When it comes to the team’s offensive line, the Steelers are moving into some territory where they have not been in for a good while. With Ramon Foster’s retirement, B.J. Finney’s departure via free agency and Matt Feiler, Zach Banner, and Alejandro Villanueva entering the final years of their contracts in 2020, the Steelers have some legitimate question marks along the offensive line.
The signing of Stefen Wisniewski, who could start at left guard, is a nice addition. However, the Steelers are likely to be in both the tackle and interior offensive line market in the draft. Thus, here are the realistic best options to bolster the offensive line for them at each draft position:
49: Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
The pick at 49 is a weird zone for an offensive lineman. The Steelers situation at left tackle might be more worrying than anything past this year, but there does not seem to a guy that played left tackle heavily enough in college that would be good value here. On the interior side of things, Cesar Ruiz is likely to be long gone. So, that means Lucas Niang, an athletic, smooth right tackle is the best-case scenario here.
Niang might not fall to this spot here, but there is certainly that possibility. Coming off of offseason hip surgery, Niang does have a medical red flag associated with him and it most definitely affected his play on the field with his flexibility. In reality, this is a guy with good hands, smooth feet, and a high football IQ. That is something the Steelers could use at either tackle spot and Niang could certainly be the day one starter at right tackle given how polished his game is at this juncture. Given the Steelers’ mold of lineman, Niang fits extremely well and is the best-case scenario here.
102: Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU
Charles is great value here, and with the ability to play left tackle, this is a nice insurance pick. Again, though, the Steelers seem to be caught in between the void on some of these offensive line prospects. The next wave of interior guys like Robert Hunt, Matt Hennessy, and Lloyd Cushenberry will go before this spot and it will leave the Steelers a little starved for options there, so tackle seems to be the best value.
Charles brings great footwork and athleticism to the position along with great grip strength. This is a guy who has shown the ability to hold down defenders for a long, long time. Not just that, but Charles in the running game has good power at the point of attack to drive guys out of their gaps. Charles could stand to add some mass to his frame and needs to improve his hand usage since he gets his hands too far outside at times, but this is a guy who can be a starter in the league at left tackle with confidence.
124: John Simpson, IOL, Clemson
Finally! An interior offensive line option, this one in the form of Clemson’s John Simpson, who played exclusively at guard for the Tigers, but fits exactly what the Steelers look for in their interior offensive lineman. This pick is rather likely with the Steelers having gone to Clemson’s Pro Day. The smoke is there for this pick to happen.
The Steelers, should they get Simpson, get a guy who is not the best athlete on the field, but one that is going to move guys. His functional strength is ridiculous. That does not even account for how good Simpson’s hand placement and punch power are. With that in mind, the gap schemers that the Steelers run are perfect for Simpson. He was built to be a power football, grind it out Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman. Simpson is a starter in the NFL just because of his power and football IQ, even if he is a bit athletically limited as a whole.
135: Kevin Dotson, IOL, Louisiana-Lafayette
This is another guy that the Steelers have shown their hand some regarding their interest. Dotson had a private workout with the Steelers before the coronavirus restrictions and on film, it is not hard to see why the Steelers would like a guy like Dotson. Similar to Simpson, he packs a real punch and gets guys to just move. Dotson just opens holes up on film in gap schemes with good hand placement and power.
Very similar to Simpson, he is also athletically limited, although Dotson has smoother feet than Simpson. Dotson is a good player who fits the Steelers motto of running through guys until they hit the ground. The fit is really nice and Dotson offers more interior offensive line depth.
198: Cordel Iwuagwu, IOL, TCU
Add another Horned Frog to the list of guys that the Steelers could pick. Iwuagwu is a guy who can play both guard spots in a pinch and has been a late riser in the process. His functional athleticism is very good and he is one of the better pure pullers in this interior offensive line class. When he meets guys in the open field, best be assured that he gets them to move and creates lanes for running backs.
There are certainly some issues he has to fix, including grip strength and pad level issues, but this is a guy who has good hand placement, packs a punch, and is a very smooth athlete. For a team that has thrived on finding offensive lineman gems, Iwuagwu would just be another in that long lineage of them.
232: Cohl Cabral, IOL, Arizona State
This young man is fascinating. There is almost no hype behind Cabral but he can play. He is so unique this late because he can play both guard and center. That is a versatility that a lot of guys in this are simply lacking, but Cabral has it and that almost certainly means he will be drafted.
Cabral is a guy who is not a great athlete by any means, but he is a really solid player. The grip strength, power, footwork, and football IQ he plays with are really nice things to watch. He should go earlier than this because his tape is really just so solid. The limitations on his athleticism though will drive him down a bit and Cabral is a good player who can be a starter in the NFL.
Chase Claypool Signs Steelers Contract
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.
— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) July 22, 2020
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.
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.
Film Study: Alex Highsmith Brings Juice to Steelers Pass Rush
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.
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.
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.
Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft
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.