As everyone familiar with my offseason articles already knows, I fill each Pittsburgh Steelers offseason with pre-draft prediction articles about possible targets, then plenty of post-draft submissions about each actual selection. That helps fill a small portion of the offseason where relevant content is highly coveted.
As we cycle through organized team activities (OTAs), both the volunteer and mandatory varieties, more content becomes available as some unknown prospects get the opportunity to show enough potential to hit Steelers Nation's radar. Some of these prospects turn enough potential into production during training camp and the preseason to become roster relevant, while others were little more than necessary camp bodies.
I love the players who turn out to be pleasant surprises. Players who warrant consideration for the coveted Isaac Redman Award. Last year I wrote offseason articles about a number of potential sleepers from the later rounds and undrafted acquisitions. Quincy Roche, Jamir Jones, and Rico Bussey Jr. to name a few. None of the three still remain with the Steelers, but they had differing degrees of success in the NFL.
The Steelers were intrigued enough with Quincy Roche, after a strong training camp and preseason, they tried to sneak the sixth round selection onto their practice squad. However, the New York Giants had other ideas, and snatched him up, just as I had predicted.
Jamir Jones was my surprise sleeper pick for the defensive side of the ball in the early stages of camp, while Rico Bussey Jr. was my nominee for the offense. Bussey showed enough potential to earn a spot on the practice squad, while Jones actually made the opening roster; in addition to winning the coveted BTSC Isaac Redman Award.
That brings us to the focal point of this article. Who are some way-too-early candidates for the 2022 Steelers training camp darlings? Based on an extremely limited amount of available data, here are some early nominees:
Robinson is eligible for this list, and the Redman Award, because he was a seventh round selection. Robinson is extremely raw, after only playing interior linebacker for a single season at Ole Miss as a walk on. The well-traveled Robinson was a collegiate running back prior to last year. His initial offensive experience means he is still very much in the learning phase as a defender, but it also has provided him with an unique perspective for a linebacker.
Robinson arrives complete with a proverbial chip on his shoulder, and plenty of bad intentions towards the ball carrier. He is athletic, intense, and extraordinarily strong. He is a downhill, attacking inside linebacker of the Buck variety. The Steelers have a need at the position, and it just might present Robinson with a way onto the roster. He is my early favorite for the Redman, because everybody loves an intense heavy hitter.
Snead seems almost destined to be a training camp darling. He is an extremely exciting prospect with a small frame hiding a huge heart. He was often called "pound-for-pound, the toughest player in the country" during his tenure as a reliable slot receiver for the East Carolina Pirates. He was a huge fan favorite, partly because he looks like one, at 5'7" and 174 lbs. of coiled up cobra ready to strike. He also brings kick and punt return abilities. He faces extremely long odds considering the Steelers deep depth chart of talented receivers, plus the fact newcomer Gunner Olszewski is a former All-Pro kick returner, but he is a versatile practice squad option with potential if he enjoys a productive camp and preseason.
Tucker is a massive individual, blessed with prototypical size and 35" long arms. He tops out at tad over 6'6" and 344 lbs of gigantic girth. He has shown strong pass protection potential while starting 36 games for the North Carolina Tar Heels, mainly at right tackle. Tucker lacks lateral mobility and ideal footwork for the position. He prefers football played in a phone booth, where his lack of mobility and balance isn't so glaring. I am interested to see if Pat Meyer can help clean-up some of Tucker's footwork and technique issues, and if the youngster can learn to accentuate his strengths enough to overcome his weaknesses. If so, the kid has a shot of sticking around, at least on the practice squad. The Steelers have a long and rich history of finding hidden gems on the offensive line in the undrafted free agent market. Maybe Tucker can be another unearthed treasure.
Warren is a bowling ball with legs. Extremely difficult to bring down on first contact, he possesses the type of contact balance needed for an NFL running back. He reminds me of former Jacksonville Jaguars standout Maurice Jones-Drew. Warren isn't quite as thick as Jones-Drew, but he has a more muscular physique. He stands 5'8" and has a listed weight of 215 lbs, although he appears heavier. Like Jones-Drew, Warren has a low center of gravity, and the vision and short area quickness to explode through rapidly closing running lanes. He then has the power to break half-hearted arm tackles, especially from less than enthusiastic secondary personnel. He has solid hands in the passing game, but needs improvement in pass protection. If he proves capable at camp, he could earn a spot.
There you have it, my four way-too-early favorites to be training camp darlings for the Steelers. We will revisit the list at some point in the preseason to see which ones I got right, and wrong. Which one is your early favorite, or do you like someone else all together? Make your voice heard by voting in the attached poll, and then explain the reasoning behind your selection in the comment section below.
Which player do you feel could be the 2022 surprise training camp sensation for the Steelers.
This poll is closed
A = Mark Robinson
B = Tyler Snead
C = Jordan Tucker
D = Jaylen Warren
E = Other