Steelers draft: Oklahoma EDGE Nik Bonitto is a perfect fit in Pittsburgh

Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

The Steelers could use another defensive play-maker in their front seven, and Oklahoma star Nik Bonitto would be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh.

If you haven’t watched any Nik Bonitto film yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. One of my favorite overall players set to enter the 2022 NFL Draft is somehow flying entirely under the radar, and draft analysts have not shown him enough love.

It’s hard not to watch Bonitto without seeing shades of Micah Parsons during his time at Penn State. While they played different positions, their movement skills and ability to make plays downhill are very similar.

Bonitto lineup up primarily as a wide edge defender outside of the tackle box for the Oklahoma Sooners in a two-point stance, but he’s a remarkably smooth athlete who can drop back into space and cover. In addition to his terrific athletic traits, Bonitto had pretty remarkable production in the Big 12 — earning 26.5 tackles for a loss and 16.0 sacks over the past two seasons alone.

Meanwhile, the Steelers could certainly stand to improve their depth at both edge defender and off-ball linebacker heading into the 2022 season. Perhaps Bonitto could give them a bit of both.

Steelers should draft Bonitto

Great play-makers are hard to come by. While Bonitto isn’t without his shortcomings, it’s easy to watch him and project what sort of an impact he could have on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite his status as a full-time edge defender at Oklahoma, some teams are going to be a bit lower on Bonitto because of his lack of ideal size for the position. At the NFL Combine, Bonitto measured in at just 6’3” on the dot and 248 pounds, while his arm length (32 1/2”) and wingspan (78 3/4”) don’t meet the thresholds that many teams look for at the position.

In Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense, this has never been something that has been a requirement. Bonitto has tweener size, but if he slips in the draft, it could be to the benefit of the Steelers.

Back in 2007, the Steelers drafted an athletic, undersized edge defender in Lawrence Timmons who they converted to a full-time off-ball linebacker in the pros. I don’t think this is the best way to use Bonitto — as he is just too valuable as a pass rusher — but Mike Tomlin and Brian Flores could really get creative with a guy like this.

Bonitto might have the best bend of any pass rusher in this draft class, but if they want to get the most out of him, Pittsburgh could use him similarly to how the Cowboys use Parsons. Bonitto could be a blitzing ‘Buck’ linebacker on heavy packages and could operate as a situational pass-rush specialist.

As a prospect, he is head and shoulders above Alex Highsmith coming into the draft two years ago, and I would expect him to be pushing for Highsmith’s job as early as his rookie season.

To acquire, a player like Nik Bonitto would very likely cost Pittsburgh their second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Though this might seem steep, I can almost assure you that you wouldn’t be disappointed with the value here after watching him play.

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Bonitto would be a truly remarkable fit in Pittsburgh’s defense with his elite blend of quickness, bend, hustle, and nose for the ball-carrier. He’s been one of the most underrated players throughout the draft process and the Steelers should seriously consider him in the NFL Draft.