Steelers Draft Needs – Inside Linebacker
Earlier in the offseason, we took a position-by-position look at where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand with their roster before the free agency process both ravaged and replenished the talent pool.
The Steelers entered the process with 22 free agents. They re-signed six of them, while losing eight more to other teams, with eight remaining unsigned. They also added seven free agents from other teams.
With the roster picture now much clearer and draft needs much easier to determine, it’s time to revisit those positional draft charts to see which positions are areas of need come draft time.
The next position we’ll revisit will be inside linebacker. The Steelers parted ways with long-time starter Larry Foote, knowing that that in all likelihood places Vince Williams in the driver’s seat at Buck linebacker. Just what they have at the position in terms of depth is still to be determined.
Lawrence Timmons: The first draft pick Mike Tomlin ever made, Lawrence Timmons has been a reliable starter for several seasons now. 2013 was a relative down year, particularly early on, however. He’s capable of playing at a Pro Bowl level and that wasn’t him last season.
Timmons was surrounded by turmoil and inconsistency. He spent much of the season not knowing who would be lined up next to him, if anybody, while trying to help break in two rookie linebackers and learning to play behind Steve McLendon at nose tackle. I expect a more consistent season out of him this year.
Vince Williams: A rookie sixth-round compensatory pick, Vince Williams certainly took on a far larger role last season than anticipated. The Steelers were happy with the depth that they had going into last season as long as they remained just depth, but that changed after the first week when the depth became the starters.
It took a few games to get himself acclimated, but by the end of the year, Williams was doing a solid job all around, including calling the defense. He showed some good instincts to sniff out the ball and to get past blocks to make plays, but he’s still an unfinished product. The Steelers would like to supplement him on passing downs.
Terence Garvin: At least as it stands right now, Terence Garvin would figure to be the third guy right now, not including Arthur Moats, who will back up both inside and outside, but I’ve listed him outside for now due to the shortage of bodies there.
Garvin was not only an undrafted rookie, he was a camp invitee who had to earn his contract. He weaned himself on special teams before getting a few snaps here and there toward the end of the season. The Packers proved that he could be a liability against the run, however, given that he practically looks like a safety.
Kion Wilson: Kion Wilson and Williams won the primary backup jobs out of the preseason last year, but Williams didn’t play special teams, so it was Wilson and Garvin active on opening day. Wilson got the first chance to replace Foote because he had experience, but Williams ended up playing about twice the snaps in Wilson’s two starts anyway. He was cut to make room for roster needs elsewhere, but eventually re-signed. His roster status is certainly in question this year.
Sean Spence: The ultimate wildcard, Sean Spence could be a major boost if he’s able to play this season after missing his first two years with a severe knee injury. Even if he contributes in sub-packages and special teams, it would be a significant lift to the position. But for now, he can’t be counted on without knowing more, and we won’t know more about his status before the draft, so they have to operate under the assumption that he won’t be available. If he is, then it’s gravy.
Draft Prognosis: After Timmons, the Steelers have plenty of bodies at inside linebacker (including Moats), but they certainly don’t have any studs. You don’t need a stud at every position, but the Buck is definitely a good place to have one.
I believe in Vince Williams until he proves otherwise. I think they can get by with him, but I also know they can upgrade. If they’re not looking to upgrade a starting position, though, I don’t know that I see the value in taking another mid-round guy, unless they’ve lost faith in both Garvin and Wilson. Spence is lurking in the background as well.