Isaiahh Loudermilk had a plan for how he wanted his NFL draft moment to happen.
He’d have his family and a few friends gathered at Poplar Pizza in his hometown of Howard, Kansas. He’d get his call, learn his new football home and the party would start.
The former University of Wisconsin defensive end didn’t get that Hallmark moment, but the reason it fell through actually was positive. Loudermilk and his group were planning to get together at the restaurant around 3 p.m. Saturday, lining up it with the latter portion of the sixth round, which is where he was projected for much of the pre-draft process.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called just before 1:30 p.m. to inform Loudermilk the Steelers had traded up in the fifth round.
“I wasn't really expecting to get a call that early, so we were all spread out. My mom was outside working on a car. I was sitting down watching TV, but everyone was kind of spread out,” Loudermilk said, laughing as he recounted the story.
“I don’t even think anything was going through my mind, I just picked (the phone) up. I figured it was the call, but I wasn't 100% sure just because it was so early. Picked it up, it was coach Tomlin on the line, so I knew that they were about to pick me. I was pretty much in awe. Just shocked that it came so fast. Because it's been such a dream of mine, for it to kind of sneak up on me like that, it was awesome.”
Pittsburgh sent the Miami Dolphins a fourth-round pick in 2022 for the 156th pick this year to take Loudermilk.
Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said it was Loudermilk’s versatility that ultimately made him the team’s pick.
"He is a defensive lineman,” Dunbar told Steelers.com. "When I say defensive lineman, he is going to play everything from a five-technique to a zero-nose.
"He fits the mold for what we want to do here in Pittsburgh. He is a strapping young man. To get a kid with this kind of size and height in the fifth round is a really great gift for the Steelers.”
Moving along the line isn’t new for the 6-foot-7 Loudermilk. He finished with 63 total tackles, 11½ for loss and 7½ sacks in his 40 college games. He also had nine passes defended and two forced fumbles. He was able to amass those statistics while playing in a number of spots, and he rarely came off the field over the past two seasons.
The schemes run in Pittsburgh are very similar to the ones defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has installed at UW, Loudermilk said.
“I feel like they felt extremely comfortable with me,” Loudermilk said about the Steelers. “Having that versatility and you know, really knowing that scheme extremely well, I think gave them confidence in me. I’m extremely happy with what happened. It's a perfect scheme fit for me, so I'm ready to get into it.”
Loudermilk is set to report to Pittsburgh on May 13, so he plans to continue training and spending time with family over the next week-plus before starting his pro career.
After the pizza celebration, Loudermilk and his family returned home and watched a movie. He wasn’t sure what it would feel like to achieve his goal of an NFL opportunity, or to be drafted by a franchise with a history of success like Pittsburgh. In fact, he’s still waiting for his "I made it" feeling.
“I've been waiting for that moment — I don't think it's hit yet. I'm still excited,” Loudermilk said. “It all still feels kind of the same as it was before I was a draft pick. I’m still doing the same stuff, just a Steeler now.”
Looking back at the best Badgers rookies of the Super Bowl era
Jonathan Taylor, 2020Updated
Drafted: Second round, ninth pick (41st overall), Indianapolis Colts
Stats: 15 games played, 13 starts; 232 carries, 1,169 yards, 11 TDs; 36 catches, 299 yards, 1 TD.
The two-time Doak Walker Award winner moved into the Colts’ starting role early in the season and finished with the third-most rushing yards in the league.
Michael Deiter, 2019Updated
Drafted: Third round, 14th pick (78th overall), Miami Dolphins
Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts; aided a passing game that ranked 12th in the league in passing yards
Deiter earned a starting role in training camp and showed position flexibility by playing both guard spots.
Ryan Ramczyk, 2017Updated
Drafted: First round, 32nd pick (32nd overall), New Orleans Saints
Stats: Started all 16 games; aided an offense that scored the fourth-most points and gained the second-most yards in the league.
Ramczyk started the first four games at left tackle before becoming the Saints’ starting right tackle and earned PFWA All-Rookie honors.
T.J. Watt, 2017Updated
Drafted: First round, 30th pick (30th overall), Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: 15 games played, 15 starts; 54 combined tackles, 10 for loss, seven sacks; one interception and one forced fumble.
Watt played 77% of the Steelers’ defensive snaps and 34% of the special teams snaps as a rookie, and was named to the 2017 NFL All-Rookie Team.
Joe Schobert, 2016Updated
Drafted: Fourth round, first pick (99th overall), Cleveland Browns
Stats: 16 games played, four starts; 28 combined tackles, ½ sack, one pass defended
Schobert was in a rotation at inside linebacker for the Browns throughout the year, but proved to be a valuable special teams player, playing 64% of those plays.
Melvin Gordon, 2015Updated
Drafted: First round, 15th pick (15th overall), San Diego Chargers
Stats: 14 games played, 12 starts; 184 carries, 641 yards; 33 catches, 192 yards.
Splitting time with Danny Woodhead in the backfield, Gordon showed his explosiveness between the tackles. He struggled with fumbles, putting the ball on the ground six times.
Chris Borland, 2014Updated
Drafted: Third round, 13th pick (77th overall), San Francisco 49ers
Stats: 14 games played, eight starts; 107 total tackles, 12 for loss, one sack; five passed defended, two interceptions and one fumble recovery
Borland moved into a starting role midway through the season and made the most of his chance. He won defensive rookie of the month in November. He retired after his rookie season.
