Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20 prospects in 20 days: A pair of Fighting Illini

The Steelers32 writing team continues their coverage of 20 prospects before the draft by highlighting a pair of Fighting Illini.


The Steelers32 writing team has bitten off more than they can chew; we may not get all 20 prospects in 20 days, yet we continue forward. In an attempt to make it easier on the writing crew, the Steelers have been interested in a couple players from the same team.

Although the University of Illinois has a football team called the Fighting Illini, they did not show much fight against the opposition in 2016. The team’s demising record of three wins and nine losses was definitely not due to the duo of Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoot.  


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Steelers’ 20 prospects in 20 days: Pitt tight end, Scott Orndoff/Jackson State DE or LB, Javancy Jones /Villanova DE, Tanoh Kpassagnon/Colorado S, Tedric Thompson/Syracuse WR, Amba Etta-Tawo/Tennessee QB, Joshua Dobbs/California QB, Davis Webb/UConn S, Obi Melifonwu/A&M WR, Josh Reynolds

Since the two 6-foot-3-inch tall gentlemen are both set to go in the fourth or fifth round, they have little chance of both being drafted by the Steelers.


Phillips maintained his NFL Scouting Combine numbers during his Illinois Pro Day. Along with his 6-foot-3-inch frame, he weighed in at 242 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash while adding a 30-inch vertical jump. The numbers do not stand out by any means, negatively or positively. Phillips would most assuredly have liked to wow the scouts a little more since he only has one year as a full-time starter under his belt.

Smoot weighed in at the Scouting Combine at 264 pounds, ran a 4.77 40-yard dash while adding a 29.5-inch vertical jump. Smoot did add the bench-press to his workout at his Pro Day; lifting 225 pounds 21 times. Again, the numbers did not jump off the page to wow anyone; yet, his play at Illinois has him rated slightly higher than Phillips according to NFL.com.

What does the film say?

Many times in life, one can search for a certain item and unintentionally find pure gold in a completely different item. I started out looking at Smoot as a nice mid-round selection for the Steelers and in turn fell in love with Phillips’ skill set.

NFL.com says Smoot will be the better pro, yet CBSsports.com has Phillips rated slightly higher. However, the film shows Smoot is a good defensive end; Phillips has potential to become a great outside linebacker.

Both former Illini have high up-side when talking about their pro careers. Smoot has the body and ability to play end; yet, he takes himself out of plays by a simple push up-field by ordinary offensive tackles. Smoot’s hands need to get quicker; otherwise, NFL linemen will dominate him. However, his no-quit attitude and motor can wear offensive lines down much like Everson Griffen of the Vikings.

Phillips’ potential as an off-the-ball linebacker has this writer beaming with excitement. Although Phillips will need to work on his technique, his ability to crush ball carriers may be the reason the Steelers used an official 30 visit on the young man. If Phillips can bulk up while maintaining his quickness, the Steelers could easily draft and develop him for the future.

Bottom line(s)

Both young men ring true to their fourth or fifth-round projections. Both pass rushers are hard working, lunch pail types that all teams could use. If drafting purely on up-side, the Steelers may look toward Phillips over Smoot in the fourth-round.

Smoot’s talents point more toward a traditional 4-3 style defensive end; while, Phillips’ skill-set fits a 3-4 style outside linebacker. Both are talented young men, Phillips just fits the Steelers’ scheme a bit more.

Final thoughts

This writer is definitely in the minority when it comes to liking Phillips more than Smoot; yet, the Steelers have seemingly taken a liking to him as well. Neither prospect is a day-one starter without development; both have starter potential though.

While working with Lovie Smith at Illinois, both prospect’s skills will eventually be put on display in the NFL; just how soon is yet to be determined.

 Justin Ekstrom covers the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers for cover32, be sure to follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

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