By Matthew Marczi
The latest depth chart for the Pittsburgh Steelers revealed some good news and bad news for certain players, depending on who is moving up and who is moving down. As Dave noted, David Johnson was given the nod over second-year tight end David Paulson as the top healthy player at the position; however, that was not the only move.
Also moving up on the depth chart is rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams. Previously listed as the fourth-team Buck linebacker behind Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, and Brian Rolle, Williams is now listed as the second-team linebacker along with Marshall McFadden.
With the Steelers releasing Sylvester, it is obvious that Williams was going to move up by default. However, Rolle had been running with the second-team defense ever since the first practices after the first preseason game, when Sylvester was injured. He was still in with the second-team in Saturday night’s overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Williams entered the game along with Kion Wilson as the third-team inside linebackers with just under five minutes to play in regulation and spent the vast majority of his time in pass coverage—to be specific, 18 of his 27 plays, using Pro Football Focus’s charting data. He was targeted four times, yielding two receptions for 16 yards, one of those going for 14. He also registered a pass deflection.
Considering pass coverage was the primary area of concern for the Steelers regarding Williams when they drafted him with the second of their two sixth-round draft picks this year, his showing in coverage this season has evidently met or exceeded the coaching staff’s expectations.
In college, Williams was regarded as a smart, hard-hitting run stopper, but he was taken off the field on third downs in favor of an extra defensive back, which led to the questioning of how he would perform as a three-down linebacker at the next level. He has clearly worked hard on this aspect of his game, as it is evident on the field.
It is important to keep in mind that even the depth chart heading into the final preseason game is in a constant fluid state. Earlier, Isaiah Green was promoted ahead of Josh Victorian on the depth chart, where he remains, yet Victorian has been the one receiving earlier playing time.
Therefore, just because Williams is now shown as being ahead of Rolle on the depth chart does not mean that that will be reflected on the field on Thursday, nor will it necessarily mean that the Steelers choose to go with Williams over Rolle when the final roster is made on Saturday.
Of course, it is highly possible that the Steelers choose to carry five inside linebackers this year, and given that Williams is listed as the second-team inside linebacker yet Rolle was playing second-team, that is a strong indication that the Steelers are fans of both. In addition, both are able to play special teams. Traditionally, if the Steelers carry nine linebackers, the ninth has been an outside player, but if there is a year to break that tradition, it is this one.