Steelers 2016 Draft: Kentrell Brothers refortifies ILB position

Jan 30, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad running back Tyler Ervin of San Jose State (7) stiff arms South squad inside linebacker Kentrell Brothers of Missouri (10) as he carries the ball during second half of the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad running back Tyler Ervin of San Jose State (7) stiff arms South squad inside linebacker Kentrell Brothers of Missouri (10) as he carries the ball during second half of the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

With the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ inside linebacker position in question, the organization could turn to this year’s draft to refortify an important part of their defense.

Since becoming the first draft pick made in the Mike Tomlin era in 2007, Lawrence Timmons has epitomized the formula for what it takes to be an inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His eighty straight regular season games without missing a start are a testament to his durability as an athlete, but his numbers have regressed in the past two seasons.

Timmons is set to make over $8.5 million in the 2016 season.  At his current level of production, what he would make this coming season certainly isn’t up to the standards that were expected when the organization restructured his contract in 2013. Expect the Steelers to ask Timmons to accept a pay cut some time after the start of the new league year in March.

If Timmons were to decline accepting less money this year, it could possibly force the Steelers to cut him as a salary cap casualty. While not the most practical means of handling the situation, it would save the organization a significant amount of money on the linebacker’s deal. If it seems outside the realm of possibilities that this would happen to such a prolific player, remember that it has happened before.

To make matters worse, Sean Spence and Terence Garvin have played out their contracts and are free agents this year. Primarily a player on special teams, Garvin should not be a difficult resign for the Steelers. Spence, on the other hand, could draw interest from multiple teams due to the fact that he has experience as a starter and could warrant a low price tag. Being an unrestricted free agent, Pittsburgh would not have the opportunity to match any offers made by other teams if Spence were to weigh his options on the market.

Vince Williams, the Steelers’ six round draft pick in 2013, is in the final year of his rookie deal, but is not seen as a long-term solution at the position. This was made evident when the Steelers made Ryan Shazier their first round draft pick the following year. Williams could be offered a contract following 2016 that would keep him as the dependable depth player he is, but registering half a sack in three years and his tendency to struggle on the field give the Steelers reason not to place their future in his hands.

The Steelers have a little under two months until this year’s draft is upon them. In that time the NFL’s scouting combine, Pro Days, and meetings with players will gauge who will be their first overall selection when the organization is on the clock at 25th overall. Depending on how they go about utilizing their first pick in the draft,as well as signings made in free agency beforehand, will affect how their second round pick, 58th overall, is spent.

While there is no way to determine how the Steelers will approach their draft strategy, inside linebacker is a position that they will have to eventually address. One solid athlete that could help them do just that could very well be available in the second round. He has all the makings of a first round pick and potential starter for years to come.

Kentrell Brothers, linebacker, University of Missouri.

The 6’1″, 235 lbs middle linebacker had one of the best senior years out of any student athlete in 2015. Leading the nation in tackles with 152 (12 for a loss), Brothers posted double digit tackles in eleven of the twelve games he appeared in. He finished out his senior season at Mizzou with 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

The University of Missouri is known for producing quality talent on defense. Kony Ealy and Shane Ray are two former Mizzou standouts that will be playing for the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, respectively, while Markus Golden and Sheldon Richardson, of the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets, were part of two of the best defensive units in the NFL. While this does not automatically guarantee success, Mizzou’s pedigree under defensive coorindator turned head coach Barry Odom is one of the best of any school in the NCAA.

Considered to be undersized by many draft scouts (Once upon a time, so too was Timmons), Brothers makes up for what many consider his disadvantages with great tackling ability and awareness. Speed was also a knock against Brothers’ ability, but the linebacker has shown he can be quite quick in certain situations. On the Steelers’ defense he would be much closer to the line of scrimmage than he was in Mizzou when he was placed in the middle in nickel situations.

Brothers earned an invitation to the 2016 Senior Bowl where he was able to put his talents on display early. He recorded six tackles in the contest. Below are two plays that stood out most in what makes the linebacker as highly touted as he was in college.

The clip above shows Brothers making excellent use of his instincts and speed to burst through an opening created by his defensive line to stop a short yardage run situation that could have easily turned into a first down had he not made an excellent play on the running back. He may not be a hard-hitting linebacker that the league demands from their defenders, but he has exceptional tackling skills, something the Steelers lacked at times in 2015.

On the next play, Brothers was tasked once again with stopping a short yardage play. Using the field of vision to his advantage, he anticipated the running back’s movements and put himself into a position to make a tackle. Being situationally aware and having excellent tackling ability are just a few of the things that make this young prospect a promising candidate for the future of the Steelers’ defense.

Along with his abilities as an athlete, he is also gifted as a leader. When Ray and Golden left in their junior years to enter the 2015 draft, it was Brothers who stayed behind and became the figurehead of the Tigers’ defense. Even though the second half of Mizzou’s season ended terribly due to inexperienced play on offense and distractions that occurred off the field, it was their defense, with Brothers having double digit tackles in the final seven games of the season, that gave hope to an athletic department surrounded by controversy.

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With all the talent that is available for the organizations in the NFL to select in the first round, it is possible that Brothers can slip into day two of the draft. If so, the Steelers will be in a position to add the future star to their defensive roster. Kentrell Brothers had an amazing collegiate career in the Black and Gold, it is only fitting that he continue what is to be a promising career at the professional level in the very same.