Two hundred and forty five – a number that newly drafted Pittsburgh Steelers’ interior linebacker Tyler Matakevich will likely remember for the entirety of his career in the National Football League.
Two hundred and forty five athletes were chosen before the Steelers made Matakevich their last selection in the 2016 NFL draft. With a need for depth behind starting middle linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, the Steelers made an excellent low risk, high reward selection.
The loss of Terence Garvin and Sean Spence during free agency struck a blow to the depth at inside linebacker the Steelers have possessed for years. Garvin was mainly utilized in special teams, but had multiple years of experience doing so. Spence, who started in 13 games in the past two seasons when Shazier was injured, has the ability to make a capable starter for the Tennessee Titans.
Matakevich joins Vince Williams, Steven Johnson, Jordan Zumwalt, and L.J. Fort as the list of depth at interior linebacker on the Steelers’ 90-man off season roster. The biggest question concerning the former Temple Owl is: How good of a chance does he has of making the Steelers’ final roster?
When describing Matakevich, one word is most consistently used by draft analysts and talent scouts: Average. His skill set, size, speed, and athleticism are all seen as sub-par by many around the league, which is one of the main reasons he was available for the Steelers in the seventh round.
One thing that is not average about the man is his production on the field. In his four years at Temple, Matakevich tallied 493 tackles (40.5 for loss), seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. Put these stats behind the name of a larger linebacker in a collegiate conference such as the SEC or Big Ten, and he would be a first round or high second round talent.
The Steelers are quite proficient in taking late round prospects deemed undersized for their positions and molding them into starting caliber athletes. Under the tutelage of the Steelers’ coaching staff, two well known day three selections have made their distinctive marks in the game.
Under wide receiver coach Richard Mann, sixth-round pick Antonio Brown has ascended to the top tier of receivers in the league after being described as undersized and unable to contend with more physical cornerbacks at the professional level.
With the help of offensive lineman coach Mike Munchak, Kelvin Beachum evolved into a three-year starter on the Steelers’ offensive line after being selected in the seventh-round of the 2012 draft that was also considered to be undersized. His efforts made him one of the league’s top free agent prospects before being signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Inside linebacker coach Jerry Olsavsky will be tasked with developing Matakevich into the Steelers’ next premiere late round talent. How successful Matakevich is at the professional level will depend on his work ethic and his desire to succeed. By the look of things, he has all the motivation in the world to do so.
Realistically, Matakevich has a good chance to make the Steelers’ final roster as the fourth middle linebacker. The void left by Spence’s departure will be up for grabs, and his opposition is not very threatening.
Zumwalt has made his way to the injured/reserve list for two consecutive years, and the Steelers could decide his stint in Pittsburgh is over if Matakevich proves more productive. Johnson is more proficient in special teams, only appearing in 26 defensive snaps for the Titans in 2015.
As for L.J. Fort, the linebacker has bounced between multiple teams since 2012, which was his only productive season statistically. Although he has yet to appear in a single snap at the professional level, Matakevich has a vast amount of potential just waiting to be developed.
Matakevich will start his career on the special team’s unit, but with the sub packages the team uses for their inside linebackers, and the unfortunate fact that Shazier has a history of injuries in his young career, he could find himself in the Steelers’ defensive rotation very early.
With Timmons and Williams both in contract years, it is uncertain how the organization will go about re-signing either player. The most likely scenario would be Timmons, who turns 30 on May 14th, being offered a team friendly two or three-year extension. It is very unlikely the Steelers will offer him a long-term deal based on how they have handled aging members of their defense in the past.
Williams would be the cheaper option of the two, seeing as the Steelers will have key members of their offense entering contract years. Le’Veon Bell and David DeCastro are up for extensions, and Antonio Brown’s blockbuster contract is ever looming. The Steelers might not be able to afford what Timmons expects to be paid.
The Steelers would do well to begin developing Matakevich as soon as possible by making him a member of the 53-man roster before the 2016 season begins. Stashing him on the practice squad could make him a target for other teams, as such almost happened with Doran Grant last season.
Tyler Matakevich has the potential to be a great addition to the Steelers’ linebacker corps. With the uncertainties that lie ahead at the position, he can make a strong case to secure an eventual starting position next to Ryan Shazier. One thing he doesn’t lack is the motivation to do so, having 245 reasons to show the NFL he is far from average.