Stevenson Sylvester Could Provide Steelers With More Draft Flexibility

By Cian Fahey

Reading too much into the words of Kevin Colbert or Mike Tomlin is most definitely a rookie mistake for anyone who\’s listening. However there was one notable excerpt from the comments of Tomlin and Colbert at the recent NFL meetings this past week which I can\’t help but put some credence in.

When talking to Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan of SiriusXM NFL Radio, Colbert said “Yeah, inside we\’ve had Larry Foote the last two seasons as a real good insurance policy and Stevenson Sylvester, a kid we drafted a couple of years ago, will compete with Larry for James\’ spot.”

Now while many were quick to crown Sylvester as the team\’s future starter at linebacker after a few preseason displays and special teams exertions, I\’ve always been cautious with evaluating him because, as outsiders, people tend to get carried away with athleticism and not understand the true intricacies that it takes to be a professional football player.

Sylvester obviously has an abundance of physical talent and the presence to form an intimidating duo with Lawrence Timmons inside, but whether he has even fully grasped the Steelers\’ scheme is a completely different thing.

He played outside linebacker, in a very different scheme, in college but has spent the past two seasons learning the position behind those who know it better than anyone: Foote and James Farrior. With Farrior moving on and Foote being an aging veteran, the Steelers were potentially in the market for another body inside whether it be through free agency or the draft.

However, the fact that Colbert talked about Sylvester as a potential starter opposed to just saying they have him as another body at the position, is a very good sign for Sylvester.

Impressive play in limited action and special teams doesn\’t always translate to defensive football. The Steelers have had some success instilling players through special teams into their defensive scheme in the past however, most notably Brett Keisel in recent times, and if Sylvester is following in Keisel\’s footsteps, that gives the team a huge boost for their off-season avenues to explore.

While Dave has already explored the idea of bringing in David Hawthorne as a late free agency gem, as he, much like myself, is not 100 percent convinced of Sylvester\’s abilities to step up, I am perfectly happy to move forward with Foote for the coming season if Sylvester is progressing well enough to be a long-term starter in his place.

Foote, in my opinion, should have been starting last year in Farrior\’s place so I don\’t expect any drop-off from the position next season with him as the starter. If Foote can hold down the proverbial fort for the next year, and Sylvester is showing enough promise to be the starter the following season, then the Steelers\’ flexibility this off-season grows.

Many of those who understand the upcoming NFL draft, specifically the talent available, in detail potentially see the Steelers taking an inside linebacker in the first round such as Luke Kuechly or Dont\’a Hightower.

If Sylvester is stepping up, the Steelers can forget about any inside linebackers for another year or at least with the early picks this year. With Jason Worilds ready to step in for James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in place outside, the Steelers could completely forget about linebackers this year (although, I doubt they will).

Instead, the Steelers have the option of trying to finish of the re-tooling of their defensive line which has taken place over the past few drafts with a new nose tackle. That is not a guarantee either though, as Colbert once again (I know, rookie mistakes, but stick with me!) didn\’t completely rule out the prospect of Willie Colon moving to guard.

Colon would move to guard in one of two situations. Either Max Starks would be fully healthy and re-sign with the team, or the Steelers would draft a tackle in the first round. The Steelers, under Colbert, will most likely stick to their mantra of taking the best player available in the first round, but this year they could have a few options because of the position they are in.

If it is a choice between adding a tackle, guard or inside linebacker of a certain level, you can all but guarantee that the team won\’t be taking the linebacker (presuming that Sylvester is stepping up). The Steelers do generally take the best player available, but this year they have very few, but very definite, holes on the roster.

If Sylvester removes one of those holes, then the possibility of trading up also becomes available. The Steelers roster is relatively deep compared to most in the NFL. With a new nose tackle, offensive tackle or guard, the team doesn\’t really have any pressing needs.

You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf

  • I know Keith Butler is pretty high on Stevenson. Part of the reason we didn’t see much of him in 2011, was because of injury. Like most of our LB’s, Stevenson had some hammy issues. If he’s ready to step up, it would be huge for the Steelers come draft day. Regardless, the Steelers do need to add depth at the position. I would love to see them draft Mychal Kendricks in the 3rd or 4th round. Keyron Fox is also a free agent. I realize no one is going to jump for joy over the prospect of bringing back Fox, but he does know the defense, and can probably be signing on the cheap.

