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2020 NFL Draft

Youngstown Native Lynn Bowden, Jr. Willing to Play ‘Wherever’ to Fulfill NFL Dream



PITTSBURGH — In college football recruiting, some players are recruited based on sheer physically ability, without a specific position.

Usually, by the time they finish their college career, they’ve become easily classifiable by one position. Players that are still flirting with more than one, such as Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, are notable exceptions.

Given that, Lynn Bowden, Jr. is practically a unicorn.

Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Bowden got his start as a high school football player as a running back. He came out of Warren G. Harding high school as the kind of unclassifiable athlete that many college seek.

But despite interest from the Big Ten’s best like Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin, Bowden went to Kentucky to play for fellow Youngstown native Mark Stoops.

At Kentucky, the offense was based on the ground game, with Benny Snell leading the way until his graduation after the 2018 season. Bowden developed into a quality wide receiver, making 67 caches for 745 yards as a sophomore in 2018.

But an injury to quarterback Terry Wilson at the start of the 2019 season threatened that balance.

Instead of being one of Kentucky’s top targets, Bowden became the top passer, assuming quarterbacking duties to fill in for Wilson and leading Kentucky to an 8-5 season. He wasn’t necessarily a polished passer, completing 35 of 74 (47.3%) for 403 yards and as many touchdowns (three) as interceptions.

But he made plays when the offense needed him to, including a game-winning touchdown pass in the Belk Bowl that Bowden called his favorite collegiate memory.

The move to quarterback deprived Bowden of a season of experience at the receiver position, but he doesn’t think it has hurt his draft stock.

“I thought about it,” he said. “I felt like it could only help me.”

He said that the response so far when he’s talked to NFL teams has been positive.

“They liked it,” he said. “They appreciate that I was a team player first and that I can keep up.”

His message to the NFL about where to play him? Whatever, wherever.

“I can play wherever you want to play me,” Bowden said, adding that NFL teams have asked him to line up all over the field.

Part of what he feels he’s added to his value by playing quarterback is the knowledge of all 11 positions on the offense. It’s easier to envision a do-it-all playmaker if he also knows it all.

“It showed I have a high IQ, playing quarterback in the SEC,” Bowden said. “It’s the NFL and then it’s the SEC. I played in the best league. You gotta be ready.”
The other part of that equation will be putting down the kind of athletic performance in timing that proves he is a do-it-all athlete. But he won’t get that opportunity this week. Bolden is not participating in the physical portions of the combine thanks to a hamstring strain. He plans on working out at Kentucky’s pro day on March 27.

Before the combine, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. said Bowden would be a good get in the third round before the combine. If he runs a quality time at Kentucky, that could improve. Either way, it’ll be a pretty minor blip in a fascinating journey.

“From my first snap as a running back in high school to my last snap as a quarterback in college, it’s just something crazy,” Bowden said. “I knew I had it in me to get here, but I never expected it to be like this.”

2020 NFL Draft

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.

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



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



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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