After taking linebackers in the first round in consecutive drafts in 2013 and 2014, the Pittsburgh Steelers now possess a core group of linebackers with about as high a pedigree as they’ve had in recent memory.
The starting lineup likely projects to have three first-round draft picks and a second-round draft pick at linebacker when the team takes the field in September.
With the eldest, Lawrence Timmons, set to turn just 28, there is the real potential for this unit to regain its former glory for years to come. Part of making that possible, however, will include working out a long-term deal with Jason Worilds.
The addition of Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker to pair with Timmons give the Steelers a dynamic and explosive set of playmakers in the heart of the defense, who can cover ground from sideline to sideline.
Shazier, especially, has game-changing speed, and the Steelers already believe that his coverage ability will be a big help to the passing defense, which will likely mean less dime packages, since Shazier wouldn’t need to come off the field on passing downs.
Worilds, the second-round pick, came on in his fourth season last year in his first extensive opportunity as a starter, following the release of James Harrison in the offseason prior. With the Steelers releasing LaMarr Woodley this year, it’s now in Worilds’ hands to become the team’s premiere pass rusher.
He seemed to be heading that way by the end of the year, recording seven of his team-leading eight sacks in the last eight games that he played. And when he wasn’t getting sacks, he was still getting to the quarterback and putting him on the ground.
Perhaps even more importantly, his work against the run became much tighter in the second half of the year after he moved from right outside linebacker to the left side. He still has room to grow, but picking up where he left off last year would be a good start.
Then there’s Jarvis Jones, the outside linebacker that was taken 17th overall by the Steelers last year. While he’ll likely never put up the sack totals that he did in college, during which he played in a defense that accentuated his rushes, he has the potential to become a good one as well.
He also made strides as the season progressed after initially getting benched for inconsistency in his assignments, finishing the season with his best game of the year.
While his pass rush only glimmered at select intervals throughout the year, he found other ways to make an impact, such as making plays behind the line of scrimmage in the run game and batting balls down at the line.
These three players all have a year or less of meaningful starting experience. It will likely take time for them to develop to their full potential and to grow as a unit. The talent, individually and collectively, is there. It’s just a matter of getting it out of them, and that may only be a matter of time.