The "Triple Take" team, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta, provides updates on their breakdown of the top edge rusher prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Matt's Take ...
Riser: Nick Cross, Maryland (6-0, 212 lbs.) - Cross is a run and hit defender and when he hits his target, that ball carrier usually stops in his tracks. He is very aggressive, especially playing downhill. This is a heavily recruited kid with an impressive track background. Cross is very fast on the field as well as on the track and covers a ton of ground, as evidenced by 4.34 time in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. His jump and bench press results were also very impressive, but Cross isn't at his best changing directions. He is more of a heat seeking missile. Cross is also the youngest of the top safeties in this draft class, so his best work likely is still on the horizon. Oh, Cross roomed with Dino Tomlin at Maryland.
Faller: Verone McKinley III, Oregon (5-10, 198 lbs.) - McKinley was a very good college performer with excellent ball skills. He plays hard and with aggression. However, he is likely a better college than pro player. McKinley's jump numbers at the Combine were good, but he didn't run in Indianapolis. At Oregon's Pro Day, McKinley ran a 4.65, which, isn't terrible. But McKinley now is a combination of small and slow, which obviously isn't ideal. His range is just average at best and NFL slot receivers, big and small, might give him a lot of trouble. McKinley also isn't a great tackler and teams might not be excited about using him near the line of scrimmage. And he might not have the range for the third level.
Sleeper: Tycen Anderson, Toledo (6-2, 209 lbs.) - Anderson has some very enticing tools to work with. His size is perfect for the safety position. He is explosive in his movements and ran a 4.36/40 at the Combine. Anderson has a cornerback background in high school, but probably projects as a close to the line of scrimmage defender at the next level. In terms of reading offenses and NFL concepts, Anderson has work to still do, but he is considered a very bright young man with great intangibles. He has missed some time with injuries, and you wish Anderson's overall production was a little better, especially considering who he was playing against. But it might not be long before Anderson is making a big impact on an NFL defense and in the meantime, he should be a core special teams contributor.
Matt's First Take on the S position ...
#5 - Jalen Pitre, Baylor (5-11, 198 lbs.) - Pitre is a versatile chess piece that flies around the football field. Pitre is more of a "Defensive back" rather than just a traditional safety, something that is becoming more in vogue in the NFL. He covers the slot as well as manning the deep portions of the field. But because he excelled in the slot, Baylor usually kept him in that role. Pitre plays man and zone coverage, as well as blitzes. He isn't physically imposing, but Pitre's size isn't a problem. This is a very competitive and passionate player. Pitre isn't an elite athlete and has some stiffness, but this is the type of guy that finds a way to stick and make an impact. His final year in college was far and away his best.
#4 - Lewis Cine, Georgia (6-2, 199 lbs.) - Cine was an instrumental piece in the best defense in the country last year and went to the Combine and blew up the testing. Obviously, Cine's height is an asset that most safeties don't possess, and he is explosive with all his movements. Cine reads route concepts very well, especially as a zone defender. He is a competitive leader that relishes the physical aspects of safety play but could stand to add more bulk to his long frame. His lean body type is a bit of a concern because Cine does his best work closer to the line of scrimmage. And he was protected extremely well at Georgia. But Cine is a hitter that loves laying the wood and changing the momentum of a football game.
#3 - Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (6-1, 199 lbs.) - Brisker plays hard with an attitude that coaches at the next level will love. He has excellent football intelligence as well as versatility. He is a very good matchup against tight ends at the next level as well as vs. running backs in man coverage. He can blitz and Brisker makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He attacks in the run game. Brisker can play in reverse but is much better coming forward. It should be noted that Brisker played with an injured shoulder for much of his final season at Penn State and still put impressive play on tape. He missed some tackles, but the shoulder injury surely had something to do with that.
#2 - Dax Hill, Michigan (6-0, 191 lbs.) - Hill blazed a 4.38 40-yard dash time at the Combine. His speed matched with his length is a very impressive and rare combination. Hill is a very explosive athlete that can handle slot duties, play in the box or handle safety responsibilities in the deep portions of the field. Hill has smooth hips as well as explosive burst in a straight line to the football. Hill's great athletic ability gives him tremendous upside at the next level. Hill is a bit inconsistent as a tackler however and isn't overly powerful overall. Some have even thrown out the idea of making Hill a full-time cornerback.
