The NFL Network concluded its Top 100 Players of 2014 list last night, a list of the best players in the league, purportedly as voted on by their peers. The list is certainly far from scientific and holds little weight, but the final results do bare out a present concern for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While a number of Steelers did make it to the list, including Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Troy Polamalu, there was a stark absence of Steelers linebackers from the list—including former Steelers LaMarr Woodley.
Of course, the exclusion of a Steelers linebacker from this list does not mean that they don’t boast a top 100 player among their linebackers. But who could honestly say, based on recent performances, that any of them measure up?
Needless to say, the one closest to making the list would be Lawrence Timmons, the eighth-year veteran who has proven to be a solid starter, at worst, during his time with the team.
His résumé includes a healthy variety of tackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and passes defensed. But he seemed to take a step back last year, admittedly in part due to reasons beyond his control.
Timmons is certainly the best linebacker on the team as we currently sit here in July, and yet he wasn’t up to snuff to crack a list of the top 100 players in the league.
And the Steelers’ defense is designed to filter through the linebackers. The defensive line clogs up the blockers to create lanes for the inside linebackers to make plays. The outside linebackers are the ones responsible for bringing the quarterback down.
What does it say about where the team currently stands that their primary playmaking unit lacks even a single top-quality performer?
But there is certainly hope for the future.
Two of the four linebackers are former first-round draft picks in either their first or second seasons, those being of course Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones, respectively. The other linebacker is Jason Worilds, a fifth-year linebacker coming off by far his best season.
Worilds had trouble cracking the starting lineup during his first four seasons playing behind two former Pro Bowl outside linebackers. But he turned in an excellent second half to the 2013 season that has the team very encouraged about his future. After all, he is still just 26 years of age entering this season as of March 3rd.
Three of the four linebackers have a season or less of serious, unhindered experience as a starter. As a result, there might be quite a feeling out process in the early goings of the 2014 season. But with the pedigree that they possess, the hope is that the next Top 100 Players for 2015 will not lack for Steelers linebackers.