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.
Safety Options Abound for Steelers in Draft
After a whirlwind week of free agency, it appears that the safety is becoming a far bigger need for the Steelers than anyone expected back in January.
The Steelers depth had always appeared to be sketchy, but it seemed likely a veteran free agent would be signed to shore up needs. Except, thus far, that has not happened. The Steelers retained Jordan Dangerfield and lost Sean Davis to free agency, leaving at least one spot in the secondary wide open heading into the draft.
The Steelers will almost certainly draft a safety, and they might go safety in the second round. It might even be possible that one of those very good safeties just so happens to fall down to the Steelers pick at 49.
There are players to take in each round that would at least be quality depth. We will only find out on draft day who the Steelers choose to pick, but here are SteelersNow’s top ten safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft.
10. Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame
Gilman is a lot of fun. His athleticism is lacking in some areas, especially his flexibility. Gilman is pretty tight-hipped and should not be playing as a deep safety in the NFL, but that is fine. He plays with his hair on fire and does a great job to read and react to routes and things going down in the box on the second level of the field.
Gilman will play as a box safety or dimebacker at the next level simply because of how good he is at avoiding traffic and playing downhill. He gives a team an impact run defender and tenacious player. Far more limited than a lot of players in this class, GIlman will have to be put into the right position to succeed. He lacks some ball skills, but still, Gilman is a solid chess piece.
9. Brandon Jones, Texas
Jones is another guy who will be a strong safety at the next level. His tackling is super reliable and he rarely misses on tape. He will not miss the chance to lay the boom down if he can and he can absolutely fly downhill too. Jones has impressive closing speed and is a great straight-line athlete. He does not have very smooth feet and will not flip his hips well, but he is physical and can man-up tight ends if needed. I like his instincts as well and he can make some plays undercutting routes. The issue is he is simply stuck in the box and that will depreciate his value.
8. Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne
A Division II guy that masqueraded as a single-high on tape because he was the most athletic guy out there. but really is more of a safety and linebacker hybrid. Like both mentioned above him, Dugger is going to be stuck as a box safety at the next level. He is a guy who has incredible length and is quite fluid for his size, so he can fall back in a Cover 2 scheme if need be, but he is at his best when he is reading and reacting and flying downhill. His ball skills are natural with great leaping ability and ball tracking ability. Dugger tracks the ball and high points with ease and good hands. He will be able to man guys up if he can improve his hip discipline and hand usage. He is just an incredibly raw prospect and the issue is he is already 24. There is upside here, but he is not a can’t miss prospect by any means.
7. K’Von Wallace, Clemson
Wallace is a really good football player. He knows how to key in on runs based off the offensive lineman and reads possible route combinations right off the jump. Once he is sure of what he sees, he absolutely flies to make the play. For the most part, he is a pretty good tackler too. The difference with Wallace and the others mentioned, though, is that he can be moved all over the field. He can be trusted in the box, manning up receivers, and he can be a blitzer from the box, too. Wallace is a playmaker. and would have more interceptions if he did not have spotty hands. There is a lot he can and was asked to do at Clemson. Wallace is just a rock-solid player that adds a lot of value to his game. He’s very smooth and a high energy player out there.
6. Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
For a guy ranked sixth at his position, Chinn is a fantastic player who should be a really good football at the next level. Chinn has very good athleticism and in a lot of ways is similar to Isaiah Simmons. He will not drop back into a single-high role at all, but Chinn can fly and make impressive plays down near the line. This dude is a firecracker and will lay the boom with ferocity. His instincts and football IQ is pretty raw in general, However, he is a great tackler and has extremely good ball skills. Chinn can be a deep safety in a Cover 2 scheme due to his range, fluid hips, and ball skills. He plays better down in the box as a downhill guy, however. That is likely where he will thrive as a playmaker in the NFL and a solid player.
5. Grant Delpit, LSU
Delpit did not have a great 2019 season. Marred with missed tackles and gaffes in man coverage, Delpit fell down the board swiftly due to showing all those warts. However, he gets more flak than he deserves from a lot of people. He is still an extremely athletic safety with high football IQ. On top of that, the guy is an absolute ballhawk in the middle of the field and deep. He works so well on that back end of the defense with his range, instincts, and fluidity. If he were a good tackler and could man those guys up, Delpit would be a slam dunk for the top safety. He can still be a dynamic safety who will make a big difference at the next level regardless, but he just is not a perfect safety. Make no mistake, the guy is a Top-50 player in the draft no questions asked.
