Steelers should have strong interest in Miami EDGE Jaelen Phillips

Miami Hurricanes defensive line Jaelan Phillips (15). Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Hurricanes defensive line Jaelan Phillips (15). Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports /

Edge defender Jaelan Phillips impressed at his Miami Pro Day. Here’s why the Steelers should be taking a strong interest in the talented pass rusher. 

If you’ve been following the Steelers for a while, you know how much they value players that can get after the quarterback. Since 2013, Pittsburgh has used three first-round draft picks on edge defenders, and they know that the success of their defense is directly tied to how much fast pressure they can bring.

Unfortunately, two of the three outside linebackers they have drafted in the first round are no longer with the team, and Bud Dupree’s departure in free agency this offseason leaves a void that must be filled. While I was as impressed as anyone by Alex Highmsith’s rookie campaign, it’s hard to predict whether or not he can be a full-time player on the edge. Even if he proves to be able to handle these duties, the team is in severe need of depth now that Dupree and Ola Adeniyi have signed elsewhere this offseason.

So far this offseason, the Steelers have taken an interest in some of the NFL Draft’s top edge defender prospects. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert were both on hand at some of the offseason’s biggest Pro Days to scout Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Michigan’s Kwity Paye, and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh. Pittsburgh clearly has an infatuation with athletic edge rushers, and after the success, they’ve witnessed with Dupree and T.J. Watt, it’s not hard to see why.

On Monday, another talented edge rusher performed at his Pro Day, and the results were impressive. Miami’s Jaelan Phillips, in my opinion, is the top edge defender set to enter the 2021 NFL Draft, but concussion scares could have teams wary about the longevity of his NFL career. Mike Tomlin reportedly had a meeting with Phillips prior to his Pro Day workout.

Why Jaelan Phillips should be on Steelers radar

With so much of the offseason process being virtual this year, it may be harder to get a feel for a player’s medicals. However, if Jaelan Phillip’s health checks out, he should certainly be in play for the team with the 24th overall pick.

Phillips has a rare combination of size, exposition, and speed. At 6’5 1/2” and 260 pounds, Phillips was electrifying at his Pro Day – running a 4.56 40-yard dash and testing above the 89th percentile in his vertical, broad jump, 3-cone, and 20-yard shuttle, according to his Relative Athletic Score. His freakish athleticism shows up often on tape as evidenced by his 15.5 tackles for a loss and 8.0 sacks in just 10 games this year.

For the Steelers, Phillips could immediately slide into a role as the team’s third outside linebacker and spell Highsmith and Watt of some snaps. It wouldn’t take long for him to earn a spot as a full-time starter opposite of T.J. Watt – kicking Highsmith back down as the team’s primary backup and rotational player at the position.

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Jaelan Phillips is such a rare breed of football player and he no doubt would have been a lock top-15 pick in the draft if it wasn’t for his concerning medical issues. However, his health cannot be ignored as he briefly retired from football in 2019. Still, if things check out, the Steelers could potentially land the best defensive player in the draft with the 24th pick. Pittsburgh should be doing their homework on Phillips at the very least.