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Steelers Analysis

Omar Khan Solving Steelers Need for Speed



Pittsburgh Steelers Patrick Queen
Pittsburgh Steelers LB Patrick Queen

I’m It’s been a wild first 48 hours of free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers and it looks like the fireworks have just begun. Omar Khan has clearly shown us that he is willing to turn over every single stone to try and improve the roster. Two of his biggest acquisitions thus far came on the defensive side of the ball, signing former Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen to a three-year deal, the richest contract for an outside free agent in franchise history. Shortly afterwards, he traded veteran wide receiver Diontae Johnson to Carolina in exchange for cornerback Donte Jackson. 

Clearly, these two moves are merely a microcosm of the Khan’s grand plan in just his second full season as Pittsburgh’s general manager. However, his message is fairly clear already. The Steelers have a vision for their defense: they want to get more athletic on that side of the ball and in order to add speed, they’re targeting younger players that simply move different than their predecessors. Speed isn’t everything but it’s absolutely important. 

Patrick Queen

After coming into the NFL at just 20-years old, Patrick Queen was able to secure a nice payday in free agency well wrote his 25th birthday. His calling card has always been his supreme athletic profile but under Mike MacDonald, Queen took his game to heights that many didn’t foresee coming. Now that his eyes and instincts are starting to catch up with his God-given abilities, he’s developed into a legitimate weapon at the second level. 

The former first-round pick has rare explosiveness and closing speed, which allows him to cover space in an instant. With NFL defenses choosing to take away big plays, forcing the ball to thrown underneath, Queen’s skill set is even more valuable. He’s essentially a vacuum for check downs, erasing yards after the catch with his ability to trigger downhill. In man coverage, he is both fluid and fast enough to flip his hips and stay in the hip pocket of even the more athletic tight ends. In the Steelers scheme which deploys plenty of man coverage calls, this trait is even more valuable because they won’t feel the need to take him off the field on passing downs.

Queen also happens to be an impactful run defender. His lateral agility and change of direction skills allow him to transport effortlessly between gaps and close rushing lanes. When teams try to wide zone or tosses to the boundary, he has speed to run those down as well. As he’s matured and gained experienced, it’s allowed him to play faster and trust what his eyes are telling him, which has been the main source of his breakout. He’s not just an athlete anymore, he’s a linebacker. 

The Steelers have been desperately searching for a player just like this since Ryan Shazier suffered his career-altering injury. Last year in free agency, they completely turned over the room by adding Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and eventually Kwon Alexander. All three have various, specific things that they bring to the table but Queen’s a different animal. His three down value and multifaceted capabilities are why he was so highly sought after in the market. The best part about this from the Steelers perspective? He hasn’t reached his ceiling yet. 

Donte Jackson

The term “track speed” gets overused quite a bit when it comes to NFL players but Donte Jackson has the resume to back it up. A state champion sprinter in high school before becoming an SEC champion in the 4×100 meter relay while at LSU, the former second-pick has always been able to fly. In off-coverage, he displays a controlled, smooth pedal, light feet and fluid hips to turn in burn. When in press, you’ll see Jackson mix up his technique and is more physical than his slender frame would suggest on the surface. 

All of this is made possible by his speed, it’s the calling card of Jackson’s game. Even after injuries have been a real nuisance for him throughout his career to date, his 4.3 speed hasn’t completely faded away. He’s not known as a technician but he does have some makeup ability which allows him to recover from missteps. When watching Pittsburgh’s defense last season, there were times when you just couldn’t trust guys like Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace in man coverage against younger, more athletic weapons. At least with Jackson, his athleticism gives him a punchers chance. 

It’s clear that the organization has a plan for the 28-year old after trading away their number one receiver in exchange. It was previously reported that Carolina was set to release him by the start of the new year but he’s being given another chance to ball out in a contract year. It’s highly likely that Pittsburgh adds another youngster to the mix and perhaps he can provide value in a mentor role. He doesn’t bring the star power that Queen does but his experience gives them a top-three cornerback in the room which is something they were lacking prior to Tuesdays move. 

Teryl Austin’s defense is going to look much different next season and that’s a good thing. They’ll be faster and in turn, they should be better. Health permitting, these two acquisitions make some level of sense at first glance. Now, it’s just about seeing how the pieces of the puzzle fit together in live action.