4. Terrell Burgess, Utah
Burgess is a hybrid cross between a safety and nickel cornerback. As a third safety, he fits in so well. He is sticky in man coverage and has elite awareness in the deep half of the field. His zone coverage instincts are really impressive when you watch how he reads the quarterback. Burgess will fly downhill and has really good closing speed and burst. This is not just a head smart player, but an athletic one at that too. Give him a man coverage responsibility and Burgess delivers. He has great fluidity and discipline to just mirror guys. Burgess is a pretty sure tackler as well. The big question marks will be is can he translate his playmaker traits into ball production and will his lack of length hurt him more in the NFL than it did in college. Those will have to be questions he answers, but he is a solid prospect.
3. Ashtyn Davis, Cal
Davis is a legitimate track star athlete and as such, has really solid range. The guy plays at a million miles per hour and is walking missile on the football field. He has laid guys out with big, legal hits on the field. Add all that in with ball skills and Davis is a really fun prospect to watch play on tape. He was reading Justin Herbert like a book when they played and made numerous plays from that single-high alignment. Davis can also walk down and man guys up from the slot too. His instincts are rather good as well. He could be a more consistent form tackler, but with the upside he has to his game, that can be forgiven.
2. Xavier McKinney, Alabama
McKinney is a walking chess piece. He has played in the box, at slot cornerback, as a sub-package linebacker, and as a single-high safety as well. Nick Saban put all the chips onto this young man’s plate and gave him the whirl at it. Similar to Minkah Fitzpatrick, McKinney’s versatility is a massive asset. McKinney took up Saban’s task with flying colors and is one of the best communicators and instinctual safeties in the class. He is one of those guys that has a knack for finding the football. That counts for in the air, too, as McKinney as very good ball skills. The consistency in his tackling ability is great and he wraps up with ease. He can essentially do it all and be a solid player at the next level.
1. Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota
There is so much Winfield can do and he does it all well. His ability to man guys up, even at his smaller stature is really impressive. Winfield has great fluidity and balance in and out of transitions that allow him to stay in phase and blanket receivers. Add in the fact that he has great ball skills and even against bigger tight ends, Winfield is a guy who holds his own. His football IQ has improved dramatically and he recognizes things out of the corner of his eye and makes plays outside of the defensive structure. He can play the box or be a deep field safety, but Winfield is a ton of fun to watch. Winfield brings great value to the field and will be a very good safety in the NFL due to his skillset.
What to Expect from a 38-Year-Old Starting Quarterback
On March 2nd, Ben Roethlisberger turned 38. When the NFL season starts in September, Ben will be 38 years old and entering his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even at this age, Ben is reaching rarefied air. Since 1969, there have been only 54 quarterbacks that played into their age 38 season. Of those 54, 46 of them started a game and just 22 finished the season with starts in more than half the games that season.
Discounting the fact that Roethlisberger is recovering from elbow surgery, what can we expect from a 38-year-old quarterback? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty.
From 1969-1999 quarterbacks playing in their age 38 season on average threw for 2,665 yards with 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Not gaudy numbers, but some of that has to do with the eras in which these quarterbacks played. Even more encouraging, they had a 63% winning percentage.
From 1969-1999, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks played to age 38. Some experienced more success than others.
In 1978 Fran Tarkenton threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,400 yards but tossed up 32 interceptions and went 8-7-1 on the season. In 1983, Ken Stabler went 7-7 at age 38, but threw 18 interceptions against only 9 touchdowns and fewer than 2,000 yards. Warren Moon went 9-6 in 1994, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). In 1999, Dan Marino went 5-6 at age 38, throwing 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
On the positive side, all-time great Joe Montana had 3,283 yards through the air and a 2:1 TD to INT ratio (18-9) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and John Elway won a Super Bowl in his age 38 season. Elway may have been relying on Terrell Davis at that time, but still put up nearly 3,000 yards along with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
As sports science and training regimes have improved, it’s become more commonplace to find quarterbacks 38 and older still having success, or even dominating in the league.
