The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to heavily address the issues of their secondary in the 2016 NFL draft. In spite of that fact, they would do well to also address the front seven of their defense.
Despite heavily investing in outside linebackers over the past five years, the future of the position is very clouded. James Harrison is back and forth on if he will return in 2016, the Steelers may not pick up Jarvis Jones‘ fifth-year option before the May 2nd deadline, Arthur Moats is best utilized in rotation, and Anthony Chickillo is purely special teams’ depth.
The first two days of the draft will most likely address the cornerback, safety, and defensive line positions. In what order of importance they will be assigned is not able to be determined yet, but it will be very interesting to see how the Steelers go ahead using the four selections they have in day three.
The Steelers are a team who pride themselves on developing small collegiate talent into long-term starting material. Finding athletes such as these in the later rounds of the draft are how the organization has succeeded as well as it has without breaking the bank on blockbuster free agent signings to sustain their defense.
One such prospect, a powerhouse in the Big Sky conference, has not received much notoriety due to the college he attended. Furthermore, the depth at his position in this year’s draft has put him even further on the back burner due to so many great athletes that will be selected before him. This is where the Steelers can make yet another draft day steal.
Tyrone Holmes, DE/OLB, Montana.
Standing at 6’2″ and weighing in at 253 lbs, Holmes’ four years with the Montana Grizzlies was a dominating display. Starting as a true freshman in the program, he eventually earned his way into a starting spot his sophomore year and never looked back. Along the way he would earn multiple All-Big Sky Conference honorable mentions and was named 2015 STATS Football Championship Subdivision Defensive Player of the Year.
Holmes ended his collegiate career with 214 tackles (49.5 for loss), 34.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hurries, and five forced fumbles. Even with his impressive accolades, Holmes was not granted invitations to the Senior Bowl or NFL Combine, but did attend the East-West Shrine Game in January. He finished the event with three solo tackles.
What makes Holmes such a commanding force on the field is his speed of pursuit to the ball carrier. He was also a very versatile player on the Grizzlies’ defensive line, being able to stand up as an outside linebacker or put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. While he could play at either position for Pittsburgh, he would make an excellent addition to the Steelers’ linebacker corps.
Against North Dakota State, Holmes made a series of impressive plays against perhaps the best quarterback available in this year’s draft. Positioned at the furthermost right side of the defensive line, Holmes timed Bison’s quarterback Carson Weintz snap count perfectly. With relentless force, he drove forward past offensive lineman Landon Lechler to his target.
While Lechler clearly had advantage of size, Holmes was about two seconds ahead of him off the snap, which made all the difference. Weintz attempted to step up in the pocket to make a pass, but Holmes utilized his lengthy reach to grab ahold of him, swing him back into Lechler, and cause the ensuing strip sack.
Montana’s Pro Day in late March accomplished much in terms of alerting teams to Holmes’ presence. He posted great numbers in a series of drills, some trumping performances made by Combine invitees. He participated in the 40 yard dash (4.58), vertical jump, (37.5″), broad jump (9’5″), and 28 reps on the 225 pound bench press.
Without the events that larger college athletes are accustomed to in going about improving their draft stock, Holmes has gradually made a name for himself. The draft itself slowly approaches the single digit mark, and he now plays the waiting game to see which team will make an investment on him.
It can be argued that he will have a more difficult time than most rookies adjusting to the professional level based on the competition he was faced with. While Holmes was indeed a “big fish in a little pond” in terms of the conference his college played in, a strong work ethic and determination to make a roster spot will go a long way in developing into a potential star.
The Steelers would benefit immensely from a talented athlete such as Holmes. Most see him as a sixth round prospect, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him go as far as the fourth round. While it would be a gamble selection, no doubt, the payout would be well worth the early day three pick.
Tyrone Holmes has the potential to be a great defensive player in the NFL. His size, speed, and high motor are what defensive coordinators crave when building a defense. Will he be an instant upgrade to a defense? Most likely not, but he is the type of athlete the Steelers like to invest in, building long-term, to make an impact on their defense. An investment that could pay off for many years to come.