To the surprise of almost no one, the Steelers released tenured veteran outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo on Monday.
Chickillo was a late-round pick that the Steelers had kept around as a special teams ace and rotational pass rusher over the past few seasons that certainly was not going to live up to his scheduled $6 million-plus salary cap hit. While Chickillo’s departure will be benefit for the salary cap situation, his departure will result in a lack of depth behind starters Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt and be one of several holes opening up on special teams with Tyler Matakevich also leaving and Roosevelt Nix looking like a likely departure.
Now, it is certainly possible the Steelers go out and draft a replacement. They might very well take one early in the draft and general manager Kevin Colbert has said it’s a deep draft class amongst edge rushers.
However even if the Steelers don’t look outside the organization, they should be able to turn to Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper to compensate for lost depth. However, given who they have on the roster right now, just how much of a drop off is there between Chickillo and those two youngsters?
An immediate breakdown of Adeniyi would be what has he actually done? Understandably, he has been great in two consecutive preseasons and training camps. He has dismantled all the guys he has faced in the preseason. In his rookie year, he led the NFL in sacks during that preseason. When he tore his meniscus last year, he was tied for the lead in sacks during that preseason too. He has been productive in the reps against the backups, but nothing has shown up yet in meaningful games.
His biggest moment on that stage so far was the botched roughing the passer call for his hit on Lamar Jackson. He is, as of now, a massive question mark pending on his development.
He has been more productive than Chickillo due to his bull rush and heavy hands, but in terms of actual in-game production, there has not been much. The drop off on special teams might be the thing to notice. Adeniyi’s weakness is moving in space, and even though he was not horrible on special teams, Chickillo was clearly better. It is not a massive drop off at all, but we have not seen that productivity yet. In terms of holding the edge against the run, I do trust Adeniyi to do that.
Now, moving onto Tuzar Skipper. He was a training camp and preseason darling that got the ax after the preseason and then circled back to the Steelers by mid-season. But after that, we never really saw him at all. So, in other words, in real, meaningful reps, we just do not know what Skipper’s prognosis is in the NFL. Everything we saw at training camp and in the preseason was fantastic. At the very least, he showed he could be a quality special teamer, which is key. Other than that, Skipper is still a mystery.
So, is there a great big drop off from Chickillo to Adeniyi and Skipper? In terms of pass rush ability, no way. Chickillo was nonexistent, but Adeniyi and Skipper both have given significant flashes of pass rush ability. In terms of run defense, Skipper is more of a question mark, but Adeniyi certainly holds his own here. Adeniyi has proven to be a sure tackle and Chickillo missed his fair share on the edge and lost outside contain far too often.
The real battle will be replacing his special teams contributions. Chickillo was a quality special teamer. Skipper showed off some really impressive special teams ability in the preseason. Adeniyi got in on a few tackles as well throughout the season. The drop off is not stark, at the very least.
Truth be told, the Steelers need to draft another edge rusher. That is the best way to take care of these depth problems. But make no mistake about it, the Steelers are not losing a ton by releasing Chickillo.