It's that time of year again, folks. Time for my way-too-early predictions for this year's training camp sensations. As always, I will predict both an offensive and defensive sensation.
So what constitutes a training camp sensation? A sensation is a player who seemingly comes out of nowhere to become the talk of the town, so to speak.
The players that all of the local sports media eagerly mention in their daily updates and training camp reports. For those of us unable to be in attendance, these reports are worth their weight in gold. If you go back over the past couple of training camps alone, players who have exceeded expectations for the Steelers during the preseason have shown up early and often on these daily training camp reports.
Often these upstarts are late round selections or undrafted free agents, making them eligible for the highly coveted Isaac Redman Award, capable of catapulting them into the realm of Steelers folklore. Past winners are seldom remembered, but never truly forgotten.
Take last year for example. My training camp sensations at the start of camp were ILB Mark Robinson on defense, and RB Jaylen Warren on offense. Both were longshot rookies facing steep odds, but both had under the radar advantages. First off, they were extremely talented young athletes, but even more importantly, at areas of need for the Steelers.
Mark Robinson brought impressive physicality and intensity to the equation, qualities that were definitely in short supply for the Steelers inside linebacker depth chart. Jaylen Warren was the compact change of pace back with splash play potential that the Steelers backfield had been missing.
Needless to say, neither young man failed to exceed expectations, with both not only making the roster, but also contributing meaningful minutes in 2022. The outlook on their futures with the Steelers looks brighter than ever.
It's impossible to accurately predict these sensations until we are at least a full week into training camp practices, so my way-too-early predictions at this point is honestly more of a hunch you might say. Players that have generated more than their fair share of whispers around the water cooler this offseason. In others words, those instances were a player's OTA and mini-camp performances seems to level up with their collegiate film.
Based on that criteria alone, the two players that I feel have the best odds to be sensations heading into camp are RB Alfonzo Graham and OLB David Perales.
This has been a fascinating offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The franchise has been unusually active and aggressive in free agency. They also pulled off the best draft class in recent memory, at least by perception.
This productive offseason has resulted in a Steelers roster long on talent and blessed with impressive depth. Unlike recent offseasons, this Steelers roster doesn't have numerous weak spots and questionable depth. That undeniable truth makes any wide-eyed longshot's job that much more difficult.
Even with that being said, one of these prospects seemingly has a much clearer path to a roster spot than the other. That fortunate individual would be Alfonzo Graham.
Graham will be competing for the open RB3 position on the depth chart, and possibly the primary kick returner position on special teams. Fortunately for Graham, both positions are wide open, and primed and ready for training camp battles to commence.
I wrote about both of these position battles, and the perceived participants in a recent article, so I will focus on Graham's sensation status in this article.
Graham is the type of undersized change of pace running back that often stands out in a training camp setting. Any potential RB3 will have to possess strong special teams abilities, which Graham has already displayed in college at Morgan State. He also has shown an excellent set of hands as a receiving target.
Graham's jitterbug running style reminds me of former Bears spark plug Tarik Cohen. I believe that the Steelers would be thrilled if they share even a few similarities.
That brings us to the hunch part of this article. David Perales is my way-too-early selection on defense, and the only way to explain the prediction is to honestly admit that I just have a feeling about the young pass rusher.
Perales is an undrafted free agent from Fresno State. He is far more high energy than elite athleticism. Perales has a nonstop motor, coupled with an insatiable desire to succeed. Dude simply doesn't take plays off. Perales could very well benefit from the veteran prescence of Markus Golden, a player who shares similar athletic limitations, but has carved out an impressive professional career through the aforementioned nonstop effort and desire.
Perales knows any realistic path to the active roster begins and ends with special teams. Perales appears to have the physicality, aggressive mindset, and determination to excel on special teams. The Steelers have a history of keeping fringe level guys on the roster due primarily for their special teams abilities. The more special you can be, the better off you are.
Perales will be competing for the OLB5 position. His main competition will be Quincy Roche, a NFL journeyman with an impressive pass rush arsenal. However, Roche has never shown prolific special teams abilities. It's hard to stick on an NFL roster as a one trick pony specialist, especially without excelling on special teams.
That fact alone should give David Perales the edge in any head-to-head competition. For what it's worth, Perales is hardly a slouch as a pass rusher, with plenty of potential to improve.
There you have it, my way-too-early predictions for training camp sensations. Do you agree with me, or do you see other prospects just waiting on an opportunity to shine. Please share your thoughts and opinions in the corresponding discussion thread. I look forward to an intriguing discussion.