Labriola On

Labriola on Day 3 of the NFL Draft

On the first day, they watched other teams try to do with their first-round picks what the Steelers already had done with theirs, which was turn it into a first-team All-Pro player at a position of significant need.

On the second day, they took a shot at doing something to help an offense that finished the previous regular season tied-for-last in touchdowns scored before adding a player to help protect a pass rush that had been a league-wide strength for the past few years.

And then yesterday they followed up with a couple of moves aimed at putting more teeth into their running attack, and then making a couple of attempts to replace a couple of pieces on defense that they had lost so far this offseason.

The 2020 NFL Draft is over for the Steelers, and now the important work is to begin, because it's one thing to assemble the pieces, but the puzzle is incomplete, the picture doesn't come into focus until all of them are fitted together. And based on the pieces the Steelers have assembled over the last few days, the picture General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin is one of a physical football team willing to play the sport in a manner where the outcome is determined by waging a war of attrition.

"You know, it's just a trait that we value organizationally," said Tomlin. "I think it's a trait – physicality is a brand of ball that we want to play regardless of position. We believe it's an asset to victory for us, and so when you can get some wideouts that display that trait, that's exciting, and Chase Claypool, whether he was contributing on special teams or doing things with the ball in his hands or as a blocker, displayed those traits at Notre Dame."

It was the selection of Claypool that set the tone for this draft class, and the theme then was carried throughout the remaining rounds. Alex Highsmith, a relentless and productive pass-rusher; Anthony McFarland Jr., who brings a history of long touchdown runs that typically began with him first running through or over a defender; Kevin Dotson, a people-moving guard who has been said plays his position "like a pissed off bouncer;" Antoine Brooks Jr., a safety who doesn't care where he's aligned on the field "because being aggressive is just my nature;" and lastly Carlos Davis, who showed an ability to use his 4.79 speed to point his 300-plus pound body in the direction of the opposing quarterback.

"I was really comfortable throughout this weekend," said Tomlin, "and I think that's how you judge your preparedness, your level of comfort in terms of your ability to execute throughout the draft, and it was a good weekend for us. We're excited about the young men we were able to acquire, and now it's our job as a coaching staff to get these guys assimilated into the program, and not only them but all of our guys as we get into the virtual offseason starting on Monday. And we're excited about that."

FIRST PICK OF THE FOURTH ROUND
ANTHONY McFARLAND JR.

During the second day of this 2020 NFL Draft, a number of Steelers fans were upset when the Steelers didn't use their second-round draft choice on a running back from Ohio State. So maybe some of them were placated when the Steelers used their first of two fourth-round picks on a running back who rushed for 298 yards in a 2018 game against Ohio State.

Even though Maryland lost, 52-51, to the Buckeyes that day, Anthony McFarland Jr. carried 21 times for 298 yards, and before the first quarter was over, he had an 81-yard run for a touchdown and then a 75-yard run for a touchdown on an afternoon when he averaged 14.2 yards per carry.

That game was the highlight of a 2018 season for McFarland in which he averaged 7.9 yards per attempt in rushing for 1,034. And during his two seasons with the Terrapins, he had 12 rushing touchdowns, including scores of 81, 80, and 75 yards.

"I think Anthony is a good fit to the running backs room, a good complement to what we have on our roster," said running backs coach Eddie Faulkner. "We have some familiarity with him, because of Coach Tomlin's connection to the University of Maryland because of his son, Dino, and Matt Canada having coached him there in 2018. In both those regards, people speak very highly of him. If you look at the tape, he offers a change of pace. I think he'll be a great addition."

The change of pace is that McFarland has enough power to break a tackle near the line of scrimmage and then the speed to run away from any linebackers and defensive backs trying to clean up the mess. That combination of power-to-speed had Alabama interested in him while he was at DeMatha Catholic High School, but a broken leg not only cost him most of his senior season but also caused him to redshirt as a freshman at Maryland. Then, his 2019 season was sabotaged somewhat by a high ankle sprain.

"I'm 100 percent now," said McFarland. "My ankle injury, I was injured the whole season. It happened in Week 2 against Temple, and I didn't get to 100 percent until the end of the season. I dealt with that the whole season, trying to play through it, but I only missed one game, the Indiana game. Now I'm 100 percent, and that's over with. I'm ready to go."

SECOND PICK OF THE FOURTH ROUND
G KEVIN DOTSON

Russ Grimm was a member of maybe the most famous offensive line in NFL history, The Hogs, and he has three Super Bowl rings and a Hall of Fame jacket as a result of his playing career as a part of that group. Grimm also enjoyed a long career as an offensive line coach in the NFL, and this is what he used to tell people about being successful as an offensive lineman:

"Playing offensive line is about moving a guy from Point-A to Point-B against his will."

