I often find myself wondering just how well the Pittsburgh Steelers think of third-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, at least when I am given reason to think of him. The former seventh-round pick has earned a steady helmet for games thanks to his ability to contribute on special teams, registering more tackles over the past two years on special teams than anyone else in Pittsburgh, but how do they view him on defense?
What is their perspective of what he can contribute right now? What to they believe is his ceiling? I have wondered this recently after witnessing a local beat writer ponder whether or not a first-round draft pick at the inside linebacker position would actually dethrone Matakevich as the primary backup at the position heading into the 2018 season.
Is this a fair question? Should it be assumed that any player such as Leighten Vander Esch or Rashaan Evans would instantly become at least the top backup, if not take over a starting role? Or would the team continue to run with Matakevich as their number three?
Personally, I do not see that he has given much on-field reason to hold his abilities to contribute on defense in his regard. As I have mentioned recently, his appearances on the Steelers’ ill-fated goal line defense last season were awful, and often a prime cause for opposing teams scoring touchdowns against it.
While he was already nursing a shoulder injury when he took over in the game in which Ryan Shazier was injured, he also did not perform particularly well, and you could even go back to the preseason when he was running with the first-team unit to find him appearing to be over his head against a starting level of competition.
Should this be taken as a fair representation of what he would actually look like if forced to play on defense this season? The coaching staff certainly appears to have a higher evaluation for what he can bring, and others who cover the team have alluded to such belief as well.
Matakevich has at least on special teams demonstrate the potential to impact the game, however. He blocked a punt in the season opener that was recovered for a touchdown, and a week later defended a pass on a fake punt to result in a turnover on downs. He partially blocked another punt later on in the year.
I am inclined to believe that he can play better on the defensive side of the ball than he showed last season. He is a player who clearly knows the defense by now and has since his rookie season worn the green dot during the preseason. Still, I would be more comfortable if there were another option available to serve as the top backup inside linebacker.