  • Broderick Wallace

    Slim chance Sylvester is future starter at Buck LB position. I agree with David when he stated Sylvester is better fit as Mack LB playing behind Timmons. Picking at #24, Dont’a Hightower is definitely a “best player available” selection who also fills a need. Hightower and Timmons would be an excellent tandem. Defense wins championships!

  • Broderick Wallace

    Kendricks will be off the board if the Steelers do not select him in the 2nd round. 2012 ILB class is weak. Steelers better pull the trigger on ILB by 3rd round at latest.

    1 – Dont’a Hightower (my fav)
    2 – Mychal Kendricks (reminds me of Timmons)
    3 – Bobby Wagner (2nd fav)

  • You may be right about Sylvester. The best option may be to try Sylvester at the Mack, and move Timmons over. Contrary to what the Steelers have him listed at, Timmons is a big boy. The Steelers list most of their players at the height/weight they measured at during the NFL combine. Keith Butler stated that Timmons reported to camp, weighing over 250 last year.

  • Gevins

    If Mychal Kendricks is in the mold of Timmons why draft him when we need someone with the size of Hightower to play the Buck position. I do like to move Timmons over and use Stevenson as the mack.

  • LouPGH

    I doubt they bring in Hawthorne or bring back Fox, but the fact that they could coupled with the possibility that they expect Sylvester to step up, makes it sounds as if Hightower in the first is anything but a foregone conclusion. The Steelers have never forgotten about the LB position during the draft, but I’d rather seem some other (more glaring) holes filled.

  • I don’t think Hightower fits what the Steelers are looking for at ILB. They have had plenty of success with undersized ILB’s, who are smart, and tackle well. The problem with Hightower, is that he struggles in pass coverage.

    10 years ago, when offenses were much more likely to run on first and second down, and passing downs were much more predictable, a guy like Hightower could come off the field, with a nickle corner taking his place, and not miss many downs. Now, a lot of teams use first and second down, as passing downs.

    There is also the increased use of multiple TE sets, which allow teams to run and pass from the same formation. Offenses will key in on a guy like Hightower, and run a RB or TE at him, to take advantage of the mismatch in the passing attack. This is what the Ravens did in the 2011 season opener, and something the Patriots have been very successful at.

    I think what the Steelers are looking for at ILB, is a guy with a LB frame, and the skill set of a SS.

  • PoKey21

    Do you think If they sign Hawthorne it brings up again the possibility of cutting Foote?

  • Hampdemrocks

    Luke Kuechly is the only LB worth a first round pick for the Steelers… and that’s a luck of the draw to go down to a no.24 pick. If no Luke, then it should be the best Defensive leader available like Stephon Gilmore.

    Any of the third or fourth OTs and DTs aren’t worth a first round pick for Pitt; Mychal Kendricks would be awesome, but only as a second or third rounder because he’ll be on ST for two years.

    r1 = CB Stephon Gilmore; another field general
    r1 = OT Jonathan Martin
    r2 = OG Kelechi Osemele
    r3 = DT Mike Martin
    r4 = TE Ladarius Green

  • Hampdenrocks

    Absolutely. Especially if a deal is struck with Denver for the no.25 pick in this draft…. i think it’d be nutso to sign any receiver to more than 6-7M/year, which is what Wallace wants. We have too many receivers with talent to waste cap on a position that is not critical to the game plan.

    Get a stud LB with another leader in the secondary…. unless one of the top two big OTs fall.

  • Hampdenrocks

    i agree with Greig. there are much better players…. much better “leaders” on D available in the first round than Hightower. Luke is only LB worth a no.24 pick… otherwise take the best player period.

  • Jeremy

    ….now with Gay outta the secondary, your line would be a great draft. Carnel Lake is the best assistant coach looking to rebuild the stable, and it’ll be impossible to pass on Gilmore.

    you’re righton; only the the first two OTs are worth a number one pick. and i don’t see Hightower as a Steeler either.

  • LouPGH

    With Sanders’s injury history AB could very well be the only WR left next year if we let Wallace walk. You don’t strike gold in the third round that often. Taking Hightower isn’t exactly reaching, but it’s close.

  • The Steelers don’t need a player, with Hightower’s size at ILB. They prefer players in the mid 240’s. Timmons has more than enough size to play weak side ILB.