There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum hundreds upon hundreds of new players under the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: ILB Tyler Matakevich
Roster Vulnerability: Low
Role Vulnerability: High
The first player we’re going to look at is third-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who spent most of the 2017 season serving as the team’s backup inside linebacker and as an asset on special teams. Because of his ability to contribute on special teams alone, his risk of losing his roster spot to a draft pick is low.
Because of how the inside linebacker position has shifted since last season, however, it’s easy to believe that he could lose his role as the top backup. Ryan Shazier is out, and that has prompted the team to address the position in free agency, bringing in Jon Bostic and narrowing the draft focus on the position.
It’s almost universally anticipated that the Steelers will come out of at least the second day of the draft, if not the first, with a new inside linebacker, which would represent the highest selection at the position since Shazier. In fact, no inside linebacker has been drafted higher than the sixth round other than Shazier since Sean Spence in 2012, and none higher than the fifth round aside from those two since Lawrence Timmons in 2007.
In other words, the Steelers have very rarely invested highly in the inside linebacker position under Mike Tomlin. While he has drafted two in the first round, only three in total have come earlier than the fifth round in his 11 draft classes. Of course he had James Farrior and Larry Foote for much of that time, so he didn’t need the investment.
But times have changed and it’s easy to believe that a blue-chip player at the position could be brought in within a few weeks’ time. a player could even come in and potentially compete for a starting spot, or at worst assume the top backup job.
I haven’t seen any updates from Matakevich, but he is likely still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He should be fine in plenty of time, but there is a good chance he sees little time on defense this year, even if his roster spot is pretty secure.