Over the past two drafts, the Steelers have had some pretty underwhelming UDFA classes, but in the past have hoisted guys like Eli Rogers out of the dust and into prominent roles on the team.
With that same mentality, I believe the Steelers picked up three players with incredible potential and talent to help this team not only in the future, but this upcoming season.
Incidentally, Mike Hilton was a UDFA, as were guys like Tony Romo, so this process can net you top talent, or just really solid Special Teamers and depth, all of which are extremely key to the full on success of your team. Thus, every little aspect and area these guys can contribute to are valued and welcomed by any team that doesn’t even have to spend draft capital to get them.
WR Quadree Henderson
Henderson is a natural speed guy. He can fly all over the field and the best comparison for him is Tavon Austin. Austin just got traded to Dallas and will become a gadget player for them, a half RB and half WR. Henderson can do that for the Steelers but he is also one of the most accomplished return men in college football history. In the return game, he often broke off big gains on kickoffs and punt returns due to his speed and shiftiness. If anything, he can replace Darrius Heyward-Bey in that he can be a great gunner and a good return man, thus finally relieving Antonio Brown of his punt return duties. He was an explosive player on plays like a jet sweep or just vertical routes, but when you get him in space, Henderson automatically becomes a dangerous player.
If he can ever develop a vertical route game, this guy could be Tyreek Hill 2.0. He is a threat every time that ball is in his hands and can take it to the house given one wrong move. He will dangerous on those reverses, slants, and screens, and a gadget player like Henderson can only add to the versatility and possibilities this offense already has. Luckily, he has solid route runners to learn from and should he ever develop a more thorough route tree, this guy could be an absolute steal of a player.
He does this often, and at the very least Henderson is a special teams warrior and one that the Steelers will need back on returns. Due to his return ability alone he has a legitimate shot of making the Steelers 53-man roster to really help this aspect of the team which has been down for so long.
ILB Matthew Thomas
Matthew Thomas is a man who, if he can put it all together, will a very productive starter in this league and for a long while. Thomas plays with some serious speed, and the 4.58 40 really demonstrated this fact. When he is fully on and ready to go, the guy flies around the field and is seemingly everywhere, but at other times he will just disappear. The main gripe I have with Thomas is I question his ‘want to’. At times it does not appear as if he is trying, but when he does he is the best looking player on the field. I can’t even tell if his instincts are poor, or if it is just an effort issue, but I have seen him make some shaky plays. One thing he does excel at however is special teams. He is a great special teamer and will find a roster spot on this team because of it. Despite the effort issue, Thomas continued to improve each season, so he clearly is not against working to improve. If the team wanted to find an ILB with athletic ability late in the draft, he is the guy.
He has some serious disruptive plays where he just flies downhill into gaps and blows up a play, similar to a guy we know in Pittsburgh. Despite the possible poor instincts, his reaction is really not that bad and he can recognize the play well, he just does not take great angles and often gets washed out of the play. I think the Steelers received an ILB who can contribute as the 4th ILB though, because one of his specialties is discipline on the outside and he wraps up well.
I really think Thomas is a smart, athletic freak that if he should improve his instincts and get better as a downhill player who can evade blocks, will become a starter for this team. For now he adds enough depth and could already be better than L.J. Fort and Sean Spence.
I love to see plays like this. This is solid instincts and great job of not getting washed out of the play. These are the type of plays LBs at the next level make, solid job. pic.twitter.com/s48XsG2lz2— Nick (@BuzzkillFB) April 29, 2018
At times he can look lost but this became more frequent as the tape went on and I saw clear improvement from Thomas. I am most excited about him because he has so much potential. If he can make these type of plays consistently I will be thrilled to have him as an ILB. I had a 4th round grade on Thomas and I am thrilled the Steelers got him for some impeccable value — watch out for him.
DB Jamar Summers
When I talked about the high ceiling that Thomas had, the Steelers actually picked up an UDFA with a higher ceiling. Meet him, his name is Jamar Summers. He has experience at both safety and cornerback, so you can bet the guy has some serious versatility. I love his ball skills as well, some of the best I have seen in the class. He will attack the ball at the point of catch and knock it away with ease. He is a more oriented man coverage player for sure, and needs to be in a heavy man scheme, so this should only help his case to make the roster or practice squad, which I think is absolutely possible for him. He is a playmaker as a whole, in coverage and in run support too.
My biggest gripe with him is he needs to work on being more physical at the line of scrimmage. He cannot keep getting outmatched by physical receivers. Once Summers is burnt, the guy just does not have the recovery speed to recover and contend the throw. Another reason he could make the roster is he is a really good special teamer. The guy is a superb gunner and on kick coverage he makes tackles constantly, so this makes a lot of sense from that perspective too. Summers has solid mirroring and usually does not get burnt, which is the good thing, solid footwork will lead to him usually at least being close to the play.
He is not overly athletic but is a smart player. He trusts his eyes and his reads and goes with it. Sometimes it does burn him, but he makes some really high IQ football plays too. In the UDFA process, this is the type of player you are looking for. I think he is more of an outside cornerback, but I like his fit in the slot too. This versatility he has will allow him to find a spot of the team. I do not think the 53 is likely this year, but the practice squad is incredibly likely for Summers. I am not sure exactly where he projects, but with his lack of athleticism I would say single high safety is the best projection for Summers, so a solid get here too.
Instinctive plays like this are why I like the Summers signing so much. I think he has a legitimate shot to be quality depth and a better player than Coty Sensabaugh could ever dream of. For now, with the first 4 spots locked in, and a hopefully improved Brian Allen, it is hard to see him making the roster, but the practice squad calls to him very openly.
The UDFA process is incredibly crucial, and I think the Steelers came away with a solid haul here with some players who can actually help this year. I love the pick up of Thomas the most, but all three have upside to them. If you can find those gems, you can always become successful, and Kevin Colbert is one of the best at doing such things.