Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are once again the linebacker capital of the National Football League—at least, that is, when it comes to pedigree.
For the third straight draft, the Steelers used their first-round draft selection to take a linebacker, this year adding outside linebacker Bud Dupree with the 22nd overall draft pick, and while he may not be an opening day starter—an extreme rarity in Pittsburgh—he figures to get his share of opportunities to make an impact as a rookie.
Joining him in the pedigree parade at the second level of the defense are three other members of the first round club. Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was chosen by the Steelers with the 15th overall pick during the 2014 NFL Draft. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was selected with the 17th overall pick in 2013.
Veteran Pro Bowl inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons rounds out the group, who was the first draft pick ever under head coach Mike Tomlin, and, like Shazier, was chosen with the 15th overall pick in the draft, this time back in 2007.
Granted, as mentioned above, it’s unlikely that all four first-round draft picks find their way into the starting lineup on opening day, with Dupree surely facing the longest odds. Neither Jones nor Shazier are guaranteed a starting position either, although they figure to be regarded as the frontrunners for their respective positions.
But it certainly would be something if the Steelers at some point in the near future had all four of them going at a high level at the same time. It could be reminiscent of the Steelers’ group of the late 2000s, who may have lacked some of the pedigree of their current crop, but certainly were a dominant unit, with arguably the strongest starting four in the league at the time.
It is no coincidence that the Steelers defense was also in top form at the time, when the pass coverage could consistently rely on routine pressure and 45 to 50 sacks per year, and the defensive line could be assured that the linebackers knew what gaps to plug.
This group certainly has that potential. Timmons, as mentioned above, is a Pro Bowl player, and is still two weeks removed from his 29th birthday. Shazier has an enormous amount of potential, but was limited in his ability to demonstrate it as a rookie due to injury.
While the jury on Jones is banging at the door ready to administer its ruling of bust, he, too, was majorly set back by injury last year, but it is undeniable that he is the least inspiring of the group. It is, after all, his failure to emerge over the course of his first two seasons that helped encourage the Steelers to land Dupree in the first round.
But let’s face it. Right now it’s the first of May. We’re a long way off from seeing the Steelers play any actual football. So just take the time out now to think about the potential present in Pittsburgh’s current group of linebackers, and how it could be the catalyst to getting this defense headed back in the right direction.