In 2007, Brett Favre at 38 threw for over 4,000 yards and added 28 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions as the Packers went 13-3. Kurt Warner a year after his Super Bowl loss to the Steelers still had plenty in the tank at 38. The veteran quarterback started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,753 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 picks. Even journeyman Josh McCown put up 18 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and 2,900 yards in his age 38 season.
Peyton Manning, 4,727 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT (12-4)
Tom Brady, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT (12-4)
Drew Brees, 4,334 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT (11-5)
However, depending on how you view Roethlisberger, a closer proxy may be former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers’ age 38 season was statistically one of his worst as the team went 5-11. Rivers threw for 4,600 yards but threw nearly as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23).
What will Roethlisberger be like when he comes back? If history offers any clues, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a highly effective player on his return. Quarterbacks at his level in this era– i.e. future Hall of Famers–have historically had success at age 38 and beyond.
It’s impossible to predict when a player will “lose it”. But as long as his elbow is healed and there’s not a significant loss of arm strength, there’s no reason to think that Roethlisberger won’t be able to return to his per-injury, high-level of play.
NFL Quarterbacks at age 38, >7 starts, since 2000
All data from Pro Football Reference
Who Fits the Mold of a Steelers RB in the 2020 NFL Draft?
The Steelers are in a unique position this year with a plethora of needs based on depth. In terms of actual day one impact, is there really a position that will bring a ton of that? Sure, rotational pass rusher, a third safety, a new tight end, and even offensive line help. But one of the key arguments of the running back contingent group has been that day one impact.
The Steelers were clearly doing their work snuffing around the combine as they met with Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, JK Dobbins, and AJ Dillon. But just what do they look for in their running backs and who fits the mold in this draft?
In this study, I have realized that there are two types of Steelers running backs. There are the speed backs and then the workhorse back. The Steelers currently have a few workhorse back types in Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, and James Conner, while having the speed back archetype in Kerrith Whyte. Let us start out with the workhorse type of back. Over Mike Tomlin’s tenure, here are the running backs selected that fit the workhorse archetype.
Steelers Workhorse Back Archetype
Vertical: 29 1/2
Bench: 16 reps
3 Cone: 7.07
Short Shuttle: 4.33
Vertical: 34 1/2
Bench: 18 reps
3 Cone: 6.93
Short Shuttle: 4.28
Bench: 20 reps
Vertical: 31 1/2
Bench: 25 reps
3 Cone: 6.75
Short Shuttle: 4.24
Bench: 15 reps
3 Cone: 7.56
Short Shuttle: 4.67
Bench: 24 reps
Bench: 26 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.18
Here are the corresponding thresholds I have created with the data. There is one outlier for each of the data sets aside from the bench press, where all met the requirements.
40: Sub 4.66
Bench: 15 reps+
Now, here are the guys who check every single box set forth here:
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
TCU RB Sewo Olonilua
Boston College RB AJ Dillon
Correspondingly, here are guys who only missed the cut by one measurable, with that measurable being weight for every single one of them:
Florida State RB Cam Akers
Maryland RB Javon Leake
Memphis RB Patrick Taylor
Florida RB La’Mical Perine
Georgia RB Brian Herrien
UCLA RB Joshua Kelley
Vanderbilt RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
The Steelers have met with Taylor, Dillon, and Akers, so they are running the mold right on schedule in terms of showing interest in certain running backs.
However, as for the second mold, the Steelers speed back, there an entire difference of prerequisites, but all the speed backs of the Mike Tomlin era here are listed below:
Steelers Speed Back Archetype
Bench: 21 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.37
3 Cone: 7.2
Bench: 15 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.27
3 Cone: 7.06
Bench: 20 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.06
3 Cone: 6.86
Bench: 16 reps
Short Shuttle: 3.93
3 Cone: 6.5
Here are the thresholds needed to qualify for a Steelers speed back:
40: Sub 4.45
Vertical: 35 1/2″+
Bench: 15 reps+
Short Shuttle: Sub 4.37
3 Cone: Sub 7.2
In addition, all of these guys had return experience, so that is another requirement.
Here are the guys who check the boxes:
Appalachian State RB Darrynton Evans
Memphis RB Antonio Gibson
Lousiana Lafeyette RB Raymond Calais
All of these guys hit the nail on the head for requirements. Gibson would likely be taken with the 3rd round compensatory pick while Evans and Calais would going into the later rounds if the Steelers were looking down this route.