Travis Frederick, 2013Updated
Drafted: First round, 31st pick (31st overall), Dallas Cowboys
Stats: 16 starts; aided an offense that scored the fifth-most points in the league and had the third-most passing touchdowns
Frederick played every snap of the Cowboys season on offense as a rookie, earning second-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press.
Russell Wilson, 2012Updated
Drafted: Third round, 12th pick (75th overall), Seattle Seahawks
Stats: 16 starts; Completed 64.1% of his passes for 3,118 yards; Threw 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions
Wilson beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job, then led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record en route to earning a spot in the Pro Bowl.
J.J. Watt, 2011Updated
Drafted: First round, 11th pick (11th overall), Houston Texans
Stats: 16 starts; 56 total tackles, 13 for loss, 5½ sacks, 19 QB hits; Four passes defended, two fumble recoveries
It took a few weeks for Watt to get adjusted to the NFL, but he found his footing and tallied 10 of his TFLs in the second half of the season. He had 3½ sacks in two playoff games.
DeAndre Levy, 2009Updated
Drafted: Third round, 12th pick (76th overall), Detroit Lions
Stats: 16 games played, 10 starts; 85 combined tackles, seven for loss, one interception, five passes defended, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries
Levy played his way into the starting lineup in the first month of the season, showing solid pass coverage skills and strong tackling.
Joe Thomas, 2007Updated
Drafted: First round, third pick (third overall), Cleveland Browns
Stats: 16 starts; aided an offense that ranked eighth in the NFL in both points scored and total yardage
Thomas was even better than Cleveland could’ve expected, locking down their left tackle position and starting a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps played, which is considered to be the NFL record.
Owen Daniels, 2006Updated
Drafted: Fourth round, first pick (98th overall), Houston Texans
Stats: 14 games played, 12 starts; 34 catches, 352 yards, five touchdowns
Daniels became the starter after about a month and finished the season tied for sixth-most touchdowns among tight ends in the league.
Erasmus James, 2005Updated
Drafted: First round, 18th pick (18th overall), Minnesota Vikings
Stats: 15 games played, 9 starts; 28 total tackles, six for loss, four sacks; two passes defended, one forced fumble
James’ rookie season was his best in the NFL as injury issues plagued the rest of his career. After a sluggish start to the season, he helped the Vikings win six games in a row between weeks 9 and 14.
Lee Evans, 2004Updated
Drafted: First round, 13th pick (13th overall), Buffalo Bills
Stats: 16 games, 11 starts; 48 catches, 843 yards, nine touchdowns; five rushes, 85 yards; 17.5 yards per touch average
Evans set the Bills rookie record for receiving touchdowns, a record that still stands, and helped the Bills go 9-7, their first winning record in four seasons.
Michael Bennett, 2001Updated
Drafted: First round, 27th pick (27th overall), Minnesota Vikings
Stats: 13 games played, 13 starts; 172 rushes, 682 yards, two touchdowns; 29 catches, 226 yards, one touchdown
Bennett became the starter after the sudden retirement of Robert Smith but battled a midseason injury which cost him three games. His best performance was a home game against the Titans, tallying 113 yards and two scores.
Chris Chambers, 2001Updated
Drafted: Second round, 21st pick (52nd overall), Miami Dolphins
Stats: 16 games played, seven starts; 48 catches, 883 yards, seven touchdowns; 36 kick returns, 811 yards
Despite not becoming a regular starter until December, Chambers posted three games of at least 100 receiving yards and three games with multiple touchdowns.
Ron Dayne, 2000Updated
Drafted: First round, 11th pick (11th overall), New York Giants
Stats: 16 games played, four starts; 228 carries, 770 yards, five touchdowns; 3 catches, 11 yards
While splitting time in the backfield with Tiki Barber, the Heisman Trophy winner was a significant piece of an offense that led the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Troy Vincent, 1992Updated
Drafted: First round, seventh pick (seventh overall), Miami Dolphins
Stats: 15 games played, 14 starts; 77 tackles; two interceptions, two fumbles recovered, one fumble forced
Vincent earned a starting role for coach Don Shula after just one week and he showed his skills both in coverage and as a tackler.
Nate Odomes, 1987Updated
Drafted: Second round, first pick (29th overall), Buffalo Bills
Stats: 12 games played, 12 starts; 42 tackles, two fumbles recovered, one fumble forced
Odomes took a few weeks to move into the starting lineup, but started the final nine games and became a dependable cornerback for the Bills.
Al Toon, 1985Updated
Drafted: First round, 10th pick (10th overall), New York Jets
Stats: 15 games played, eight starts; 46 catches, 662 yards, three touchdowns
With a 156-yard performance in Week 9 serving as his coming-out party, Toon was a consistent play-maker down the stretch for a Jets team that went 11-5.
Tim Krumrie, 1983Updated
Drafted: 10th round, 25th pick (276th overall), Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: 16 games played, two starts; 53 tackles, 1½ sacks, one fumble recovery
Krumrie immediately proved his worth on the defensive line, helping the Bengals turn around a 1-6 start to finish 7-9.
Ray Snell, 1980Updated
Drafted: First round, 22nd pick (22nd overall), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats: 13 games played, 11 starts; aided a passing game that ranked 10th in the league in passing yards
Snell moved into the starting lineup in Week 3 and played multiple positions on the offensive line for the Bucs, who went 2-10-1.
Mike Webster, 1974Updated
Drafted: Fifth round, 21st pick (125th overall), Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: 14 games played, one start; aided an offense that ranked sixth in total points scored and eighth in yards gained
Webster was a rotational player in his rookie season, helping the Steelers win the Super Bowl and preparing himself for a Hall of Fame career.