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2020 NFL Draft

Potential Options for the Steelers at No. 49 after Day One

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Day one of the 2020 NFL Draft has passed and gone with some shockers in the first round and some heartbreak as well for Steelers fans. With Jalen Reagor being nabbed off the board, the pipe dream of the speedster being the Steelers deep threat wide receiver was dashed. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the complete, elite receiving running back, also went off the board. However, there was a lot of talent that fell that could be legitimate contenders to fall to the Steelers’ first pick at 49. Here are some of those options:

Safety: Ashtyn Davis, Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, Antoine Winfield

While the Steelers have been pointed to as being drawn to a weapon on offense, there are zero reasons to believe that safety is not at least in play. With no safeties coming off the board in the first round, the potential for safety to the best player available continues to grow. There will likely still be a run on them before the Steelers pick, but there is serious doubt that all of them will be gone.

McKinney is probably the least likely of all these players. He does it all. Called “Minkah Lite” by some, McKinney did everything Fitzpatrick did at Alabama and has the same high football IQ that Fitzpatrick carries as the marker of his game on the field. His ceiling is a little lower than most. That is all due to his athleticism and only modest ball skills.

Winfield and Davis would give the Steelers guys that can be moved around the defensive formation and like McKinney, expand the flexibility on the back end of the defense. Davis is a track star who lays the wood down. With elite ball skills and man coverage skills, Davis could be alluring. Winfield has the NFL bloodlines and ball-hawking ability to be right on the Steelers radar. Both could be very much in play just because of what they bring in sub packages.

Delpit is another Steelers-type player. Likely an exclusive single-high, Delpit’s instincts, range, and ball skills will make him work great in three safety packages on the back end. While he struggles with tackling, the upside to his game is that he is a playmaker, which a team can never have enough of on both sides of the ball.

Wide Receiver: Tee Higgins, Denzel Mims, Michael Pittman, Laviska Shenault

This is the place where they could go if they are looking at a playmaker. The Steelers are going to get their size if they want a receiver at 49, it is just a question of which one of these guys is available when they get on the clock.

Mims is a bit of a surprise to be here at this point. With his athleticism, physicality, ball skills, and body control, it seemed likely that he could be a first-round draft pick. Nonetheless, he is here and could be the pick if the Steelers want the complete package of height, weight, and speed. A big target like Mims would be appreciated by Ben Roethlisberger.

Higgins is a less explosive athlete and more of a jump-ball receiver. Pittman, similarly, is more of a possession receiver that uses his physicality to separate at the top of routes. Between the two, Pittman is smoother and a little better after the catch since he is not stiff like Higgins is as a route runner. Regardless, both of these guys are mainly contested-catch guys who use their size to impose their will.  Pittman’s special teams ability and NFL bloodlines give him the edge.

Shenault is a whole different beast. He brings that same physicality but is far more dynamic and athletic than any of the receivers listed above. After the catch, there are not many players better in this class than Shenault is on tape. He could absolutely be a steal for the Steelers should he be the pick. The caveat is the injuries, but man, what a talent this guy is.

Running Back: Cam Akers, JK Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor,

The Steelers could go running back. That has been rumored for a while and they have shown a clear interest in multiple running backs throughout the draft process. However, with Edwards-Helaire off the board and some teams coming down the order that still need a running back, this list could grow thin.

Swift and Taylor are two I do not expect to make it to 49. Swift offers too much versatility and elusiveness in the open field. However, should he make it to 49 he is a strong contender given that he has a modern NFL running back skill set and diversifies the group’s skill set. Taylor is a track star with power. He fits every bit of a Steelers back if there has ever been one. Fumbles are the concern with him, though.

Dobbins and Akers, on the other hand, do have chances of being there at 49. For Dobbins, he is a home run hitter with elite vision, but lacks lateral agility and receiving ability. As for Akers, he creates as well as anyone in this class but simply has an inconsistent vision. Granted, that is a product of playing behind a bad offensive line, but it is something that could show itself more often as he has to manipulate defenders and work in structure in the NFL.

Offensive Line: Ezra Cleveland, Lloyd Cushenberry, Matt Hennessy, Josh Jones, Lucas Niang

Do not discredit the possibility that the Steelers look towards the offensive line 49. With three athletic tackles in Niang, Cleveland, and Jones all on the board, the Steelers very well could bite. However, there are lots of tackle needy teams prior to 49 and all three could have a chance to get off the board. Regardless, ending up with any of the three would be fantastic to get. They each could get day one playing time and be the future at tackle beyond 2020.

As for the interior of the line, Cushenberry and Hennessy would both add center depth. Cushenberry is far more of an athlete than Hennessy is while Hennessy brings good strength and anchoring ability to the position. Both of them do not have the flexibility to push out to guard, which makes this scenario a little less likely, but it could still very well happen if they are enamored with one of the two interior offensive line, as they need interior offensive line options regardless.

Cornerback: Kristian Fulton

This one is here out of pure best player available status. The Steelers really do not need a cornerback, but Fulton would be tempting if he somehow falls. With ball skills, fluidity, and physicality, Fulton is the exact type of player that the Steelers are beginning to covet at the position. He has the athleticism and length to fit the Steelers’ requirements and standards as well. Even with Justin Layne waiting in the wings, it is certainly possible for the Steelers to take the bait and bite on Fulton if he is there.

Outside Linebacker: Zack Baun, Julian Okwara, Josh Uche

The Steelers have met with a plethora of outside linebackers throughout the entire process and clearly have an interest in adding one at some point in the draft to bolster depth and perhaps take over for Bud Dupree in 2021 if he does not sign a long-term deal after being franchise-tagged this season.

