We are now on to the Edge Rushers for the final 5 at 5 to Watch for 2017. The Steelers were wise to re-sign James Harrison. James will be able to act as ‘bust’ insurance or be a mentor for the next great Steelers Outside Linebacker.
A few prospects everybody is hot on I would avoid, Hassan Reddick and Jabril Peppers, not because they aren’t talented but because they’re players who don’t fit a position. They don’t have the coverage skills to be Safeties and are undersized for the Outside Linebacker. We already have a Ryan Shazier, who the Steelers coaches haven’t figured out how to use properly.
I would stay away from Tim Williams because of his off field issues and Taco Charlton because he is really more of a 4-3 Defensive End than a 3-4 Outside Linebacker. That still leaves many great prospects in this deep draft.
The prospects I’ve chosen fit the mold of what the Steelers traditionally expect from their Edge Rushers and Outside Linebackers, a combination of power, agility and some pass coverage ability.
1st Rd – Outside Linebacker/Edge Rusher – T.J. Watt – Wisconsin – 6′-4″ 243#, 40/4.69 – Watt looks tough and plays tough. A high motor player, he fights on every play and has a sureness about him that looks like cockiness. In the pass rush he shows a nice rip move, some speed and good hand use. Against the run Watt’s technique is very solid and he slips blocks well. He also displays great game awareness and knows when to drop back into coverage. Tested high in agility, short area quickness and explosiveness at the Combine. Wisconsin moved Watt all over the place which would get him good match ups. He would give Coach Butler another wildcard player to move around the field along with ILB, Ryan Shazier and the developing SS, Sean Davis. Watt is also relatively new to the position, so he has tons of upside.
In 2016 Watt had 59 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, three passes broken up and one forced fumble. And while there’s not that much tape on T.J., he has a pedigree as he is, the younger brother of J.J. Watt and Derek Watt. Watt would be perfect fit for the Steel City. With a little more strength conditioning and coaching from Deebo and Coach Peezy, the sky is the limit.
” Attacks blockers with early arm extension and utilizes push-pull technique to upset their balance as his pet move against run and pass. Outstanding hand play in his game. Disruptive as first man in on twists. Always ready to leap into passing lane and deflect the throw. Strikes fast and early to create leverage points.”
1st Rd – Takkarist McKinley, 6′-4″ 250#, 4.59/40 – For me, It’s actually a tie between him and T.J. Watt. McKinley is a relentless worker. He’s also got a few moves and good hand use. He had 61 tackles with 18 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 6 passes deflections in 2016. McKinley can bull rush but he also can use his arms to rip free. He’s very strong against the run as well. There’s not much film of McKinley in pass coverage but he tested high in speed and agility at the Combine, so it shouldn’t be an issue. He only had one year as a starter so everything we know about him is based on that but the year he had shows a multi-dimensional player who should excel in all phases of the game as a pro.
“Combines speed with long arms for increased tackle radius. Became a playmaker. Saw 36 percent of his tackles come within two yards or less of line of scrimmage while sack total spiked considerably. Spins out of wash down blocks to work back towards the play.” NFL.com
2nd to 3rd Rd – Jordan Willis – 6′-3″ 255#, 4.53/40 – I really, really like this guy. Willis is a very athletic Defensive End who is a natural fit as a 3-4 Outside Linebacker. He blew up the combine with his speed and agility. His bull rush power reminds me of young and healthy LaMarr Woodley but his game doesn’t end there. He has a number of spin moves and very disruptive hands. He routinely commanded double teams. Willis was even dropped back in pass coverage. He plays very strong against the run and can stack his blocker and shed him to either side to take away running lanes. The Jayhawks often took advantage of Willis’ incredible playing speed by running inside stunts. He had 52 tackles with 17.5 for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 3 pass deflections and 3 force fumbles in 2016. Willis could be the steal of this draft at OLB and in a different draft he would probably be going in the 1st Round.
“Hands are strong and control the action. Well-schooled with excellent stack-and-shed ability. Good strength in base and plays with adequate contact balance. Stays clean setting edge while spying into backfield. Uses blockers’ forward lean against them, sends them tumbling forward. Arm over is a pet move that gives him early wins.” NFL.com
2nd to 4th Rd – Tysus Bowser – 6′-3″, 247# 4.65/40 – Bowser is a former basketball player with athleticism to spare. New to the position, so he’s still pretty raw. Bowser plays with a high motor and drew double teams. He has an evolving but limited number of pass rush moves. Needs some coaching but has great potential.
Bowser only played 8 games in 2016 after he got in a stupid fight with a teammate and came out of it with a broken orbital socket, so, his interview will be important. Still, Bowser had an impressive 47 tackles with 12 for a loss, 8.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections and 1 forced fumble. He also provided plenty of pressures resulting in QB hurries. He routinely dropped back in pass coverage and has exceptional field awareness. Bowser is a relentless player against the run and had stuffs both in the middle and along the perimeter.
“Explosive, quick-twitch athlete. Bursts out of his stance and challenges the edge. Good shoulder turn at the edge of rush and can dip and corner with very tight radius. Showed ability to play in variety of spots. Crisp change of direction ability.” NFL.com
3rd Rd to 5th Rd – Edge Rusher/OLB, Ejuan Price, 5′-11″. 255#, 40/4.84. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of Ejuan Price. He’s a fast edge rusher, with a number of spin and rip moves. Game speed and field coverage much greater than his listed 40 time. While he’s short for the position and looks small on the field, Price has functional strength and a very good pop. He can move bigger Offensive Tackles back on their heels and frequently required double teams. He reminds me a lot of Elvis Dumervil. He gave opposing teams fits in the pass rush as a Senior with 13 sacks, 45 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, three force fumbles and one broken up pass. If Price is available in the later rounds he could be a steal. At the very least he has great potential as a situational pass rusher but could be much more.
“As a pro, Price might fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He has speed off the edge with functional strength to fight off blockers, but he has a crippling lack of length. Some team sources aren’t convinced there is a good position for him in the NFL.” Walter Football.
So that’s the Edge Rushers. There’s a lot of talk about the Steelers going Defense heavy this Draft but I don’t think so. Other than an edge rusher and some secondary help, I think they will look to add depth and competition at the offensive skill positions and find a possible bridge/starter QB.
The Draft is coming up the 27th of this month, so, we’ll all know then. It should be an exiting and unpredictable Draft.