Safety or Hybrid Linebacker? A Look at Steelers UDRFA Donovan Stiner

By Jeremy Hritz

The Steelers were active in pursuing undrafted rookie free agents at positions of need following the 2021 NFL Draft–outside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. At safety, former Penn Stater and Pittsburgh native Lamont Wade, signed with the Steelers to provide depth at the safety position. Also added to the position was University of Florida product, Donovan Stiner, a 6’2, 210 pound safety who has the size and the desired physical measurables to play at the back end of the defense.

Beyond the starters of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, the safety room is somewhat of an unknown, with newly signed free agent from Detroit, Miles Kilebrew (more of a special team terror), and second year player, Antoine Brooks, Jr. Outside of these names, Stiner will compete with Wade, and also Tre Norwood, and will aim to show he belongs with the Steelers.

At his Florida Pro Day, Stiner ran a 4.56 and had a 3-cone time of 7.08, while throwing up 15 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. This shows a respectable combination of athleticism which is valuable in the NFL. Against the run, Stiner plays best when close to the line of scrimmage, as opposed to breaking down in space to make a tackle. This puts him at risk for giving up the big play if he is isolated in space against a ball carrier. Against the passing game, he is better with zone coverage concepts than he is with man coverage, so his role would have to conform to this skillset. Finally, Stiner has football intelligence, and a love for contact, never shying away from delivering a monster hit. And to Danny Smith’s delight, Stiner has experience and willingness to contribute on special teams.

During his time at Florida, he recorded 6 interceptions and 145 tackles, demonstrating both ball skills and effectiveness in the run-defending game. His fit for the Steelers would be more in the area as a tweener/hybrid linebacker, similar to the approach taken with Marcus Allen, instead of a pure, every down safety. With the multiple looks the Steelers defense provides, players like Stiner who can fluidly shift back and forth from coverage and run support responsibilities, are invaluable, and it is no surprise the team is bringing him in for an evaluation. 

Stiner will be in a competition with Brooks, Norwood, and Wade for both the 4th safety with the consolation prize of a spot on the practice squad. Or, his versatility and similarities to Allen, earn him a depth spot as a tweener on the practice squad.

It will be interesting to watch camp unfold and to see what plans the Steelers have for Stiner, and whether or not they see him as a true safety, or as a player without a home, with one foot in linebacker land, and another in the territory of safety. When the final roster and practice squads are determined, Stiner won’t care where it is, just as long as he sticks.

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