After suffering waddling in mediocrity in the ‘80’s and early 1990’s, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been blessed with good to great defensive lines since the not so coincidental arrival of John Mitchell in 1994.
- What’s almost as impressive, is how the Pittsburgh has pulled it off.
Yes, premium picks such as Joel Steed, Casey Hampton, Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have delivered. But players who were afterthoughts on draft day have been equally important to this equation: Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke and Steve McLendon.
When the Steelers picked L.T. Walton in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft, he informed John Mitchell that he preferred to be calls “L.T.” instead of Leterrius Walton. Mitchell told him that was fine, as long as he played like “L.T.”
Clearly, he hasn’t been a Lawrence Taylor, but has L.T. Walton played well enough to deserve a second contract from the Pittsburgh Steelers? Today we take a look.
Capsule Profile of L.T. Walton’s Steelers Career
L.T. Walton earned a roster spot as a rookie, but didn’t play much. This is no surprise, because rookies not named “Hampton” or “Tuitt” rarely if ever played for John Mitchell
By late November of his “sophomore” season L.T. Walton had only seen spot duty in weeks 4, 6, and 7. Yet during the Steelers road win over Cleveland, Jim Wexell tweeted:
LT Walton alert
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) November 20, 2016
In a single game, Walton nearly doubled his season snap count, and injuries to Cam Heyward kept Walton on the field, and opened the door to 4 starts.
And while Walton didn’t make any splash plays, the Steelers defense improved during the latter half of 2016. Most of that improvement came from James Harrison starting over Jarvis Jones, and Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and Artie Burns stepping up.
- But it is also true that this improvement never happens without stable defensive line play, which Walton helped deliver.
Could L.T. Walton continue to improve in 2017? The record was mixed. L.T. Walton’s 2017 snap count dropped from 24% to 14%, but the line was much deeper and healthier. And he registered sacks in the Steelers wins over Tennessee and Green Bay.
- Walton also saw did see action on the Steelers playoff loss to the Jaguars, primarily at nose tackle in for an injured Javon Hargrave.
And while it would be unfair to scapegoat Walton for that atrocious run defense fielded by the Steelers that day, L.T. Walton’s response to Leonard Fournette was as flat footed as any other man wearing Black and Gold on that infamous afternoon.
In 2018 Karl Dunbar’s arrival saw the surprise decision to retain Daniel McCullers, and L.T. Walton found himself on the inactive list behind McCullers and in active for all but 4 games, as his snap count dwindled to below 5%.
The Case for the Steelers Resigning L.T. Walton
L.T. Walton knows the system, and while he might not be anything more than an emergency substitute at nose tackle, L.T. Walton has delivered whenever the Steelers have called his number at defensive end.
- No NFL team is going to throw money at L.T. Walton.
But that doesn’t mean he is of no use to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have 4 solid defensive lineman signed for the 2019 season, and L.T. Walton would give them a backup with serviceable skills, whose strengths and weakness are well known to the coaching staff.
And L.T. Walton can be had at the veteran minimum. Those are all good reasons to keep him in Pittsburgh.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning L.T. Walton
If Karl Dunbar didn’t think enough of L.T. Walton to play him ahead of Daniel McCullers in 2018, there seems to be little hope of L.T. Walton securing roster spot 2019. Considering that he was a 6th round pick, the Steelers can say they’ve gotten good value out of L.T. Walton on his rookie contracts.
But Walton really hasn’t authored much of a case for him getting a second NFL contract. L.T. Walton might carve a role out for himself as a backup defensive lineman for some other team, but the Steelers would be wiser giving some other younger player a shot.
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and L.T. Walton
In a word, L.T. Walton’s impending free agency isn’t quite generating the buzz that Le’Veon Bell’s is, or even Jesse James’. No surprise there. The Steelers themselves likely haven’t given the issue much thought one way or another.
- L.T. Walton’s reduced playing time at the expense of Daniel McCullers however is NOT a good sign.
However, these signs can be misleading. Daniel McCullers was inactive for the Jaguars playoff loss, in a game where both Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt were hobbled by injuries. Yet against all odds, Daniel McCullers was back.
- Could something similar happen to L.T. Walton in 2019?
Probably not. The Steelers will likely allow L.T. Walton to become a free agent while they try to add a defensive lineman late in the 2019 NFL Draft. If that falls through, there’s a good chance L.T. Walton could still be in need of a job.