Nobody wants to be the "other guy", predestined to be an afterthought, but that basically sums up Breiden Fehoko's informal introduction to Steelers Nation.
The Pittsburgh Steelers signed two free agents on March 30, as new GM Omar Khan continues his initial offseason of control. Khan and company have already done an impressive job of filling obvious positions of need with proven experience, lessening the need to focus on a particular position in the draft, avoiding the early round "reach" at all costs.
The Steelers responded quickly to Terrell Edmunds signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, as they signed his potential replacement in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Keanu Neal. The hard hitting Neal is a box safety who plays like an undersized inside linebacker, a similarity he shares with the aforementioned Edmunds. That's the good news.
The bad news is Neal lacks the ideal speed for the position that made Edmunds a sort of custodian for the Steelers defense, as he utilized his speed to clean up plenty of his teammates missed tackles and mistakes, thus limiting big plays. That underrated aspect of Edmunds game is no more.
The Steelers other free agent signing on Thursday received none of the fanfare that accompanied Neal's signing, and hardly moved the needle for yours truly. I honestly had no idea who Breiden Fehoko was, or even what position he plays. Well, that's not entirely true, as the same article that announced Neal's addition also mentioned a no name defensive tackle.
That got me watching some of the same film I utilized for my Drue Tranquill article earlier this offseason. I remembered thinking that the Chargers had a wide body run stuffer who did an admirable job of tying up blockers so Tranquill could stuff the stat sheet. That wide body turned out to be Breiden Fehoko, and he stood out on an otherwise below average defensive line rotation.
I remember thinking that the Steelers could use that type of player, and now they have him. So what type of player and personality are the Steelers getting in Breiden Fehoko?
Fehoko is an old school defensive tackle, with a warrior's mentality. Team first kind of guy, who happily does the grunt work necessary for his teammates to shine. He is a specialist, with a playing style that will never generate his own highlight reel, or garner him the big money contracts. Fehoko is the classic lunch pail type.
Fehoko was an unsung role player on the uber-talented 2019 LSU Tigers national title winning team. He then signed with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent. Fehoko has bounced back and forth between the practice squad and the active roster ever since, and has started four NFL games. His style of play definitely doesn't show up on the stat sheet, as true nose tackles seldom do.
I almost chuckled when I read Fehoko's listed height and weight of 6'3" and 300 lbs. That was probably true back at his pro day, but the 26 year old round belly has thickened up a bit since then. I remember the Steelers doing the same thing with Casey Hampton back in the day. Hampton was waddling around somewhere near 350, but the gameday program always read 315. Like my drivers license listing my weight at 215. I wish.
One pre-draft evaluation I could find on Fehoko said he lacked lateral quickness and had a subpar anchor in the middle. Fehoko still lacks lateral quickness, but he has learned how to be effective with quick leverage and positioning. He has also thickened up his lower body, which has noticeably improved his anchor.
So we have learned that Fehoko has a specific skill set that could prove extremely valuable to the Steelers defensive line rotation. The Steelers haven't enjoyed a true nose tackle type since Tyson Alualu's game started deteriorating over the past couple years due to injury and age. Fehoko maybe capable of replacing some of what has been missing, definitely moreso than incumbent Montravius Adams, who is more reliant on speed and quickness.
However, I am most excited about another attribute that Fehoko brings to the equation; his enthusiastic warrior's mentality. Fehoko was a fan favorite at LSU, and with the Chargers, and numerous Chargers fans shared their displeasure with the team for not retaining him on various podcasts and discussion threads. I have no doubt that his selfless intensity will also win over the Steelers faithful.
That level of self sacrifice and hard working intensity is contagious, inspiring both the team and the fanbase. The Steelers have been looking for a certain type of individual in free agency this offseason, and Fehoko's signing only confirms my suspicion.
Fehoko's signing reminds me of a former Steelers afterthought turned valuable contributor: Kimo Von Oelhoffen.
I wouldn't be shocked at all if Fehoko is the starting nose tackle for the Steelers to start the 2023 NFL season, ahead of Adams, and holding down the fort until a talented young Day 2 addition is ready to take the reigns.
In conclusion, what are the Steelers actually getting in Breiden Fehoko? Is he yet another bargain bin special for a franchise renowned for finding hidden value in unlikely places? Or could it be the latest shrewd decision resulting from the behind the scenes brilliance of Andy "Hoss Boss" Weidl, a man who definitely knows his round bellies in the trenches? Only time will tell, but it could be both.
In Weidl we trust!