Wisconsin LB Leo Chanel uses TJ Watt’s advice in Pittsburgh Steelers reunion

INDIANAPOLIS — The Pittsburgh Steelers officially met Wisconsin star inside linebacker Leo Chanel at the 2022 NFL Combine.

After giving up the fastest yards in franchise history during the 2021 NFL season, it’s clear Pittsburgh is prioritizing its front seven this offseason. Chenal is a physical inside linebacker prospect who does most of his best work playing downhill.

“It was a good meeting with them,” Chenal said. “A lot of nice guys in this room. I respect them a lot.” He added that he “has met the whole front office, the head coach and guys like that.”

As an inside linebacker, playing for the Steelers is often a dream come true for players given their rich history as great players in that position.

“It would mean a lot, like any other organization,” Chenal said. “The Steelers have a great defensive mindset and I love that. They’ve produced a lot of defensive players of the year. It would be cool to be able to follow in their footsteps and look up to guys like that.”

There’s a common misconception among football minds that he and Chenal are a “comeback linebacker”, which really isn’t the case. He’s a player who excels in downhill versus running and quarterback blitzing, but he’s also more athletic than expected and respectable in his coverage.

He agreed with my assessment on this and jokingly said “I like you”.

“People can watch a movie and that’s an objective thing,” Chanel added. “I can’t sit here and say oh no, you can’t think that because it’s on film. But it’s definitely an opinion and you have to respect their opinion, but I’m going to keep doing do my best and improve. Some of the things they say are right and you definitely have to realize where your weaknesses are and be able to improve. So I’m really working on things like that.

Chenal was often tasked with blitzing transmissions and had great success doing so, racking up seven sacks in his final season at Madison. Since he wasn’t primarily asked to do a ton of coverage, I wanted to gauge his comfort level in that area.

“Oh yeah, I definitely feel comfortable,” Chenal said. “But at the same time, I can improve so much. Not just in pass coverage, but in all aspects of my game. That’s the most exciting part. I’m just ready to create and improve. in every part of my game.”

The Wisconsin program is familiar territory for the Steelers scouting department. In recent years, under Kevin Colbert, the team drafted TJ Watt and Isaiahh Loudermilk, while also acquiring Joe Schobert via trade.

Chenal said he spoke to Watt during the process, but nothing too much.

“Just quick questions for advice and he’s a guy who’s super helpful, who wants to help the next generation,” Chenal said. “Isaiahh is a guy I played with in Madison. He’s a funny guy, he’s kind of like me, pretty quiet but he’s a funny guy.”

The Steelers are unsurprisingly doing extensive work on this class of deep inside linebackers and rightfully so after their linebackers struggled a lot last season in both phases. There are a ton of talented guys in the class, but few, if any, fit the Steelers’ needs better than Chenal.

If you’re looking for a guy who can come in and turn your front seven and more importantly, run defense, Chenal is the guy. A phenomenal player against the run who really excels at dealing with blockers at the point of attack.

He’s a phenomenal blitzer down the middle who’s a handful to stay engaged with at the point of attack. If you want proof of his strength, speed and ability to clear blocks, ask Tyler Linderbaum who is considered one of the safest prospects in the class but really struggled to contain Chenal during their game last season.

Although he hasn’t been asked to do so frequently, Chenal has also shown promise in the coverage of games I’ve watched. He has a good knowledge of area drops and displays a basic understanding of route concepts. There were even a few instances where he was asked to wear the number three receiver in the slot vertically along the seam.

He will struggle at first, but there is enough athleticism and flashes to bet on him as a player.

With Schobert taking a big hit this season and Devin Bush stepping back in his return from the ACL injury in 2020, the Steelers’ core linebacker could use an infusion of talent.

Every year, after the pre-draft process is complete, there are about a dozen players that you have a good feeling about in terms of draft potential in Pittsburgh. Chenal has a glove-like fit and a guy that looks like a Steeler.

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