Steelers Have a ‘Must-See’ Rookie Defender Flying Under the Radar

Mike Tomlin

Harry Engels/Getty Images Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

We’re less than a week into a Pittsburgh Steelers training camp in which the lion’s share of the attention has surrounded the offense — with the competition to replace Ben Roethlisberger and “eye-opening” practices on the part of rookie wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III overshadowing other potential storylines.

Meanwhile, rookie defensive lineman Demarvin Leal has quietly had a strong start to training camp, and one former scout — Bucky Brooks of NFL.com — has named Leal as the rookie defensive lineman he’s “most excited to track over the next month.”

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Demarvin Leal Has the Potential to ‘Drive Guards and Tackles Crazy’

“The ultra-talented Leal could enjoy a banner rookie season in a defense that will enable him to play fast and free at the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot-4, 290-pounder is a long, rangy interior defender with the strength and athleticism to drive guards and tackles crazy at the point of attack,” writes Brooks, alluding to how the Texas A&M product (selected No. 84 overall), stands to benefit from being a part of a front-seven that features first-team All-Pro Cameron Heyward and reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.

“If Leal quickly grasps the concepts and techniques preached by defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, the third-round pick could become a problem for opponents attempting to attack the middle of the Steelers’ defense,” concludes Brooks.

That said, Leal figures to get plenty of reps in camp, owing to the fact that Tyson Alualu remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list with knee swelling and free agent acquisition Larry Ogunjobi is being brought along slowly as he continues his recovery from the Lisfranc injury he suffered near the end of last season.

On the other hand, there are other more experienced defensive linemen who potentially stand in the way of Leal’s path to playing time, including Chris Wormley and Montravius Adams, not to mention 2021 fifth-round pick Isaiahh Loudermilk. And don’t forget about Carlos and Khalil Davis, both of whom face an uphill battle in terms of making the 53-man roster but seem good candidates for the practice squad.


Pittsburgh’s Rookie Class Looking Good Thus Far

As for the rest of Pittsburgh’s 2022 draft class, the early reviews are largely very positive. For one, third-year wide receiver Chase Claypool has already predicted that second-round pick George Pickens is “gonna be the best rookie receiver in the NFL.” Meanwhile, fellow wide receiver Calvin Austin III has thus far lived up to his billing as the “biggest day 3 steal.” And sixth-round pick Connor Heyward has been called the team’s “surprise offseason standout.”

On the downside, first-round pick Kenny Pickett has struggled during the first week of training camp, but that’s common for rookie quarterbacks and “not a concern right now,” offers Mark Kaboly of The Athletic.

As for Leal, his selection will always be linked to Baltimore’s decision to take Connecticut defensive tackle Travis Jones, who was drafted by the Ravens eight picks earlier. The Steelers were “hoping to have a shot” at selecting Jones, noted longtime Steelers insider Gerry Dulac in the wake of the 2022 draft.

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