99.9% of you reading this post probably expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to select an inside linebacker at some point during the first two-rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft and with good reason. For now, however, we’ll sit and wait to find out who that player will be and in what round he’s selected in. And while we wait, I thought it would be a good time to review nearly all of the comments made by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert about this year’s off-the-ball linebacker draft class dating back as far as the scouting combine.
For starters, Colbert’s general overview of this year’s off-the-ball linebacker class at the combine certainly didn’t appear to be a favorable one from an overall quality and depth perspective.
“There’s a few impactful players, not a lot, but there’s a lot of numbers at that position,” Colbert said during an interview on Steelers Nation Radio while in Indianapolis for the scouting combine when asked if this year is a good year for inside linebackers as far as the draft is concerned. “The guys may have one talent – they are better against the run, they’re better in coverage, they’re better chasing and those types of things. There’s a lot of guys that have individual talents that we may have to sort through, but impactful players, no, there’s not a ton of those at that position. That’s one of the leaner spots.”
Obviously and as expected, Colbert didn’t share with us the names of the impactful inside linebacker-types in this year’s draft class. Is it four? Is it six? Is it maybe just two? Those are the questions we YouTube scouts had to figure out this offseason and I’m willing to bet you might get several different answers from a number of you who have taken time to watch a large group of this year’s off-the-ball linebacker class.
During his annual pre-draft press conference on Monday, Colbert was asked again about this year’s inside linebacker draft class and while his overall thoughts on the group are really still the same as they were when he talked about them at the combine, at least he went into a little more detail in his breakdown and our very own Matthew Marczi highlighted his comments in a post a few days ago.
“It’s a good class and you know, the inside linebackers are changing as the college game has changed,” Colbert said. “There’s probably more kids available in this draft, not just unique to the inside linebacker position, but all defensive and even some of the offensive positions, where they maybe do one thing really well.
“Maybe they rush the passer better than they cover. Maybe they’re better zone droppers then they are man defenders. Very few of them are really what you say, four-down type players. Some of them are two-downs, some of them are three and some of them are one-down players, they might only be special teamers, but they’ll be on your team because you have those kind of kids making up your whole roster. So I think the inside linebacker position has changed and there’s probably more specialist-type guys available then the unique top players.”
On Tuesday, Colbert was interviewed on 970 ESPN and once again he was asked to comment on the inside linebacker class.
“The game has changed, I mentioned it yesterday,” Colbert started. “In our opinion, it’s gotten more horizontal than it has vertical. You know, everybody likes the spread concepts of getting people out in space and getting the ball out in space. And that’s just a natural progression. You see it more in college than you do in the NFL, but you see it leaking into our game. So, the kids that we’re evaluating in the college game, you know, they’re smaller, they’re more athletic, they’re faster than the traditional inside linebackers.
“So, when you look at this group, as I said yesterday, there’s some that are four-down players, you know, they can be first, second, third, and they can be out there on special teams on fourth down. And there’s some that are two-down players, they’re really good against the run. There’s some that are third down players that are really good against the pass. So, there’s a group that can do all four. There’s some that are better first and second down guys and there’s some that are better third down-types that can help you on special teams as well. So, collectively we gotta look at that group and when those kids are available to pick, we just have to decide whether that’s who we want at that point. But it’s really kind of changed.”
These quotes from Colbert, while extensive, all generally say the same thing and that is that there aren’t perceived to be very many three-down linebackers, (see impactful), in this year’s draft class. One would think that the Steelers wouldn’t spend a first-round draft pick on a linebacker that couldn’t play three downs, but that’s just my speculation and maybe not yours. In short, if the Steelers select an inside linebacker in the first-round Thursday night, hopefully Colbert will be immediately asked during the post-selection press conference if that player is considered by the organization as being an impactful one and thus one that can play all three downs.
Should, however, the Steelers wind up passing on a linebacker such as Rashaan Evans, for example, in the first-round in lieu of a player at a totally different position (see safety), then perhaps we can take it as a sign that the organization viewed him as more of a two-down player and thus a less impactful one.
All of the above said, Colbert and Steelers team president Art Rooney II have said all offseason that the Steelers defense must improve against the run in 2018 and the former has now mentioned several times over the course of the last few weeks how today’s NFL game is more horizontal than it is vertical. In closing, maybe Colbert and company will indeed really consider spending a first-round draft pick on a linebacker that plays especially well against the run and consider that impactful enough. We’ll perhaps find out in roughly 24 hours from now.