It sounds like Kevin Dotson understands and embraces that job description.

When he was in college, it was said that he "played like a pissed off bouncer," and during a call with the Pittsburgh media after being selected Dotson admitted that he actually had a job in that field during his time in college. At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, Dotson said most of the time that job came down to taking preemptive measures, nothing more than walking around the establishment looking mean, but on the rare occasions he was challenged then it came time to act quickly.

Which brings us to why current offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett was so pleased the Steelers drafted him.

"He's a very big man with great length and a very good athlete," began Sarrett, "and what really shows up on his tape is that he's a people-mover, and I really like that. He can move and do all of the things we were looking for, all of the second-level stuff is good. He's the type of guy who when you think about the old-school stuff of offensive linemen just running through guys, that really flashes on his tape. That was the stuff that really jumped out at us when we started watching this guy."

Dotson started 52 games in college, and after the 2019 season he was voted first-team All-America by the Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and Pro Football Focus. And yet, Dotson was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Maybe that kept him a little under the radar, at least sufficiently under for the Steelers to get him with their second pick in the fourth round.

At the time of the Combine, one draft website had this about him: "Kevin Dotson is by far the biggest Combine omission. He was paired alongside Robert Hunt, and the two formed a formidable duo that consistently collected bodies weekly. Dotson has the makings of possibly being a future starter with more development down the road. Already possessing the nastiness of a long-time veteran, he's a bit of a projection, but one that many teams should be sprinting to the podium to take a chance on during the third day of the draft."

Sarrett said Dotson will be given a chance to compete for the opening at left guard created by Ramon Foster's retirement, and when he said that it didn't seem like simple lip-service.

"He's a 52-game starter (in college), the kind of guy we like, one who has all of the intangibles, a really good fit for our room," said Sarrett. "He was in an all-star game, the East-West Game, and played against guys at a higher level and I thought he dominated those guys. There are times he flashes as a true dominator on the offensive line. When you watch this guy, he runs through people, he moves them off the point of attack. When you see that on college tape, that grabs your eye."

SIXTH ROUND
ANTOINE BROOKS JR.

Maybe this is the guy who ends up providing options/depth at the inside linebacker position alongside Devin Bush. Or maybe this is the guy who ends up taking the place of the guy who ends up providing options/depth at the inside linebacker position alongside Devin Bush. Above all, Antoine Brooks is versatile, and he is willing.

"They can put me anywhere, I really don't care," said Brooks, who appeared in 42 games, 34 of which were starting during his four seasons at Maryland. "I just want to play football to the best of my ability. I can play nickel, I played in the box a lot. I like being in the box, because being aggressive is just my nature. I'm an aggressive tackler, an aggressive player, I just like to be in the play."

In college, Brooks, 5-11, 210, compiled 237 tackles, including 27.5 for loss, 11 passes defensed, four interceptions, and 3.5 sacks. And the way Teryl Austin sees it, if nothing else Brooks will provide the team with options.

"I don't know what we'll do. We'll get him in, shake them up and we'll see where they fit best for us moving forward," said Austin. "If Brooks is better playing back, we know Terrell Edmunds can play down in the box and can cover tight ends. If this guy does that better, then we'll move him down there and let Edmunds stay back or move around. We'll have to figure all that out once we get everybody together, and I think that's our job as coaches that we get the best player we can. We know the guy's a good football player, and then we figure out what positions they'll help us win games."

SEVENTH ROUND
CARLOS DAVIS

 It's not entirely accurate to portray Carlos Davis as a nose tackle, but when it's all said and done it might be accurate to view him as a candidate to play the position Javon Hargrave did during his four seasons with the Steelers.

Davis, a 6-2, 320 defensive tackle, started 36 of 48 games over four years at Nebraska, and there were a couple of things about him that really intrigued the Steelers. He had 9.5 sacks and 11 passed batted down from the interior of the defensive line, and then he complemented that by running a 4.79 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's not tall enough to play defensive end in the NFL on a full-time basis, and so that makes him something of a nose tackle for the Steelers. But not in the traditional sense.

"A traditional 3-4 nose tackle, I don't want to say it's dying, but it's less and less of base defense," said Colbert. "So, Carlos at 300-plus, could he play inside at nose? Sure. He can play as a rush defensive tackle like Javon did on the inside. In the base defense, I'm sure he will line up at the nose, and then in the sub-packages he'll be an inside rusher. Again, when you're running 4.79 at that size … he's very athletic."

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