The Steelers experience since 2013 at inside linebacker shows just how quickly a depth chart can flip in the NFL. When Larry Foote fell to injury on opening day 2013, Kion Wilson, a man with all of 5 NFL games to his name, was the only player they had available to step in to replace him.
By the time the 2014 NFL Draft arrived, depth at inside linebacker was a strength, and by opening day 2015 the Steelers depth at inside linebacker was the envy of the league. But free agency has plucked two players off of that depth chart, which begs the question – should the Pittsburgh Steelers begin restocking at inside linebacker in the 2016 NFL Draft?
Steelers Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters
Lawrence Timmons will return for his 10th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers this fall, and he’ll do so having played in 142 games, 110 of which he’s started, with 10 interceptions, 33 sacks and 12 forced fumbles to his name.
- All of those came before his 30th birthday.
Timmons has been a real pillar of stability on a defense that has lost many of its marquee names, and while he’s in the final year of his contract, the Steelers have shown every sign of offering him that precious third contract that would likely keep him in Pittsburgh for the duration of his career.
Playing opposite of Timmons is Ryan Shazier, the man the Steelers took in 2014 when all of Steelers Nation both wanted an expected them to get a cornerback.
Fans who were upset on draft day 2014, can see the wisdom of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s decision not to reach for need vindicated with Shazier’s forced fumble that flipped a certain loss to the Bengals in the playoffs.
The Steelers are set with Shazier.
Steelers Depth Cart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups
Behind Timmons and Shazier is Vince Williams, who will enter the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers drafted Vince Williams in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and Williams was starting by late September. Williams struggled, but came on strong late in the season, and has been an excellent back up provided a hard hitting presence whenever he’s entered a game.
- The Steelers of course lost Sean Spence and Terence Garvin in free agency.
They did however replace Garvin by signing Steven Johnson and they also will return L.J. Fort who held a roster spot but did not play in 2015, although he does have some game experience from his time with Cleveland and Seattle in 2014 and 2012. 2014 draftee Jordan Zumwalt will also get another shot at making the roster after spending his first two season on injured reserve.
Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Inside Linebacker
Everyone knows that, based on a pure needs analysis, secondary is the Steelers primary concern heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. But that was true in 2014 and 2015. Both times the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin ignored the conventional wisdom and took a player with a higher value in the first rounds.
- Might they do it again in 2016 and might that move involve an inside linebacker?
Perhaps, but don’t expect them to draft another inside linebacker early.
It is conceivable that the Steelers would want to part ways with Timmons after this season is done, but it is highly unlikely they would invest a first round pick this spring based on that inclination.
The Steelers won’t enjoy the depth they enjoyed at inside linebacker in 2015, but that depth was largely a product of Sean Spence making a recovery that they could not count on him to make. But the Steelers depth at inside linebacker is still strong, between Williams, Johnson, Fort and Zumwalt. Arthur Moats also has experience playing on the inside.
Given Pittsburgh’s two strong starters and quality depth behind them the Steelers 2016 draft need at inside linebacker must be considered Moderate-Low.