#1 - Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame (6-4, 220 lbs.) - There is just no way around it, Hamilton is truly rare. This is a special player that very well could be the best player in the draft at any position. Hamilton has it all. His size is amazing. He plays all over the defense and makes big plays at every level. This is the type of player defensive coordinators can ask to lock down an opponent's tight end or leave him in the deep middle of the field as a last line of defense eraser. Hamilton plays the run well and has exceptional ball skills and ability to read quarterbacks. This is a big hitter and plays with passion. He didn't run a great time at the Combine, but who really cares. Just watch his tape: Hamilton is anything but slow. He eats up grass with long swift strides. Also, Hamilton is coming off a knee injury that cut his 2021 season short. Hamilton changes the game.
Dale's Take ...
Riser: Nick Cross, Maryland (6-0, 212 lbs.) - Cross was one of the stars of the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.34-second 40-yard dash and posting a 37-inch vertical jump at 6-foot, 212 pounds. Cross is a big hitter and sure tackler who has outstanding closing speed in the same vein as former Maryland star Darnell Savage. He also filled the stat sheet last season for the Terrapins, recording 66 tackles, three interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He wasn't getting a lot of attention prior to the Combine, but he's definitely on everyone's radar now. Should we mention his roommate at Maryland was Dino Tomlin?
Faller: Juanyeh Thomas, Georgia Tech (6-1, 212 lbs.) - Thomas does everything OK. But there's not a lot he does that stands out. At 6-1, 212 pounds, he has good size and decent speed, but he might be a box safety in a league in which box safeties are no longer as desired as they used to be. There are some traits of Thomas that are really good. But he takes some time to get up to speed, and his three-cone drill at his pro day of 7.33 seconds was only in the sixth percentile for the position, showing his issues changing directions.
Sleeper: JT Woods, Baylor (6-2, 195 lbs.) - Can you be a sleeper coming out of an outstanding defense such as the one Baylor fielded in 2021? Sure, why not? Woods is a former track star with size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) who can add some bulk and likely still be plenty fast enough to play at a high level in the NFL. He ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine while also recording a 39.5-inch vertical jump. Woods had 57 tackles and five interceptions in 2021, as well, recording nine interceptions the past two seasons. I can't understand why more people aren't talking about Woods as a higher draft pick, though his tackling could be better.
Dale's First Take on the S position ...
#5 - Bryan Cook, Cincinnati (6-1, 206 lbs.) - A true strong safety, Cook plays with an enforcer's mentality. But he's a former cornerback with coverage skills, as well. Blossomed in 2021, posting 96 tackles, including five for a loss, a sack and two interceptions to go along with nine pass breakups. He's excellent in run support and also has the size to match up on most tight ends.
#4 - Lewis Cine, Georgia (6-2, 199 lbs.) - Yet another highly-rated Georgia defender in this draft class, Cline has good size and also ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Born in Haiti, he moved to the United States when he was 4 years old. He had 73 tackles, one interception and nine pass breakups in 2021 for Georgia. He's probably more of a strong safety than a free at the NFL level.
#3 - Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (6-1, 199 lbs.) - A former star at Gateway High School in Monroeville, Brisker began his career at Lackawanna College before transferring to Penn State. He had five interceptions and 14 pass breakups in three seasons at Penn State. Brisker played through a shoulder injury in 2020 and 2021, so that will have to check out medically, but the tape is good. He can cover tight ends and is good in run support.
#2 - Dax Hill, Michigan (6-0, 191 lbs.) - Built like a cornerback, Hill has the speed to play like one, as well, posting a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He can drop down and play the slot, or slide back and play deep safety. He had 69 tackles, eight pass defenses and two interceptions last season at Michigan. Hill is the younger brother of Justice Hill, a running back selected in the fourth round by the Ravens in 2019. Given his size, speed and coverage ability, it wouldn't be a shock if a team tries him at cornerback, even if it's as the nickel, early in his career.
#1 - Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame (6-4, 220 lbs.) - The latest freakish safety to come into the NFL, Hamilton can be used as linebacker, deep safety or down in the box covering tight ends. He just turned 21 in March, so there's a lot of athletic upside here. He had eight interceptions and 16 pass breakups in 31 career games. He did miss time with a knee injury in 2021, so the medicals will have to be checked out, but he's a likely top-10 pick. Hamilton was born in Greece, where his father, Derrick, was playing professional basketball for Irakleio BC on Crete. Maybe his nickname should be the minotaur.
