The 2018 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers may be the worst group since the the early 80’s. Think about it for a minute. Think of all the linebacker groups over the Cowher/Tomlin eras and compare it to today. There is no Lloyd, Greene, Brown, and Kirkland taking the field this season. Instead we are facing a lineup of Watt, Williams, Bostic, and Dupree suiting up for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Linebacker has really been the Achilles heel of general manager Kevin Colbert. Short of Ryan Shazier, he has whiffed on almost every linebacker selected. Now the team is paying the price by fielding a sub-par set of linebackers in what should be a championship run. It’s gotten so bad the team seems to be pivoting away from the position all together. Pittsburgh did not draft a linebacker, and signed only one during free agency.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m being way too harsh on this current linebacker core. After all, TJ Watt showed real promise in his rookie season. There in lies the problem. A second year player with some potential is the only redeeming thing for the entire position. What about Bud Dupree you say? It’s simple, Dupree is NOT a pass rusher in a position that demands that type of skill set. He’s a good athlete, and that’s where it ends. The inside linebacker position is a dumpster fire. Vince Williams is average at best, and was never meant to be a starter on this team. Hence the big push for Dont’a Hightower last off-season. Jon Bostic is now on his fifth team in five seasons. Yes that’s right your starting inside linebacker is the definition of a journeyman. Or is he? Buzz out of OTAs is that seventh round pick Tyler Matakevich may push for a starting position. That’s right the vaunted Steelers linebacker group could be starting a sixth and seventh rounder on the inside in 2018. Compounding all this is the absolute lack of depth here. If a major injury were to occur for any of the starters, the results could be disastrous.
So how did it get this bad you ask? Well certainly the injury to Ryan Shazier was a major blow. Shazier was the only Pro-Bowl linebacker drafted by this team in several years. Losing him to injury was a fatal blow to a team that struggles to find talent at that position. Drafting linebackers has been the biggest disappointment of the Kevin Colbert era. No Steeler fan ever wants to hear the name Jarvis Jones again. The Steelers finally decided to change gears and attempt to sign a major free agent last year. Only to come up short when Dont’a Hightower decided to return to New England. With very little cap room, and even less viable candidates, the Steelers only brought in a bargain basement free agent in Jon Bostic this off-season.
By drafting two safeties and signing another, it’s clear this team is moving away from the linebacker position all together. Pittsburgh’s new plan is to play quite a bit of nickel and dime packages apparently. Whether this was on purpose, or out of necessity is debatable. Don’t be surprised if some true defensive ends are brought in next season as the team continues to move away from the linebacker heavy 3-4 defense. We may look back on the 2018 as a transition year to a new and improved defensive scheme. However, the fact remains this crop of linebackers will go down as one of the weakest in recent team history.