The Pittsburgh Steelers always like to play things close to the vest. Reporters won’t pry out much information out of Mike Tomlin or Kevin Colbert about their offseason plans. But usually, they drop some nugget of information, some indication, of where they’re headed.
Based off what I heard today, when the Steelers look for inside linebacker help, it’ll come through free agency. Not the draft.
We’ve already heard Colbert mention inside linebacker as one area they could look at when the new league year begins in mid-March. Today, at the NFL Combine, both Colbert and pro scouting director Brandon Hunt said they feel this year’s draft class at ILB is thin. He blames that, partially at least, on the evolving college game. Spread systems that force defenses to keep their DBs on the field, not their linebackers.
“I think that speaks to what Kevin was saying about the linebacker position being light,” Hunt said in a rare appearance on Steelers Nation Radio. “Because so many of those guys the defensive backs and the safeties are on the field a lot more than your third linebacker or specifically, your nose tackle.”
That does run counter to the media thought of this class being strong at inside linebacker but ultimately, it’s about what the Steelers believe. It’s a position that needs to be addressed, that much is obvious, but based on those comments, my guess is a solution will come in free agency instead of the draft.
This year’s class does have some top-end talent but that also means guys who won’t be available when Pittsburgh is on the clock at pick 28. Roquan Smith is a near lock to go in the top ten and Tremaine Edmunds is likely to be off the board somewhere around pick 20. That means the Steelers will have to give plenty to move up or pick from what’s left; Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch top that list.
Should the Steelers turn to free agency, we’ve already mentioned a couple of names who fit the Mack linebacker position. Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens and Tennessee’s Avery Williamson would be solid fits. Matthew Marczi wrote today that PFF floated the idea of signing the Eagles’ Nigel Bradham.
Pittsburgh’s general philosophy is to draft the positions that are strong and supplement the weak ones with free agency. If that holds true, the Steelers could make their “splash” at inside linebacker.