Recently, Pittsblitz56 posited a question: which of the second-year players could impact the team’s success the most with a massive sophomore leap? My answer; Isaiahh Loudermilk, but first let’s peek at the cases for other players from the draft class.
The 2021 draft class has already proven itself after just one year. Be it from top picks Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth quickly becoming key cogs in the offense and breaking rookie franchise records or late round hits like fourth rounder Dan Moore or even seventh rounder Tre Norwood, the entire class made an impact on the team in year one.
Najee broke the rookie rushing record, previously held by Steeler legend Franco Harris, and did so behind one of the worst, if not the worst, offensive line in football. Freiermuth may just be the best Steeler tight end since Heath Miller (AKA Heeeaaaaatttttthhhhh). He has red zone nightmare potential and is a nice route runner already in his career.
Moore was thrown in the fire and, after burning a little, started to rise as he improved his game, eventually shutting down star and media darling Myles Garrett for an entire game. Norwood, called a Swiss Army Knife by Coach Tomlin, showed his football smarts throughout the season, earning the dime defensive back spot by the end of the season. He even played 100 snaps in the game against the Vikings between both defense and special teams when Minkah Fitzpatrick was in COVID protocols.
Now, back to Loudermilk. The story of his draft day is fairly well known, but let’s go over it one more time. Many of the draft "experts" saw Loudermilk as a project that should be taken in the seventh round or even go undrafted. Then the Steelers traded away their 2022 fourth round pick to get the Dolphins’ pick at #156. Despite being "overdrafted" Loudermilk quickly found his way onto the field and proved himself there.
Many, including our very own Geoffrey Benedict, described Loudermilk as the second-best run stopping defensive lineman on our team behind superstar Cam Heyward. That is high praise to give to a rookie fifth rounder; but I must agree. The only problem is that Loudermilk did not show consistency as a pass rusher, limiting his ability to impact the game.
One thing that will help his break out chances is the retirement of Stephon Tuitt, as it is now expected that there will be a rotation at the defensive end position alongside Heyward. My prediction is that veteran Chris Wormley and Loudermilk will share the role, since Wormley is a more productive pass rusher while Loudermilk is better against the run. Wormley is a known product at this point in his career, but Loudermilk is very much still in the development process, and if he could expand his pass rushing prowess at all, that would be a massive boost for the Steelers defense.
However, there is one problem: 2022 third round pick DeMarvin Leal. He is a versatile defender, playing all across the defensive line, including edge rusher, at Texas A&M. From the scouting reports, though, it seems like Leal is a raw talent with a lot to work on technique-wise. That fact gives me the indication that Leal is more of a wild card on defense; a guy who could come in and be either really good or really bad. In addition, the return of Tyson Alualu may or may not go as planned- as is widely known, he is 35 and coming off of a major injury. No one who has eyes and ears in the Steelers complex who knows how good or bad Alualu will be.
As a result of both of the unpredictability of the guys around him, Loudermilk should be called upon early and often as the primary run stopper next to Heyward, and he if can develop into a half-decent pass rusher on top of that, look out!