PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. has had a pretty interesting 2022 season.
The 24-year-old was entering his second season with the New York Jets, playing defensive end. He had spent the entire 2021 with the Jets on their practice squad, getting called up to play in one game, which is a pretty solid outcome for an undrafted rookie.
He was hoping to turn that strong start into a crack at the Jets’ 53-man roster this season, but that changed on Aug. 8, when he was unexpectedly released by New York.
Two days later, he was on his way to Pittsburgh, as the Steelers had submitted a waiver claim for him. Now, he looks poised to be able to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster as an outside linebacker.
“It’s a crazy story,” Rashed said. “The coach called me and said you’ve gotta be here in two hours, so get packed.”
Rashed worked with the Steelers’ first team at outside linebacker on Wednesday, continuing the work he did there earlier in the week. Rashed has been with the Steelers since Aug. 10, but it’s been recently that he began to get comfortable enough in the Pittsburgh defense to start to make an impact.
“It’s definitely a learning curve,” Rashed said. “I wouldn’t say it’s super hard to learn. It’s like little details I still need to fix and get better. But I feel like I played 3-4 before, so it’s not really a big difference.”
On Tuesday, the Steelers rewarded that work, releasing veteran outside linebacker Genard Avery. With Rashed working ahead of returners Derek Tuszka and Delontae Scott, he looks poised to be at least one of the backup outside linebackers on the 53-man roster when it comes out on Tuesday.
“That’s the NFL for you,” Rashed said. “You never know what’s going to happen. It’s always like no matter what happens, you never know where you’re going to go.”
Rashed ending up on the cusp of the Steelers roster compared to where he was a month ago is unlikely, but so is the entire story of his pro career. A three-star recruit out of Phoenix, Oregon State was one of just a handful of Division I scholarship offers. With the Beavers, the farthest thing from an NFL hotbed, Rashed redshirted his first season, played sparingly his second, and even when he started for the first time as a redshirt sophomore in 2017, he recorded just 2.5 sacks on the season.
In 2018, Rashed blew up. He set Oregon State records with 22.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks and finished first and third in the nation in each category. He was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac 12 selection. Before the 2020 season, he was on the watch list for the Badnarik Award and Nagurski Trophy as the top defensive player in college football.
But as quickly as his stock had risen, it fell back to Earth. In the COVID-interrupted 2020 season, he played seven games, but had no sacks and just two tackles for loss.
“I was a cover down linebacker,” Rashed said. “I was the one that covered all the time. You can’t really get too many sacks if you’re covering tight ends and covering into the flat. … But at the end of the day, I showed that I can be a team player. It’s not always about me.”
The downturn in productivity led to Rashed going unselected in the 2021 NFL Draft, and ending up with the Jets, where he was asked to make the transition to a 4-3 defense while making the move to the NFL.
“I took a big chance, and I took the rough end of the stick getting drafted and stuff like that, but you’ve still got to move on,” Rashed said.
With the Steelers, he’s back to his familiar role of a 3-4 outside linebacker, and seems to be thriving in the new environment.
“I think over here, it’s more opportunities to make plays,” Rashed said. “It’s just another opportunity. I’ve got to go out there and seize the moment.”