The Pittsburgh Steelers probably were eyeing the inside linebacker position in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. They surely were not fixed on taking the position, but they had to have felt pretty good about the possibility of one of the top four at the position being available to them when they were on the clock last night.
If that is actually the case, then they badly miscalculated, because we saw the first draft in over a decade in which four linebackers who play off the ball were drafted by the end of the first round. It’s no surprise that Roquan Smith was gone in the top 10, but things got a little more interesting after that.
Most viewed Tremaine Edmunds as the second-best inside linebacker prospect in the draft behind Smith, and he actually began to slide a bit. Once he fell, however, Leighton Vander Esch and Rashaan Evans came off the board not long after that. Only Evans even fell to within a reasonable trade range, but I wouldn’t have moved up for him.
That they were unable to address the inside linebacker position on day one, however, does not mean that they won’t be able to add a quality player there by the end of the draft. The name on most Steelers fans’ minds for today is probably Malik Jefferson, but other options exist as well.
Inside linebacker became a substantial area to address all of a sudden on an early December night last year when Pro Bowler Ryan Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury that temporarily left him paralyzed in his lower extremities.
While the team has since added Jon Bostic in free agency, he cannot be viewed at least for the moment as a long-term answer. He could have the potential to develop into such a player, but the reality is that we have not been able to see that from him in his career for a variety of reasons.
The Steelers have lost two starting inside linebackers over the span of the past 14 months. Lawrence Timmons also parted in free agency for the 2017 season, and he was replaced last season by Vince Williams. The team pursued Dont’a Hightower in free agency, which made it pretty clear they viewed the potential to upgrade.
I don’t think a Bostic-Williams pairing is what anybody would have guessed by the end of the 2016 season. There figured to be other options available. Life, frankly, was supposed to go differently. They should never have been in this position, simply hoping Shazier can walk again someday.
As I said last night following the Martavis Bryant trade, but here we are. The Steelers can certainly run their defense this season with Bostic and Williams, but neither are long-term projects, and not just because both of them have likely played about half the length of their respective careers, if not longer.
The team did scratch a big need at safety off the board, but the clear targets for today are at inside linebacker and wide receiver. Only now they have three picks to address those positions rather than two.