Steelers draft: Linebacker is quickly becoming one of Pittsburgh’s biggest needs
The Steelers are down to just three linebackers on their roster from 2019. Here’s how Pittsburgh could look to fill the void in 2020.
The Steelers have made several moves already this offseason – some predictable and some surprising. Though it didn’t come as a shock to see linebacker Mark Barron get released due to the substantial $8.1 million he was set to receive in 2020, Tyler Matakevich signing a two-year, $9 million deal with the Buffalo Bills was a bit of a surprise.
The loss of both of these defenders this offseason means that the Steelers are down to just three inside linebackers from their 2019 roster: Devin Bush, Vince Williams, and Ulysees Gilbert.
Bush had a very promising rookie year in 2019. Pittsburgh traded up ten spots in the 2019 NFL Draft to secure him, and that could prove to be an investment well spent. However, there are concerns with the other two linebackers on the team.
Vince Williams – a former 6th round draft choice in 2013 – is now 30 years old. Though he was credited for starting 8 games last season, he played just 37 percent of defensive snaps – his lowest mark since 2016. Williams is set to make over $14 million over the next two seasons for Pittsburgh, but the Steelers can’t even begin to look at getting out his contract until the 2021 offseason.
Ulysees Gilbert, on the other hand, is a cheap player – costing the Steelers just over $700 thousand against the cap in 2020. However, Gilbert is very much unproven. The former Akron star blew up his Pro Day in 2019 with terrific testing numbers, but his first season as a pro was derailed thanks to a season-ending injury.
The Steelers also have Robert Spillane under contract in 2020, but he has suited up for just 10 games in his two-year career and has never logged a defensive snap, according to Pro Football Reference.
Much of the linebacker talent has already been depleted in free agency, and the Steelers will probably be forced to look for one in the NFL Draft. There are a few names at the top of the list like Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray who are projected to be off the board before Pittsburgh’s first selection at 49 overall. However, linebackers like Ohio State’s Malik Harrison or Texas Tech’s Jordyn Brooks make sense for the Steelers in the middle rounds.
While Barron proved to be an underwhelming free-agent signing in 2019, Pittsburgh could look to bring him back on a cheaper deal for added depth his year.
Whichever direction they decide to go, one thing is for certain: Pittsburgh is desperately lacking depth at the linebacker position. Eventually, they will need to find a replacement for Vince Williams. But for now, they just need to worry about adding some quality depth.