Continuing our series “Ranking the Rooms” here at Steelers Depot, we’re almost through the entire series.
Today, we’ll take a look at arguably one of the most important positions on the field, defensively: inside linebacker.
1 — Pittsburgh Steelers
While most Steelers fans won’t think this one is close, I actually had a really hard time determining who had the best inside linebacker group in the AFC North.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, having a young, emerging star in Ryan Shazier helps, along with the ever-consistentLawrence Timmons still in the fold.
I’ve been on record many, many times on this site saying that I feel Shazier has All-Pro potential in 2016, while I’m all for re-signing Timmons to a long-term deal. Both are so exceptionally solid when on the field, but that seems to be the only problem with Shazier.
Luckily for the Steelers, Vince Williams is one of the best backup LB’s in the AFC North, while Steven Johnson should provide some solid special teams play for Pittsburgh after coming over from the Tennessee Titans as a free agent.
Behind Williams and Johnson is popular rookie Tyler Matakevich, but his spot on this team is still up in the air.
2 — Baltimore Ravens
CJ Mosley had a tough season last year, but heading into Year Three the former AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year looks primed for a great bounce back season in the middle of the Ravens’ 3-4 scheme.
The former Alabama Crimson Tide is a stalwart for the Ravens, who’ve looked to get younger on the defensive side of the ball. Next to Mosley is third-year linebacker Zachary Orr, who has come on strong as of late.
Behind the duo is veteran backup Arthur Brown, who never really quite fulfilled his potential coming out of Kansas State, while rookie Kamalei Correa moves inside for the NFL after being an edge rusher in college at Boise State.
3 — Cincinnati Bengals
Rey Maualuga is on the wrong side of 30 and has seen his play drop significantly, but fortunately for the Bengals, Maualuga is so ingrained in the Bengals’ scheme that he’s often in the right position regardless of athletisim at this point in career because he knows exactly what he needs to do.
The problem with Cincinnati is that they don’t have much behind him. Rookies Trevor Roach and Darien Harris are listed on Cincinnati’s official depth chart as No. 2 and No. 3 behind the veteran, but for a guy who is relatively injury-prone, that can’t be comforting for the Bengals.
That’s where Vinny Rey comes in. Although listed as an OLB, Rey can play all three LB positions in Cincinnati and can be counted on in any situation.
No. 4 — Cleveland Browns
There is plenty of youth, but little experience here for the Browns.
Christian Kirksey and Demario Davis look to be the starters in Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme, but there really isn’t much behind those two.
Veteran backup Tank Carder is a valuable special teams piece, but he doesn’t bring much as a defensive stopper in the 3-4.
Rookie Scooby Wright III might not make the team, but he does know how to find his way to the ball and rack up tackles left and right. Cam Johnson and rookie Dominique Alexander could see time in the middle, but it’s hard to project what impact — if any — both could have this season.