Steelers Analyst Predicts Rookie UDFA RB Will Be 2022’s ‘Camp Phenom’

Running back Mataeo Durant

Grant Halverson/Getty Images Mataeo Durant of the Duke Blue Devils is tackled just short of the goal line by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on October 12, 2019.

With Pittsburgh Steelers players scheduled to report to training camp on July 26, it won’t be long before an unheralded Steelers player outstrips expectations and is anointed this year’s “camp phenom.”

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With that in mind, Dejan Kovacevic of DK Sports has issued a prediction as to which rookie will suitably impress during training camp and the preseason. In the July 20 edition of Daily Shot of Steelers, he labels undrafted free agent running back Mataeo Durant as the best bet to be that guy.

“He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his Pro Day at Duke, and he’s pretty good at a lot of things, including catching the ball out of the backfield,” notes Kovacevic.

Indeed Durant set a new single-season Duke record in 2021 by amassing 1,241 rushing yards, averaging 4.87 yards per carry along the way. He finished his college career with 489 carries for 2,562 yards (5.24 yards per carry) and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 55 passes for 488 yards (8.87 yards per catch) with four touchdown receptions.

More notably, the Steelers gave him a $15,000 signing bonus, which is the largest ever awarded to a rookie UDFA RB in franchise history.

Durant figures to get his opportunities to impress, as the Steelers already know what they have in 2021 first-round pick Najee Harris — and want to keep Harris as fresh as possible for the regular-season. His situation is also favorable insofar as there are only two backups who are clearly ahead of him in the pecking order.

“All he’s got to do is beat out Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland. If that sounds mean, so be it,” concludes Kovacevic. “I’m not the one who went out there and didn’t impress the coaches.”

2019’s ‘Camp Phenom’ is Back

Meanwhile, the Steelers have a former training camp phenom back in the fold for the Summer of ’22. In early June the team signed edge rusher Tuzar Skipper in an effort to shore up its outside linebacker depth.

You may recall that Skipper was responsible for five sacks and 16 tackles during the 2019 preseason, good enough for him to make the 53-man roster, except he was waived prior to the regular season to make room for a wide receiver and was subsequently claimed by the New York Giants. The Steelers got him back later in 2019 and inked him to a two-year contract, except he failed to make the team in 2020.

To date, Skipper, 27, has appeared in a total of 10 regular season games with the Giants and Tennessee Titans and has been credited with eight tackles, one quarterback hit and a half a sack, as per Pro Football Reference.

He’ll be battling the likes of Genard Avery, Derrek Tuszka, Delontae Scott and rookie UDFA Tyree Johnson for a backup job behind reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and fellow starter Alex Highsmith.

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Falcons Working out Ex-Steelers CB DeMarkus Acy

In other news, Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network reports that the Atlanta Falcons are working out cornerback DeMarkus Acy on Monday.

The Steelers signed the former Missouri team captain as an undrafted free agent in May 2021 but he tore his ACL in early August, just days before he was scheduled to make his professional debut. He was waived injured on Aug. 4, 2021, but indicated he would not be abandoning his dreams of pursuing a professional football career, saying, “… there’s no quit in me. Prayer has always got me through anything and I continue to live through faith and let life teach me valuable lessons.”

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