyamwaya from Merrimack College. Nyamwaya, who didn’t start playing football until high school after moving to the United States from Kenya, had interest from the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys in addition to the Steelers. He said he chose Pittsburgh due to his relationship with defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
“Right after the draft ended, my agent (Sean P. Stellato) called and said the Jets wanted me. Then a little while later, he said the Cowboys wanted me. I was tempted by the Cowboys. I was really close to going there,” Nyamwaya told David Willis of the Eagle (Mass.) Tribune.
Ultimately, the allure of playing under Dunbar pushed him toward the Steelers.
“But I already had a good relationship with the defensive line coach for the Steelers (Dunbar). Knowing the Steelers had a great defensive line coach who has been doing it (since 1998) made it feel like the right spot for me. Coach Dunbar is really excited to work with me, and I’m excited to play for him.”
Nyamwaya and Dunbar had a Zoom meeting before the draft, and it’s clear the defensive line coach made an impact on the small school stud. After transferring to Merrimack from D3 Curry College in Milton, Mass., Nyamwaya tallied 5.5 along with 27 tackles. His measurables are what the Steelers look for in defensive ends, as he stands at 6’4 and 294 pounds with 34 ¼-inch arms.
Merrimack just recently transitioned to the D1 level and had a good 2022 season going 8-3 and 6-1 in the Northeast Conference. Nyamwaya was a big part of that success, as his 5.5 sacks led the team. He also contributed 6.5 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. He’ll also have a local connection on the team. He went to high school at Andover High, while Pat Freiermuth, who grew up in Merrimac, Mass. attended neighboring Brooks School in Andover.
The Steelers added defensive line depth this offseason with the signings of Armon Watts and Breidon Fehoko in free agency. The team also drafted Keeanu Benton in the second round of the draft. But the Steelers are going to need to replace Chris Wormley on the defensive line, and DeMarvin Leal could play more of a role as a standup edge rusher next season, meaning there’s room for someone like Nyamwaya to break through and potentially earn a roster spot.
His measurables are intriguing, and his relative lack of football experience coupled with limited high-level football experience means he could be someone who could really grow on when coached by an NFL staff. He’s obviously excited to work with Dunbar, and his agent said his Nyamwaya is going to be “like a sponge” when he arrives in Pittsburgh.
Nyamwaya seems like he’s hungry for an opportunity, and it’s going to be fun to see how the Steelers coaching staff molds him. If he’s able to make the roster, his development over the next year or so could make him a nice find as an undrafted free agent. With rookie minicamp starting the weekend after next, we’ll be able to get our first look at Nyamwaya in black and gold.
For more on Nyamwaya, check out Jonathan Heitritter’s profile.