Baun and Uche are both pass-rusher and off-ball linebacker hybrids, though Uche is more natural in the off-ball role simply due to his coverage ability. Uche has scary good fluidity and even took K.J. Hamler on in man coverage and got a pass breakup. As a pass rusher, he has speed and bend, but a ton of pop behind his frame as well. He took Tristian Wirfs and Jedrick Wills to their limits when they faced him. Baun has the same springy first step with less bend and more pass rush moves. As a whole, he lacks the finesse Uche has but has elite football IQ.

As for Okwara, he is the wild card of this whole thing. He has a wonderful blend of explosiveness, bend, heavy hands, and pad level working for him when looking at his game as a whole. There certainly could be a connection here with the Steelers because Okwara is the type of pass rusher they do covet. However, if the Steelers are looking for upside, Okwara might be the way to go as he could be a pro bowler if he pans out.

2020 NFL Draft

Chase Claypool Signs Steelers Contract

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Steelers top draft pick Chase Claypool has signed his rookie contract. Claypool posted to his personal Twitter account a photo of him signing the contract on Wednesday night.

According to Tom Loy of 247 Sports, Claypool signed a four-year contract worth $6.6 million, including a $2.4 million signing bonus.

The Steelers drafted Claypool out of Notre Dame with the 49th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. A 6-foot-4, 238-pound receiver from British Columbia, Claypool caught 150 passes for 2,159 yards and 19 touchdowns with the Fighting Irish.

With Pittsburgh, he’s expected to immediately contribute, joining Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington at the top of the Steelers’ wide receiver corps.

Claypool is the third member of the Steelers’ 2020 draft class to sign his contract, joining third-round outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, Jr.
The Steelers rookies are in the process of reporting to training camp, which will begin fully at Heinz Field on July 28.

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2020 NFL Draft

Film Study: Alex Highsmith Brings Juice to Steelers Pass Rush

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The Steelers surprised more than a few people by taking an outside linebacker in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming into the draft, it was a position that could be addressed due to the looming contract of Bud Dupree, who is on a one-year rental contract on the franchise tag. Seeing as the Steelers have a plethora of contracts to take care of in the next year, Dupree may be on his way out. Even then, with Anthony Chickillo gone, the Steelers needed to address the depth and get a rotational pass rusher.

All of that is taken care of now as they selected Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith, who was an uber-productive pass rusher who was a standout all week at the East-West Shrine Game in Tampa. Given what he has put on tape, his selection is not a surprise and the Steelers hit a home run with the pick of Highsmith, who put up quality tape not just against teams in the Conference USA, but also against a top team such as Clemson.

Highsmith’s Tape

The one developing area of Highsmith’s game is his counters and pass rush moves. There are a few moves that he employs to win and starting last season, a spin move was one of the ways he won inside as offensive tackles overset for his speed rush. Highsmith has a few defining traits to his game, but there is no doubt that his explosive first step is a key one. He gets off the line and up the arc in a hurry because of his explosive first step. The good thing is that he is not simply a speed rusher. While that is how he wins most of the time, he can pull off nifty moves like this. Clemson tackle Jackson Carman oversets expecting the speed rush from Highsmith, but instead, he takes his pass rush angle up the arc and bends it back inside on that spin move.

One thing that was telling on the Clemson tape was just how much they prepared for Highsmith. Carman is a good tackle and a potential first-round pick in 2021, but Highsmith gave him fits all day long. They chipped Highsmith with tight ends and kept running backs in just in an effort to try and stop him. This play above shows off his first step. He has rocket shoes on his feet on this play as he beats Carman to his spot. If not for a quick three-step drop and throw from Trevor Lawrence, this may have been a sack for Highsmith off his explosiveness alone.

Run defense is a part of Highsmith’s game that is inconsistent, but as his hand usage has improved, so has his run defense. This play is one where he shows he can take advantage of a tackle’s mistakes. Carman is flat-footed and lunges towards Highsmith rather than driving through his chest, allowing Highsmith to be nifty and zoom right on by here. That is part of the reason his explosiveness causes so many problems. However, he does a nice job of executing a chop-rip to slice down the line to make a tackle. Based on the film, the chop-rip combination is Highsmith’s go-to move.

Here is the chop-rip again, this time for a sack. Highsmith does a great job of nailing his hand right inside the tackle’s pad, which is almost always certain death for a tackle. The ability to rip around the edge and make this arc tight is something that Highsmith is really good at doing. Still, this is more about his burst and hand usage combination that allows him to win.

This is exactly how Highsmith recorded most of his sacks, however. When the Steelers drafted him, they likely bet not just on his improvement as a strategist with his counters and moves, but his combination of burst and bend to destroy set angles and win around the edge with his speed rush. He does that extremely well here as he sets his pass rush angle up as if he was going to come here with some power move such as bull rush. However, his lateral agility allows him to cut back outside and use his explosiveness to get the angle. After that, it is all flexibility in his ankles. The ankle flexion he gets is really great on that lead leg. It bends and leads under his shoulders and hip to allow him to dip and reduce his surface area on his way to getting this sack.

Highsmith’s Overview

The Steelers’ selection of Highsmith may have been their best pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. His combination of burst and bend makes him a perfect fit for the 3-4 outside linebacker scheme. With the Steelers rushing their outside linebackers more than ever, Highsmith is a great fit to provide more pass rush upside in the rotation than anyone since Jason Worilds. With his improvement in his pass rush plan and hand usage, HIghsmith could be a starter in 2021 if Dupree walks after the 2020 season.

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2020 NFL Draft

Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft

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Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.

Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.

“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”

With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.

Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.

Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.

“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”

Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.

“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”

Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.

It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.

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