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2021 NFL Draft: The good, the bad and the ugly of Isaiahh Loudermilk

The Steelers traded up into the 5th round to take Isaiahh Loudermilk, and we break down what he brings to the black and gold.

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers traded with the Miami Dolphins in last week’s NFL draft, sending them a 4th round pick in 2022 for a 5th rounder this year. With that pick, they selected defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk of Wisconsin.

The trade for Loudermilk seems puzzling. He was rated no higher than a 6th round selection by most scouting reports. Many had him as an undrafted free agent. While it’s possible a team was poised to take Loudermilk prior to Pittsburgh’s selection in Round 6, no reports of that nature have surfaced. It seems reasonable the Steelers could have acquired him without having to forfeit a pick in 2022, much less a 4th rounder.

What gives, then? Who is Isaiahh Loudermilk, and why did the Steelers spend valuable draft capital on him? This film room attempts to answer those questions.


To the first question, Loudermilk is big (6’7-290) and long (81 1/4” wingspan). He made 26 career starts at Wisconsin, was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection in 2020 and was nominated to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl.

As to why the Steelers’ selected him, the answer is likely one word: potential. Loudermilk is not a plug-and-play individual. He will take some seasoning, and by “some” I mean the whole pantry. Salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, paprika, chili flakes. All of it. His game needs work.

There are positives, of course. His length is exceptional. And, as Loudermilk told media outlet DraftWire in April, when he uses that length he can be very effective.

“I feel like, at the line of scrimmage, if I can get my hands on someone across from me, normally I’m able to lock them out,” he said. “Once I get hands on, I feel I’m able to control the line of scrimmage extremely well.”

This is true. The film on Loudermilk does show he can control blockers when he uses his hands. And, as the adage goes, you can’t teach 6’7. Unfortunately, Loudermilk does not always apply this asset. He often gets beat to contact in the trenches, which nullifies his length advantage. He also fails to anchor himself against movement, which can cause him to get pushed around. So, while there’s potential, there’s also a long way to go before Loudermilk is NFL-ready.

For this film room, I’ve drawn on Wisconsin’s games from 2020 against Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan. I’m also using the epic Clint Eastwood film “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” as my theme. As we shall see, there’s a bit of each in Loudermilk’s play.

The Good

Loudermilk (#97) is aligned as the 1-tech on the shoulder of the center in this clip against Minnesota. In it, we see how effectively he can use his hands. Watch him punch the center at the snap, win inside leverage and then use it to throw the center aside before getting his hands in the face of the quarterback. This is Loudermilk at his best — quick off the ball, sound in his technique and making good use of his length:

In this next clip, Loudermilk is the 3-tech lined up outside Michigan’s right guard. Wisconsin runs a stunt with Loudermilk and the edge player. Loudermilk engages the guard then works out to the tackle while the edge loops and comes under him into the B-gap. It’s a nicely executed stunt and Loudermilk does a good job pushing the tackle into the quarterback’s lap. The pressure creates a forced throw that’s intercepted:

We see him do something similar here. Loudermilk is the 2i lined up on the inside shoulder of the right guard. He works a slant to his left and ends up engaging the tackle, where he presses him and drives him back towards quarterback. Loudermilk displays good movement and power and his leverage is excellent:

Next, Loudermilk is aligned as the 3-tech off the shoulder of Iowa’s right guard. The Hawkeyes run a zone-lead play away from Loudermilk. He does a nice job getting off the ball, controlling the guard with his hands and beating the tackle’s attempt to cut him off. He flows laterally and finishes with a solid tackle:

Here’s one more. Loudermilk is the 5-tech aligned on the outside shoulder of Iowa’s right tackle. Focus on his get-off here. The press is excellent and allows him to knock the tackle into the backfield. Iowa runs a counter toss to the edge, which is not Loudermilk’s play to make, but he does a nice job hustling to the ball nonetheless. This rep shows the sort of potential the Steelers seem enamored with:

When Loudermilk strikes first, moves his feet and disengages he’s a very effective player.

The Bad

Unfortunately, he doesn’t do these things consistently.

