The third day of the Pittsburgh Steelers draft did not show much flash as the team essentially looked for depth options on offense and special teams players on defense.
The UDFA haul has some names to look out for, but it took a few days for the standout UDFA that is worth following this summer to sign to the active roster.
Enter P.J. Locke.
Locke likely took a few days to sign because most teams saw him getting drafted. Locke had plenty of suitors and spent a day or two after the draft to decide where he thinks he has the best chance to succeed.
Locke started 31 career games at Texas, shuffling from safety to the nickel and dime roles. Off of the field, he is a former captain who is praised for his energy. On the football field, he is a downhill force who is going to make highlight reels with his punishing blows.
OH GOODNESS P.J. LOCKE III IS STEALING LUNCH MONEY pic.twitter.com/Bq0ggOHZR0
— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) September 9, 2018
Locke is in a nice situation considering the Steelers did not draft a single safety this year. While they double dipped at safety last season, they remain thin at the position, as Sean Davis is due a contract next year and Jordan Dangerfield has made a living on special teams.
In Locke, the team may have found themselves a Jordan Dangerfield replacement. The two profile in a similar manner. Both are a bit too undersized to live in the box, but at the same time, do not have the great ball tracking to remain a starting free safety. Their best attribute is that downhill, reckless-almost-to-a -fault-nature. You do not have to watch a lot of the preseason to see Dangerfield put up highlights similar to Locke above.
That attribute gets players on rosters, because it shows extreme special teams value. Locke has the mentality, physicality and speed to profile as a strong special teams option next season. Locke also the versatility. Versatility was something that Mike Tomlin harped on throughout his post-draft press conference, and it makes sense considering where the game is going.
“We like the versatility of some of the guys that we took today. … Flexibility and versatility will be an element of discussion with some of those, particularly with those four today.”
Locke has played in the box against slot receivers and tight ends. He also has played deep safety. He may not project as an impact player, but if needed, he can step into many different roles and provide snaps. That, along with special teams value gives him a head start on many of his peers.
Dangerfield has been a player that the team has tried to replace before. They added UDFA Jacob Hagen two years ago, but he could not beat out Dangerfield. They signed Nat Behre to replace Dangerfield last season before an injury ended that.
Given the experience and depth of the position, they may keep five safeties. In that case, Locke is a near lock. If they only keep four, he is going to be right there with Dangerfield. He is younger, cheaper, and under team control for longer as a UDFA.
If all things are equal on the field, the Steelers should prefer Locke to Dangerfield and Locke has every chance to prove that this summer. If there is a UDFA to pin and watch throughout the offseason, it is Locke.