The Pittsburgh Panthers held their Pro Day on Wednesday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers just so happened to be in the area, so you could imagine it was pretty well attended on their part. Although the biggest of the big dogs weren’t there—head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan—they had more than enough eyes in the building to get a good look at the Panthers’ top prospects.
The one prospect receiving the most attention is defensive lineman Calijah Kancey. That is no surprise given the comparisons likening him to Aaron Donald, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who also just so happened to come out of Pitt as an undersized defensive tackle.
“That’s a great comparison. Something to be happy about”, he told Mike DeFabo of The Athletic during the event when asked about the frequent connections draft analysts have made between himself and his fellow Panthers alum. “But I’m Calijah Kancey”.
Kancey did make a name for himself by posting the fastest 40-yard dash time for a defensive tackle in the history of the NFL Scouting Combine —breaking Donald’s record. But questions remain about his draft status and whether he is a legitimate first-round target.
It goes without saying that any comparisons to a player of Donald’s stature are doomed to overpromise. There is only one Aaron Donald. Kancey wants to be the one and only Calijah Kancey. But there are always those who blaze the trail. Donald likely isn’t a first-round pick if Geno Atkins didn’t first offer the proof of concept for the success of an undersized defensive tackle.
Atkins, at 6’1”, 300 pounds, was a two-time All-Pro as a 2010 fourth-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. Four years later, the 6’1”, 280-pound Donald was drafted 13th overall.
As impressive as Kancey may have looked at times at Pitt, he didn’t have Donald’s numbers. Indeed, Donald virtually doubled Kancey’s production in every major category, though he did play in about a quarter more games. But he’s just ready to play football. All the rest is just words.
“Playing defensive tackle, you’ve got to play with great pad level. No defensive linemen play at 6’7””, he said. “You’ve got to bend at the point of attack, and you’ve got to play with good footwork, good pad level or you’re going to get moved around. So I feel like my height has nothing to do with me playing that position”.
Another very successful defensive tackle of shorter stature spent four seasons inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. That would be Javon Hargrave, who just signed a four-year, $81 million contract this offseason with the San Francisco 49ers. Size isn’t everything. Production is.