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Pittsburgh Steelers Undrafted Rookie Could Have Big Impact in 2013

Reggie Dunn Out to Prove His College Production Will Tranlate to the NFL

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Even with the NFL draft already two weeks behind us, most of the Pittsburgh Steelers fans that I've spoken with recently are still abuzz over the nine rookies picked during those seven rounds. With more holes than usual to fill, fans expect early-round selections like Jarvis Jones and Le'veon Bell to step up and make immediate impacts for the Steelers. While this is certainly possible, and in all likelihood probable considering the team's needs at outside linebacker and running back, the one rookie who could make the most contributions is one that didn't even get to hear his name called by commissioner Roger Goodell.

That would be undrafted free agent Reggie Dunn from the University of Utah. Though listed as a wide receiver for the Utes, the 5' 10", 175 lb Dunn truly made a name for himself as one of the absolute best kick returners in the nation last year. In fact, he set an NCAA single-season record by returning four kickoffs 100+ yards for touchdowns. What is even more impressive is that he did so with only 10 attempts. You see, after returning two of those touchdowns against California in the eighth game of the season, opposing teams knew enough to stop kicking the ball to Dunn, preferring to send their kicks out of bounds. Dunn also holds the NCAA career record for 100+ yard kickoff returns for touchdowns with five.

Dunn was able to accomplish these feats due to his world-class speed. He was timed at 4.22 and 4.26 in the 40-yard dash at the Utah pro day on March 20th. To put that into perspective for Steeler fans, Mike Wallace (widely regarded as one of the fastest players ever to wear the Black & Gold) ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2009.

"I have to say my first two steps are explosive, but for me, I think the key would have to be my speed and then translating that with my vision," Dunn said in an interview with Desert News reporter Brad Rock on May 2nd.

So while Dunn has the talent and the college pedigree to immediately step in as the primary returner for the Steelers, none of that would have mattered if the team already had an established player in that role. They do not. Last season, Chris Rainey returned 39 of the team's 43 kickoffs, none of them for touchdowns. He is now gone, having been released by the Steelers early in the offseason due to an alleged domestic violence incident. Receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders shared return duties the previous two seasons, but both are expected to be offensive starters in 2013 and head coach Mike Tomlin prefers not to use his starters in the return game if he can help it. That leaves recently signed free agent Larod Stephens-Howling and possibly sixth round pick Justin Brown as Dunn's main competition for the job. Brown, however, has limited experience as a returner and while Stephens-Howling had some success in the role with the Arizona Cardinals, he lacks the uncanny speed and explosiveness of Dunn.

Even so, Tomlin is well known for his desire for players with "position flexibility", and both Brown and Stephens-Howling are able to fill an offensive position as well as being a returner. Dunn, on the other hand, would strictly be a return specialist. Still, that may not eliminate him from landing a spot on the final 53-man roster, as there is a recent precedence for a return specialist making the team. In the 2009 preseason, little-known Stefan Logan made some noise by returning five kickoffs for 185 yards and nine punts for 191 yards and a touchdown. This production landed him on the regular season roster, and he would go on to set a Steelers record with 1,466 kickoff return yards for the year.

The Steelers have also had monster success in recent years from undrafted players like James Harrison and Willie Parker. History could very well repeat itself this year with Dunn, and he is certainly a name that fans will want to keep an eye on this preseason.

Sheldon Rodgers is a Pittsburgh native and is the third in a fourth generation Black & Gold family. He has been published in the Butler Eagle, FantasyPharaoh.com, and multiple other newspapers and websites.

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