With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up in a bit, and having finished taking stock of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, it’s now time to look back and see how the team assembled the roster they currently have through the draft.
It would be most simple to set a dividing line at 2007, the year Mike Tomlin took over at head coach, so we will revisit the past seven drafts, encompassing 59 selections, to see how the team treated each position, and look into why that is.
The next position we’ll revisit is inside linebacker. Though he’s never made the Pro Bowl, Lawrence Timmons has proven to be quite a nice pick for Tomlin’s first selection, as he’s been a reliable starter at inside linebacker for several years now. After that is a story of mixed success, and a bit of misfortune as well.
It may be somewhat surprising at first to note that the Steelers have only drafted four inside linebackers over the past seven drafts. Considering that most of those seven seasons featured James Farrior and/or Larry Foote, however, the position hasn’t needed much modification in recent history.
2007 – Lawrence Timmons – 1st round (15)
There was a bit of mystery around where Lawrence Timmons would ultimately wind up when he was drafted—and he also had to crawl out of the shadow of Darrelle Revis—but over the years he’s settled in to become quite a nice Mack at inside linebacker. A brief stint at outside linebacker later on showed that he is where he belongs.
He became a full-time starter in his third season and hasn’t missed a game in the past four years. His athletic ability and speed allows the defense more flexibility, since Timmons can do just about anything, including coverage. His versatility shows up in the stats sheet too, as in addition to padding tackle totals, he also boasts nine interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, and 26 sacks in his seven-year career.
2010 – Stevenson Sylvester – 5th round (166)
I was a fan of Stevenson Sylvester’s college tape when the Steelers first drafted him, but if we’re being honest, he’s never accomplished much above being an average special teams player. He saw a career-high 100 snaps last season, most of which came at outside linebacker. As of right now, I wouldn’t expect the Steelers to re-sign him, though I also wouldn’t rule it out entirely.
2012 – Sean Spence – 3rd round (86)
The story of Sean Spence is where we approach the misfortune alluded to earlier. Outside of Timmons, Spence was the highest-drafted inside linebacker for the Steelers since Kendrell Bell in 2001. Though undersized, Spence flashed a tremendous instinctual presence in his college tape and even during the preseason, but in the final preseason game of his rookie season, he suffered a severe injury that to this day still puts the future of his career in jeopardy.
Not only did he tear the ligaments in his knee, he also suffered damage to the peroneal nerve located behind the kneecap. Spence has been unable to take the field since then, but everybody’s hoping that year three will change that, and that he will be able to contribute in some fashion to the team in 2014.
2013 – Vince Williams – 6th round (206)
Were it not for the surprising success of Vince Williams in his rookie season last year, the Steelers might find themselves in desperation mode for an inside linebacker right now. Despite being a rookie sixth-round compensatory pick, he stepped into the starting lineup by game four and helped solidify the defense, not only calling the plays, but, over time, flashing some playmaking ability of his own. As of right now, he stands to enter minicamps as the incumbent Buck linebacker.