During the third day of the NFL Draft, more often than not fans are left asking “…who…?” whenever their team makes their late-round selections. With the exception of some high profile players that slide to various reasons such as off the field issues or injury concerns, most 5th-7th round draft picks fall this far due to deficiencies in their overall game or concerns about their size, athleticism, or strength.
Keion Adams, the Steelers 7th-round pick this year, is no exception to this.
Whenever the Steelers made their selection with the 248th overall pick, many fans were left clueless as to who Adams was, which is no fault of their own. Adams hails from Western Michigan, a MAC school that was put on the map over the last few seasons by another Broncos’ standout: receiver Corey Davis, the Tennessee Titans’ 5th overall pick.
Because of the deficiencies that late round prospects often carry with them, most of the time these selections are based off of the things that the teams like about the prospect on and off of the field. Recent Steelers examples of this include the hard-working nature of Tyler Matakevich and Vince Williams, the versatility of Kelvin Beachum, and the shifty ability as a receiver and returner of Antonio Brown. All of these players slid to the end of the draft due to the similar “issues” that teams saw in them, namely their size, as each player was considered to be below preferred size for their respective positions. Keion Adams fell into this category as well, coming in as a 6’2″, 245 lb. outside linebacker.
In addition to his below average size, Adams also does not possess desired playing power (not that he isn’t strong, but more so that he has a habit of getting swallowed up at times by powerful offensive linemen, especially against the run). To be considered an every-down edge rusher in the NFL, especially with the Steelers defensive schemes, it is imperative that you have the ability to hold your own in all circumstances on the field.
With Adams, however, this is really where the downsides end… much like the aforementioned players selected by the Steelers in the late rounds.
Heading up to the draft, the Steelers showed clear interest in Adams, using one of their 30 official pre-draft visits on him. This makes his selection really not that surprising, especially when you consider his production in college. A four-year starter at Western Michigan, Adams compiled and impressive 126 total tackles, 33 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. Over the course of his college career, Adams displayed excellent bend off of the edge that is similar to some of the NFL’s elite pass rushers. This bend, combined with his natural speed and athleticism, make him a dangerous threat.
Where Adams really stands out is his extreme explosion off of the ball. On film, his first step was one of the best in this draft class, where his instincts and reaction speed make it difficult for opposing offensive linemen to mirror him. This means that he often gets to his point on the edge before the offensive lineman has a chance to beat him there, which translates to Adams making it into the backfield in a hurry. When the lineman does get there, Adams has a nice inside counter move that he could honestly utilize more as he develops his pass rushing set to demonstrate his elusive playing style.
Realistically, Adams has a ways to go to refine his game as a whole, especially as a run stopper. The thing is, however, is that he wasn’t selected to be a run stopper at this point. Adams’ best chance at making the 53-man roster this season is going to be his ability to contribute on special teams and to show some usefulness as a pass rushing specialist and he has the work ethic to accomplish it. To do this, he will likely have to beat out Arthur Moats, a player he physically compares to very well. With the selection of T.J. Watt in the first round, the Steelers found their man to be the every-down compliment to Bud Dupree and James Harrison. That doesn’t mean that Adams won’t have a place to contribute on the field. As he gets stronger on the field, he will be able to become even more involved with the rotation (if he makes the roster) by eventually becoming stout against the run.
Being an undersized player has knocked players in the past, but the size of the player has never been an indication of the work that they are willing to put in to succeed. Adams is the type of player teams like the Steelers love to select late in the draft due to his work ethic and heart, which will quickly grab the attention of fans once training camp and the preseason start.
He will certainly become a player to watch closely.
And don’t be surprised if a few years down the road, we wonder how Keion Adams ever fell as far as he did.
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