In this clip, Loudermilk is aligned as the five-tech on the shoulder of Minnesota’s right offensive tackle. It may be unfair to categorize his effort here as “bad.” It starts off well, as we see him use his hands, lock out and neutralize the tackle. If the play ended there, this would be fine. But this is 3rd and 2. Loudermilk shouldn’t be content to get an initial stalemate. Once he locks out, he should shed the block and get involved in the tackle. Instead, watch what happens:

This rep lacks a finish. I’d love to see Loudermilk dip his left shoulder and rip that arm aggressively across the chest of the tackle to work inside. Instead, he uses a weak club move, stops moving his feet and gives ground. This is a theme that emerges in Loudermilk’s film: once he gets that initial lockout, he doesn’t have a second move that allows him to make a play. And, because he doesn’t anchor well, he gets moved off the ball.

In the next clip Loudermilk is back at the three-tech on the shoulder of the right guard. Michigan runs Power with the right tackle blocking down on him. Watch as Loudermilk drops to a knee before regaining his feet to fight the block. He actually does a decent job crossing the tackle’s face but can’t recover in time to make a play on the running back:

The issue here is misdiagnosis. Look at the photo below, where we see him with his knee on the ground. This isn’t Loudermilk getting knocked off his feet by the tackle. He drops to a knee on purpose. Why would he do so?

The answer is he thinks he’s getting a double-team. If you watch the clip again, you’ll see the guard initially contact Loudermilk before working back to block the nose. Loudermilk mistakes that chip for a double. Had it been one, his decision to drop would be correct (he drops the wrong knee, actually, as he should drop into the pressure; still, it’s the right idea). Unfortunately, it’s the wrong diagnosis. This is a down-down scheme, not a double team. Rather than drop, Loudermilk should fight pressure from the tackle. By not doing so, he puts himself out of position.

In the next clip, Loudermilk is the 3-tech on the outside shoulder of the right guard. I’m not sure what he’s trying to do here. It looks like he attempts to swim over the guard at the snap. The move is ineffective though and exposes his chest. This allows the guard to get his hands inside on Loudermilk, drive him out of his lane and take him up the field. This is especially bad for an interior pass rusher as it opens a huge seam through which the quarterback can step into or escape. In the NFL, a mistake like this will be costly:

The Ugly

Now for the ugly.

Loudermilk is the 5-tech lined up in the gap between the right tackle and the tight end:

The play starts with Loudermilk pinching inside on a gap-exchange stunt with the near linebacker. Loudermilk wants to come down aggressively and force the tackle to block him with the hope the tight end will follow. This should allow the backer to come clean over the top. Loudermilk is giving himself up so the backer can run free. In that sense, he does his job.

However, once the tackle falls off of him, he has to fight pressure. Instead, he gets driven from one side of the tackle box to the other (by a tight end, no less). Fortunately for Wisconsin, the right linebacker mitigates the damage by coming free to corral the running back as he counters away.

It’s fine for a player to sacrifice himself for the scheme as Loudermilk does here. It’s not fine to be driven halfway across the field in the process. Loudermilk has to learn to anchor, fight pressure and be stronger in the trenches.

Here’s another example of how he can give ground at the point of attack. Loudermilk is aligned as the 3-tech on the shoulder of the right guard. It’s a goal-to-go situation with the ball on the 5 yard line so he needs to fire off the football, get low and hold his ground. Instead, his reaction is slow, his pad level too high and his demeanor far too passive. He gets knocked back and then uses a JV-level spin at the end to try to disengage. This is a soft effort that displays poor technique.

This play made me think about something Pittsburgh defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said to Steelers.com about Loudermilk:

“He’s a defensive lineman. When I say a defensive lineman, he’s going to play everything from five-technique to zero-tech nose.”

I’ll take Coach Dunbar at his word about his plans for Loudermilk. But, honestly, if the Steelers plan to play Loudermilk inside, significant improvement is necessary.

Outlook

I’m not here to bury any young man seeking to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing in the NFL. I had that dream myself once upon a time. I wish nothing but success for Isaiahh Loudermilk. I hope he finds it with the Steelers.

That said, it will take the best of Coach Dunbar to bring Loudermilk up to speed. He needs to get stronger, develop counter moves to compliment his length and learn to anchor against pressure. He needs consistency, too. In the clips above, we saw him play as a 1-tech, a 2i, a 3-tech and a 5-tech. The Steelers seem to value his versatility. But for Loudermilk’s sake, it might be best to give him a role and let him learn it (to me, he’s a 5-tech, not an interior player). He’s a talented young man who, at present, is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Familiarity and repetition will benefit him more than moving him up and down the line.

The potential exists. Hopefully, the Steelers can develop it so that Loudermilk winds up a hero like Eastwood’s character in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” If not, the draft capital spent to acquire him may render him a villain.