The Steelers often turn to big-name Power-5 conference teams for help in the NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at two Alabama stud LBs in this edition of the Steelers Draft Watch.
After the conclusion of the 2016 season the Steelers linebacking core may look drastically different than it currently stands. OLB James Harrison is almost assuredly going to retire. OLB Jarvis Jones and ILB Lawrence Timmons are both slated to hit free agency. With 3 possible holes to fill, let’s take a look at two possible replacements.
ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Tomlin’s first ever draft pick, 2007 1st-rounder Lawrence Timmons, may be playing his final season in Pittsburgh. With a potential inside linebacker spot open next to rising star Ryan Shazier, the Steelers could potentially look to Tuscaloosa for his next running mate in Alabama ILB Reuben Foster.
Perhaps overshadowed earlier in his career by C.J. Mosley and Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster is expected to lead Alabama’s defense in 2016. There is a lot to like about Foster’s game, but perhaps his most intriguing quality is his explosive playing style.
Foster has eye-popping athleticism and can deliver jarring hits while also playing under control. Just type his name into YouTube and you can find some absolutely devastating hits. Check out Foster hustling down the field on special teams and blowing up LSU’s Heisman-worthy running back Leonard Fournette.
Foster plays with an aggressive demeanor and possesses fantastic closing speed to key in on ballcarriers. With reports claiming that Foster has shed an additional 15 lbs this past offseason, he may even become more explosive and I am excited to see the continued improvement in his game in 2016.
Foster has sideline to sideline range and the strength to beat blockers in the trenches. With his impressive read and react skills, Foster makes quick reads and always puts himself in a position to make a play. Then, Foster has the strength to keep himself clean in the trenches. He has no issue shedding blockers and sifting through traffic to get to the ballcarrier.
Foster actually plays similarly to Timmons in the earlier part of his career, as he possesses an excellent combination of instincts and explosion.
Lastly, Foster has flashed the ability to excel in coverage. With his great vision, Foster does a great job of patrolling the middle of the field in zone coverage and maintains proper eye discipline to read the quarterbacks eyes. The Steelers could use Foster as a QB spy in the middle of the field as he can jump passing lanes and is fast enough to take down scrambling quarterbacks.
As a senior in one of the most well-coached college programs in the country, Foster doesn’t have too many glaring holes in his game.
I have noticed that Foster has a propensity to aim too high on some of his tackle attempts. There were several plays late in the 2015 championship game against Clemson where Foster failed to wrap-up entirely, which led to splash plays by Clemson’s offense.
Foster also has room to develop and grow as a pass rusher. Too often relying upon his natural athleticism and strength to get after the QB, I would like to see Foster develop a better plan of attack as a pass rusher. Keith Butler loves to use creative blitz schemes that send ILBs after the QB, so improving his pass rushing skills is definitely an area where Foster could serve to improve.
It is easy to foresee a player like Reuben Foster filling Lawrence Timmons spot as the Buck linebacker next to Shazier. Foster has a similar game to Timmons with his downhill playing style, instincts, and strength. However I would see Foster as a huge upgrade due to his youth. Foster is simply more explosive and athletic than Timmons, who is isn’t the same player he once was due to his age. Foster can impact the game with his rim-rattling hits and potential to excel in coverage.
Ultimately, as tough as it is to say, this should be Timmons last year with Pittsburgh as a starter. Timmons is still an effective linebacker, but adding a dynamic linebacker like Foster would perfectly fit with the Steelers young and athletic defensive core. Let’s just win a 7th Lombardi to make Timmon’s potential last year in Pittsburgh special, so the goodbye isn’t so painful.
OLB Tim Williams, Alabama
Back to Bama’ for more possible defensive options.
Frustrated with Jarvis Jones’s lack of production as a first-rounder? Me too. So adding one of college football’s most lethal pass rushers, edge-rusher Tim Williams, seems like a dream scenario for the Steelers.
Alabama edge-rusher Tim Williams has a translatable NFL skill set. Perhaps his most exciting attribute is his excellent get-off. While not overly explosive in his first step, Williams has fantastic timing that allows him to blow by tackles before they can even get out of their stance.
Williams is always the first player on the field to get off the ball. He has made a habit of living in the offensive backfield and making plays. With 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in limited snaps in 2015, Williams is a game changer on defense.
Additionally, Williams combines his excellent snap-anticipation with elite hand usage. Williams has violent hands that can knock opposing blockers off balance or swat their hands out of his way. He does an excellent job of using his hands to set up his pass rushing moves and rushes the passer with an advanced plan of attack.
Overall, Williams is so developed and effective as a pass rusher. With a dominant spin move to make opposing tackles look silly, violent hands to fend off blockers, and the ability to simply explode off the line before blockers even leave their stance, Williams can do it all. Tim Williams can immediately contribute as a pass rushing specialist in the NFL. His skill set would be a huge upgrade for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense.
While Williams has a high upside as a potential double-digit sack monster, he has several weaknesses that he needs to improve upon.
His skill set would be a huge upgrade for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense.
First of all, Williams has room to add more bulk to his frame. At 237 lbs, Williams could stand to add some muscle to his body, which would allow him to stay balanced while rushing the passer. At times Williams is too easily knocked to the ground on light contact.
Furthermore, Williams will need to bulk up to have 3-down potential. Alabama used Williams mostly as a situational pass rusher in 2015, and he has yet to prove himself as a run defender. In fact, Williams only played around 20% of Alabama’s defensive snaps in 2015.
With limited reps and experience, Williams will need to prove he can handle a larger workload and contribute against the run in 2016.
Even with two recent first-round investments in outside linebackers, the Steelers will need to look to upgrade the position in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Steelers highest sack total from the OLB position in 2015 came from 38-year old James Harrison with a meager 5 sacks. Pittsburgh could stand to add additional pass-rushing help in the 2017 NFL Draft. Tim Williams could immediately give the Steelers the lethal pass rushing threat they have been searching for.
Interested in either of these Alabama linebackers? Make sure to check out their games for yourself Saturday night 8 ET on ABC. Catch the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide begin its season against the USC Trojans prolific offense.