At this point in the offseason, we find that training camp is just around the corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league, and a lot has changed for them over the course of the past several months. They have lost a number of players in free agency, through releases, and retirements. But they have also brought in a number of new faces to replace them.
We all know that roster turnover is an ever-present reality for today’s rosters, and it seems that over the course of the past half-decade or so even the Steelers have proven to be as susceptible to the annual shakeup as anybody. With that in mind, we should take the time to get to know some of the new faces with training camp soon to be here.
We finally wrap up the Steelers’ incoming draft class with their last draft pick, inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who in spite of winning the award for the best defensive player in the country managed to slip all the way down toward the end of the seventh round of the draft, and nearly risked being forced to sign as an undrafted free agent—not that that is a major disadvantage in comparison.
The drafting of Matakevich makes sense, though he be no means has a sure path to a roster spot. The fact that the Steelers lost two of their top five inside linebackers from the roster last season—and two players who were integral to their special teams units—made it necessary to add quality competition for the position.
While they have L.J. Fort in house, who ended up on the 53-man roster last year, in addition to signing Steven Johnson in free agency, and still retain Jordan Zumwalt, a 2014 sixth-round draft pick who has spent his first two seasons on injured reserve, Matakevich offered enough value and had good enough of a chance to make the roster that it was a smart selection.
While he certainly put up the numbers in college—ending his career with somewhere around about 500 tackles, and posted 4.5 sacks and five interceptions in his senior season—the concern surrounding him is whether or not he possesses the sort of athleticism that allows him to translate that sort of success to the NFL level.
While he checked in at around 240 pounds, he stands at just six feet tall and ran a 4.81 40-yard dash, with fairly pedestrian workout numbers across the board. While that by no means guarantees him to a short NFL career, it is a large part of the equation that ended in him being drafted at the end of the seventh round.
But as long as he demonstrates a keen ability to contribute on special teams—ideally as a four-phase player—he should have as good a chance as any of his competitors to make the 53-man roster. Johnson was brought in for special teams purposes, while Fort has been such a player in his career, but if Matakevich shows up to the task, he may be favored for one of two roster spots.