The Steelers have had a rocky relationship with the Outside Linebacker (OLB) position lately. They whiffed on Jarvis Jones, and Bud Dupree hasn’t lived up to the expectations of Steelers Nation. The James Harrison fiasco stained the Steelers’ legend in the eyes of a number of fans. If we want to go far back enough, LaMarr Woodley fell off a cliff after his big payday and Jason Worilds shockingly retired after his breakout season.
The Steelers, however, seem to have hit on two prospects recently in Anthony Chickillo and T.J. Watt. Chickillo has played extremely well in his backup role, and he continues to be a steal for his sixth-round draft tag. Watt had a great rookie year, and it seems stardom may be in the future of the young edge rusher.
Ola Adeniyi is unique among all recent Steelers’ draft picks. He’s the type of outside linebacker that the Steelers haven’t had since James Harrison was in his prime. He’s not ideal size at all, as his build is small and stocky, but Adeniyi has shown a lot of upside that could easily land him a spot, not just on the practice squad, but on the 53-man roster as well.
The Steelers are not very deep at OLB, with Watt and Dupree as the starters and then only Chickillo guaranteed a true roster spot. Keion Adams is coming off of shoulder surgery and has had a decent camp, but he has said that he wants to do even better. That means, should Adeniyi perform well, he very well could find himself on the 53-man roster.
At only six-foot-one, Adeniyi is undersized for the position, but he uses that size to full advantage on the field. Adeniyi has a stocky frame, and he’s not incredibly long. Instead, he’s short and strong and this will allow him to get leverage more easily when going against the much taller offensive tackles in the league.
The key to this stocky frame isn’t only that he gets leverage, nor merely his strength — but it’s the way he combines both traits to generate pressure. Adeniyi does this beautifully, as he has some of the best explosiveness from the snap of all the edge rushers in this class. Sometimes Adeniyi wins matchups based on pure explosiveness alone. His ability to get leverage and explode off the line of scrimmage allows him to create lots of tackles for loss, of which he had 28 last season.
There is the explosion from Adeniyi, he looks like he is fired out of a cannon straight from the snap. He shows some decent hand usage here, but his explosion from the snap really allowed him to win this one. pic.twitter.com/Gb94jW5BFN— Nick Farabaugh (@BuzzkillFB) August 5, 2018
You do not see this kind of explosion everywhere, folks. That explosiveness combined with the leverage he gets is why he generates pressure. More importantly, though, he has the ability to bend to capitalize on the explosiveness he uses to get around the edge. This is one of the plays when he uses his hands well, but generally speaking, he doesn’t have great hand usage. That’s one of the key knocks on Adeniyi. The play below is a great example of the bend Adeniyi has and how he uses it to full advantage.
The #Steelers have one of their best UDFA classes in a while, and Ola Adeniyi is an impressive one. Has lots of bend and lots of explosion right at the snap too. Good pass rusher and run defender, and a smart player who makes many high IQ plays. He's a real player. pic.twitter.com/1hBNXctMzW— Nick Farabaugh (@BuzzkillFB) August 5, 2018
Another thing I like is his leverage, yet he often loses that very leverage and gets washed straight out of plays. If his explosiveness and leverage don’t win, he isn’t likely to get to the quarterback on that play. The good news is that it seems his hand usage has gotten much better at camp, as he’s beaten many linemen using rips, swims, and a variety of other moves in his arsenal. If his success in winning off of the line increases, he might be a double-digit sack guy. If he wants to become truly elite, though, his speed-to-power ratio needs to improve. He has explosiveness to get around tackles, but often cannot get through them, which will limit his sack totals.
The real key for Adeniyi is his run-defense coupled with his defensive IQ. The Steelers had a deplorable run-defense on both edges last season. Neither Dupree nor Watt were good in run-defense, and when Ryan Shazier went down, teams could run to the edge at will. It’s a key reason they lost twice to the Jacksonville Jaguars. I can confidently say Ola Adeniyi helps rectify this problem in a big way.
Not only is he strong enough to hold his position at the line and stay in his gap, but he’s great at not getting washed out of plays, especially on pulls. He’s great at ripping or swimming through them and blowing up plays to the outside. It’s also evident that Adeniyi has spectacular field vision, as he knows when to get off his blocks or just how to get back into a play. He boosts the outside contain extremely well.
Strong rip through and he read through this play straight from the start. He does not let himself get trapped in the pulls and instead gets the leverage with his frame and powers through to make a really nice play. pic.twitter.com/wgpI2TniFy— Nick Farabaugh (@BuzzkillFB) August 5, 2018
I talked about his ability to blow up plays and he just powers right through that using a rip and his leverage. When Adeniyi puts it all together it’s a thing of beauty to watch. He did this more than once per game too, always seemed to do it in clutch situations.
Adeniyi has the IQ needed to be a starter in the NFL, and he’ll blow up running plays. His IQ in coverage remains an issue, though. Not only does he not move well in space, but in coverage he’s inexperienced and a liability. He seems extremely stiff in coverage, so it’ll be one area he needs to improve on. However, he’ll be acutely aware of options, screens, and other gadget plays, as shown below.
High IQ play to realize the screen here and Adeniyi does this often. but he also does it often on the option and diagnosing run plays, especially plays like counters. pic.twitter.com/6g8TNY2zQM— Nick Farabaugh (@BuzzkillFB) August 5, 2018
One thing I love about Adeniyi is that he doesn’t disappear. He always seems to be around the ball and somewhere in the play. He will get constant pressure on the QB, so it’s not only his sacks that count for his importance to the defense.
Adeniyi has the potential to blossom into a starting OLB in the future, and he might be very useful depth this year should the Steelers carry five OLBs. He needs to work on his somewhat raw, pass-rushing ability, but if he can hone that, he might be a future starting OLB on this team.