7 Steelers Inside Linebacker Draft Targets
Steelers Inside Linebacker Targets: Late Round/UDFA
There’s always the off-chance the Steelers can find a late-round gem at the linebacker position. Mark Robinson remains an interesting player on the roster, but his future remains unknown. In recent years, Pittsburgh has had some success finding quality special teamers in the later rounds (Marcus Allen, Tyler Matakevich). Perhaps they could find their next one with these two selections. Both fit the Marcus Allen mold because they were safety/linebacker hybrids in college and would transition fully to linebacker in the NFL.
If you follow the NFL Draft closely, specifically the collegiate all-star game circuit, then Marte Mapu’s name should be familiar. To most, he is an unknown name from an FCS school. But Mapu is a deep sleeper with a high ceiling that could be a perfect late-round flyer for a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mapu is listed as a nickel back for the Sacramento State Hornets, but that barely scratches the surface. Mapu played all over the defensive backfield for Sacramento State, logging starts at nickel, linebacker (inside and outside), and safety. Going back even further, he played quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, and safety in high school.
Over the last two seasons, Mapu has been one of the best defensive players at the FCS level. In 2021, he earned 2nd-Team All-Big Sky after recording four interceptions and ten passes defended. But he really broke out in 2022, racking up 76 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one sack, and one blocked kick.
He earned consensus All-American honors and won the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year award. In the postseason, Mapu was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, but he performed so well there that he got a late call-up to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, the preeminent college all-star showcase. He also earned significant praise for his performance in Mobile, displaying his speed, athleticism, playmaking ability, and unrelenting motor.
With all that being said, the problems with Mapu are glaring. He’s undersized, positionless, and an older prospect (sixth-year) from an FCS school. Granted, he would naturally get his start on special teams, but there will likely be a significant learning curve for him on defense.
Nevertheless, late-round picks, especially seventh-rounders, are dart throws, and teams typically want to bet on traits and high ceilings rather than high floors. Just look at Chris Oladokun from last year. It wouldn’t be hard for Mapu to contribute more to the Steelers than Oladokun.
Luckily, Charlie Thomas has already been transitioning from safety to linebacker for multiple seasons. Initially recruited as a safety by Georgia Tech, Thomas was thrust into a position change as a true freshman due to injuries and lack of depth. He actually spent most of his snaps aligned as a defensive lineman on the line of scrimmage in 2018. Thomas then started spending more time in the slot as a linebacker/safety hybrid in 2021 before returning mostly to the box in 2022.
Thomas is objectively undersized (listed at 6’2”, 207 by Georgia Tech) but has been putting on more weight (came in at 216 at the Scouting Combine) to prepare for the physical rigors of the NFL. But he’s very fast and athletic, earning an 8.16 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) from his numbers at the Combine.
The former Yellow Jacket also displayed a knack for creating splash plays as he took on a bigger role in the GT defense. In 2022, he recorded two of each of the following: sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and interceptions. With his athleticism, he’s also a threat to convert turnovers into big returns and possibly even touchdowns.
There also seems to be some mutual interest between Thomas and the Steelers. In an interview at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas, Thomas indicated he would be very interested in playing for Pittsburgh due to his admiration for Mike Tomlin and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Furthermore, at Georgia Tech’s pro day, where all 32 NFL teams were represented, Pittsburgh’s senior scout Phil Kreidler was in attendance, possibly to check out Thomas. He could end up being an early contributor on special teams who carves out a niche role in the defense by the final third of the season.