Mike's Take ...
Riser: Lewis Cine, Georgia (6-1, 200 lbs.) - I had Cine (pronounced "Seen") rated No. 4 in our initial look at the Top 5 at the position, but I'm starting to suspect he was lost in the crowd at least a little bit given the other higher profile defensive prospects from Georgia. Cine ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. And he told the NFL Network's Stacey Dales his reputation as a hitter doesn't accurately tell his story. "I'm a smart player," Cine insisted. "I get guys lined up. When guys are wrong, I make them right. People think of me as just a hitter, but I see myself as an all-around play-maker." Dales reported Cine was "lighting meetings up" when getting face time with NFL teams in Indianapolis and that he possesses an "infectious personality." The tape speaks for itself, particularly the National Championship Game against Alabama, when Cine delivered his trademark thunderous hits, covered receivers in the slot and registered a pass defensed on a blitz. "He is a chest-to-chest tackler," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah assessed. "When he hits you, it's over."
Faller: Verone McKinley III, Oregon (5-11, 194 lbs.) - "Faller" might be overstating it a bit, but it's accurate to say McKinley didn't distinguish himself when he reportedly ran a 4.65 40 at Oregon's Pro Day (he had drilled but didn't run at the Combine). His lack of desired NFL size had already been apparent. McKinley was highly productive for the Ducks (he led FBS with six interceptions in 2021 and had 11 picks in his Oregon career, all occurring in 35 games over his last three seasons) and he was highly decorated (he was a First-Team Associated Press All-American in 2021). And he's a former team captain. I was anticipating more of a "wow" factor given all of that. But if he's generated much buzz heading into the draft I haven't detected it as of yet.
Sleeper: Markquese Bell, Florida A&M (6-3, 205 lbs.) - Bell qualifies as "raw" after playing only 23 games and starting 20 in three seasons at Florida A&M after transferring in from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. But he'll intrigue as a length-and-speed guy after running a 4.41 40 in Indy. He had a five-interception season at Florida A&M (2018) and he isn't shy about attacking ball carriers. "He'll square you up and hit you in the alley," Jeremiah maintained.
Mike's First Take on the S position ...
#5 - Jalen Pitre, Baylor (5-11, 198 lbs.) - Baylor's defense was a joy to watch this season. Pitre, who has inspired comparisons to Tyrann Mathieu, was a big reason why. He didn't run a 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine but he drew rave reviews at the Senior Bowl. "The nicest compliment scouts can give players is to say, 'That's a football player,'" NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah observed. "That's the phrase you hear over and over again with Jalen Pitre." Amen.
#4 - Lewis Cine, Georgia (6-2, 199 lbs.) - Cine only had one interception in 2021. "He would have had more production if they had any time to throw,." Jeremiah said regarding Georgia's opponents. Point taken, blame the myriad of quality Georgia defenders on the field at a given time for Cine's relative lack of stats. He still managed to register a team-leading nine passes defensed.
#3 - Dax Hill, Michigan (6-0, 191 lbs.) - Hill had a lot of help from his friends on the Michigan defense, as well. And a lot of competition when it came to defensive play-making. Hill still earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors in 2021, when he lined up deep and in the box and even covered from the slot. The coverage skills have some wondering if Hill might be better suited to play cornerback. Older brother Justice is a running back for the Ravens. Justice's younger brother Daxton has been compared to Minkah Fitzpatrick.
#2 - Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (6-1, 199 lbs.) - Brisker played through a shoulder injury in 2021, but his value as a potential chess piece defender was still evident whether he was playing a deep-half or serving as a nickel-backer. Brisker's skill set includes an ability to cover tight ends. "He's a really, really good football player," Jeremiah assessed. That about covers it.
#1 - Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame (6-4, 220 lbs.) - As if the way he plays defense wasn't enough, Hamilton also covered punts for the Fighting Irish. "You don't see that with Top 5 picks very often," Jeremiah noted. Hamilton is a little taller and a little heavier than Derwin James. As for his intelligence, Jeremiah said Hamilton could have attended an Ivy League school had he been so inclined. "Range, ball skills, versatility, he can do everything," Jeremiah summarized. Is that all?