Steelers draft: Wisconsin LB Leo Chenal is a perfect fit in Pittsburgh

Marshall Lang #88 of the Northwestern Wildcats is tackled by Leo Chenal #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Marshall Lang #88 of the Northwestern Wildcats is tackled by Leo Chenal #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers must improve the linebacker position this offseason. Here’s why Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal would be a perfect fit in the NFL Draft.

After four straight years of boasting one of the NFL’s top defensive squads, Pittsburgh’s defense took a noticeable step back in 2022. While the Steelers still got after the quarterback as well as any team in the league, their run defense was non-existent.

This was always an area that Mike Tomlin could be proud of in the past. Since before the head coach’s arrival, the Steelers have always had well-respected run defenses. Sadly, Pittsburgh was dead last in the NFL in 2021 in both rushing yards allowed and yards per attempt surrendered.

Obviously, this is something that has to change if Pittsburgh wants to find more success in the near future. Getting back some of their missing defensive linemen would certainly help. But the fact of the matter is that the Steelers just don’t have the right personnel at the off-ball linebacker position.

Though I give them some grace because of the injuries up front, Joe Schobert and Devin Bush couldn’t contain their lanes as they were routinely bulldozed in the running game — getting themselves washed completely out of the play.

This is where Leo Chenal comes in. Nobody should be surprised if the Steelers take a linebacker early in this draft after what we witnessed last year, and the linebacker position could be the strength of the draft on day two this year. Chenal is a perfect fit in Pittsburgh.

Chenal would be a great fit with the Steelers

One trait Pittsburgh’s off-ball linebackers have been missing since Vince Williams left is the ability to sift through traffic near the line of scrimmage. Williams was always a wrecking ball going north and south. That tenacity could be back on the table with a player like Chenal.

Officially measuring in at 6’3” and 250 pounds, Chenal would instantly become the biggest off-ball linebacker on the team. When you put on his game film, you see a player who doesn’t shy away from contact and one who sniffs out the ball carrier with ease.

Chenal was outrageously productive at Wisconsin in 2021 — earning 115 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, and 8.5 sacks in just 11 games, according to Sports Reference. In addition to his supreme college production, Chenal tested as a spectacular athlete at the NFL Combine. He ran an official 4.53 40-yard dash while recording a vertical of 40.5” and a broad jump of 10’8”. Chenal also turned heads with spectacular agility numbers at his Pro Day.

The combination of production, athleticism, size and tape would normally elevate a player like this out of Pittsburgh’s range at pick 52 overall in the second round. Their saving grace is that Chenal won’t be for everybody. His playstyle is clearly suited best for a team who wants to use him coming straight downhill and attacking the ball carries (i.e. the “Buck” linebacker position for the Steelers).

For teams looking for more of an every-down linebacker who could play on third downs and drop into coverage, they will probably look elsewhere, as there are some quality options who offer more pass-coverage skills on day two of the NFL Draft this year.

The Steelers had a formal meeting with Chenal during the NFL Combine, and it’s clear that there is interest on their end. Pittsburgh has been pleased with the last two Wisconsin defenders they have drafted (T.J. Watt and Isaiahh Loudermilk), and they have plenty of incentive to select another Badger early in the draft.

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Pittsburgh could always attempt to bring in a linebacker during free agency, and they will still need to improve the defensive line to have better success on the ground next year. However, Leo Chenal is simply a perfect fit for the Steelers and he would make a ton of sense for them if he’s still available in the second round.