Steelers draft preview: Linebackers
This is the sixth of seven Pittsburgh Steelers position-by-position analyses for the 2019 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday:
Currently on roster: Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Jon Bostic, Tyler Matakevich, Robert Spillane, Ryan Shazier
Last five drafts: Shazier was the Steelers’ top pick in 2014 and was on the verge of NFL stardom when he suffered a spinal contusion on Dec. 4, 2017. He has made progress in his recovery but will miss at least another entire season. Matakevich was a seventh-round pick in 2016 and has served as a special teams guy while providing depth inside. Jordan Zumwalt, a sixth-rounder in 2014, never made an impact in the NFL.
Top inside linebackers available: Devin White, LSU; Devin Bush Jr., Michigan; Mack Wilson, Alabama; Vosean Joseph, Florida
The Steelers might select: White, Bush, Wilson, Joseph, NC State’s Germaine Pratt, Washington’s Ben Burr-Kirven, Notre Dame’s Te’von Coney, West Virginia’s David Long Jr.
Analysis: The Steelers’ defense needs a dynamic player at inside linebacker, and they haven’t had one since Shazier’s injury. Bostic was given the job last year, and Barron was signed during free agency and will get a chance to start alongside Williams in 2019. However, if White or Bush is still on the board when the Steelers select at No. 20 Thursday (White most likely won’t be), the Steelers could have that dynamic inside linebacker to replace Shazier. Some mock drafts have Bush still available for the Steelers at No. 20, or they could trade up to get either one. After White and Bush, the quality of inside linebackers drops a bit, so the Steelers would turn their attention to the second-fourth rounds to try and get a player who might not make an immediate impact but could eventually be a difference maker. The list of those potential picks is lengthy, but Wilson would be the next best option.
Currently on roster: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeniyl, Keion Adams, Tegray Scales, J.T. Jones
Last five drafts: Watt, the Steelers’ top pick in 2017, has averaged 10 sacks and 61 tackles per season in his two years. Dupree, the top pick in 2015, has averaged five sacks and 33 tackles per season in his four years. Chickillo has been a good backup after being selected in the sixth round in 2015. Adams, seventh-round pick in 2017, will get another chance to make the team this year. Travis Feeney, sixth-rounder in 2016, most recently played in the Alliance of American Football with San Diego.
Top outside linebackers available: Josh Allen, Kentucky; Brian Burns, Florida State; Justin Hollins, Oregon; Chase Winovich, Michigan; Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion; D’Andre Walker, Georgia
The Steelers might select: Hollins, Winovich, Ximines, Walker, TCU’s Ben Banogu, Oklahoma State’s Jordan Brailford, Florida’s Jachai Polite
Analysis: Outside linebacker isn’t as big of a need for the Steelers as inside linebacker or cornerback, so don’t expect the Steelers to go in that direction with their top pick. But, although Watt has flourished, underachieving Dupree is in the final year of his contract with not great depth behind him, so a need does exist. Expect the Steelers to be looking at outside linebacker in possibly the third-sixth rounds, where they have seven picks. It’s hard to project who will still be available in those rounds, but converted defensive ends, like Winovich and Banogu, seem to work out for the Steelers (i.e. Watt, LaMarr Woodley, Joey Porter and Jason Gildon).
Coming Wednesday: Defensive backs
— Buck Frank