Vince Williams will be forced to play too many snaps in 2020
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense still seems to be trending upwards, but here’s why Vince Williams will be forced into too big of a role in 2020.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a lot of problems in 2019. The defense was not one of them. Despite giving up over 28 points per game over the first three contests of the season, the Steelers allowed just 16.7 points per game from Week 4 last year.
This offseason, Javon Hargrave left for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, but most key players are returning. In his place, Stephon Tuitt is set to resume a full-time role along the defensive line this year. With the emergence of players like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush, Pittsburgh’s defense has a chance to be even better in 2020.
However, there is one area on defense that is more than a bit concerning: The inside linebacker position. While Bush showed a lot of promise as a rookie and will rarely leave the field barring injuries, the depth gets very shakey behind him. Mark Barron was cut this offseason, while Tyler Matakevich left for the Buffalo Bills in free agency.
Steelers will deploy Vince Williams too often
Because of this, veteran linebacker, Vince Williams, will be forced to play too many snaps in 2020. At this point in his NFL career, the 30-year-old linebacker should be given a diminishing task.
Last year, Williams did well in a limited capacity. Despite playing just 37 percent of snaps for Pittsburgh, Williams earned the second-highest grade of his NFL career in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. This was no doubt due to the fact that he wasn’t asked to do too much.
In the previous two years, Williams really struggled when he was forced to play much more. In 2017 and 2018, Williams played 75 percent and 71 percent of snaps, respectively, but posted some of the lowest grades of his career.
Obviously, Williams has never been a linebacker that was known for his coverage skills, and he’s been picked on more often in coverage over the past few seasons. With Barron and Matakevich no longer part of the team, and with Pittsburgh electing to ignore the linebacker position in the draft and free agency this year, Vince Williams will see more snaps. It’s just a question of how many.
Though Ulysees Gilbert impressed in his rookie preseason last year, there’s no guarantee that he will be ready to step into the nickel linebacker role in Pittsburgh his year. Even if he is able to help fill Mark Barron’s shoes on defense, the inexperience and lack of depth behind the starters will no doubt force Vince Williams to play more snaps than he should have to.
Don’t get me wrong; Vince Williams is still an excellent blitzer and a solid run defender. But if he’s asked to play in space too much this year, he will get exposed in coverage. Let’s hope the Pittsburgh Steelers have a plan at linebacker this year that doesn’t involve Williams playing more than 70 percent of defensive snaps.