I kick off my 2023 NFL Draft coverage by asking this one simple question:
Why can’t Calijah Kancey be the Steelers' first pick (17th, overall) on the night of April 27, 2023?
I’m not going to lie, the one thing that caught my attention when I sort of paid attention to the NFL Combine was the 40-time turned in by Kancey, who ran a 4.67, which was the fastest time for a 280-plus man recorded at the annual event since 2006 (before Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore smashed that number an hour later by posting a 4.49).
Kancey is a 281-pound defensive tackle, formerly of the University of Pittsburgh. Being a huge Panthers fan, I was immediately enamored with Kancey, and he became my first 2023 NFL Draft crush. I couldn’t help but notice that he soon began to soar up draft boards as fast as he ran 40 yards at the combine.
On an episode of BTSC’s Hangover podcast shortly after the Combine, I asked my co-hosts’ opinions on Kancey (I believe I included an unnecessary “L” as I pronounced his last name, but “Clancy," as in Sam Clancy, hello?) and was told that he didn’t fit the Steelers mold for a defensive lineman.
I immediately accepted this as gospel. After all, 3-technique, 5-technique, who knows what any of it means?
But one of the first things I did, as I began my extensive draft coverage, was research the whole “technique” deal as it pertains to defensive linemen in the NFL.
Turns out, the terminology isn’t as complicated as you think. If I understand things correctly, a 5-technique player, for example, lines up on the outside of the tackle. He’s primarily used in a 3-4 defense and is responsible for the B and C gaps on running plays.
“That sounds an awful lot like what the Steelers ask of their defensive ends,” I thought. Therefore, I didn’t think there was any way Kancey, the 2022 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, was a 5-technique defensive lineman.
Then, I Googled the top defensive line prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft and found the 5-technique rankings by Drafttek.com.
I couldn’t believe it when I discovered that Kancey, a unanimous 2022 All-American, was listed as the second-best 5-technique prospect behind Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness.
If Kancey is a 5-technique defensive lineman, and the Steelers have been mostly a 3-4 defense for decades, why isn’t the former a good fit?
Is it the undersized part? Is it the tackle part? Is it the one-gap part? I can’t speak to the undersized thing, but I do know that Cam Heyward, who began his career as a defensive end, has been listed as a tackle for quite a while. I also know that Heyward became more of a one-gap defender shortly after Keith Butler took over for the legendary Dick LeBeau as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2015.
I also know Heyward is a borderline Hall-of-Fame defensive end/tackle who has played most of his career in a 3-4 alignment.
So what’s the deal with Kancey? What’s the difference between him and Van Ness?
What’s the difference between Kancey and Clemson’s Bryan Bresee, a 3-technique defensive lineman who has been linked to the Steelers?
Don’t 3-technique defensive linemen play in 4-3 alignments?
Are the Steelers switching to a 4-3?
Are they already playing that a lot?
Is it a part of the whole hybrid thing that’s so popular today?
Maybe that’s it.
There are so many defensive alignments these days that’s it hard to keep them all straight: 4-3, 3-4, 3-5-3. Dime. Nickel.
What’s a robber?
Can that inside linebacker also play safety?
Can that safety also play inside linebacker?
Why did Mike Tomlin recently say that the differences between strong and free safety are overblown? What the hell does he know?
Why did Vince Williams say the same thing about buck and mack linebackers years ago? What the hell does he know?
I can’t figure any of this out, but it sure does seem like Kancey, who recorded 14.5 sacks over his final two seasons at Pitt, has the potential to be a damn-fine defensive lineman at the next level.
Maybe that’s why Calijah Kancey can’t be the Steelers' first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
He simply won’t be available.