Ahead of this year’s draft, a few of the top inside linebackers in the class were highly coveted by fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two most notable players the Steelers presumably were thought to have a legitimate shot at drafting in the first-round were Rashaan Evans out of Alabama and Leighton Vander Esch out of Boise State. Both players, however, were drafted before the Steelers turn to pick in the first round as Vander Esch went 19th overall to the Dallas Cowboys and Evans was picked by the Tennessee Titans 22nd overall.
After missing out on those two young linebackers, the Steelers ultimately decided against selecting that position. Instead, they signed linebacker Matthew Thomas as an undrafted free agent out of Florida State and so far, it looks like that was a great decision.
While it’s obviously way too early to compare any of the young inside linebackers in this year’s draft class, it is worth noting that Thomas is the only one of him, Evans and Vander Esch to play extensively during the preseason. In fact, Thomas played in all four of the Steelers preseason games on his way to logging well over 100 defensive snaps while Evans failed to play in any of the Titans preseason games and Vander Esch played just 32 defensive snaps in the Cowboys first preseason game because of injuries.
Evans, who had a few medical concerns surrounding him ahead of this year’s draft, has been dealing with an undisclosed injury for the entire preseason and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be healthy enough to play when the regular season gets underway next weekend. As for Vander Esch, he has reportedly been dealing with a groin injury for several weeks that now has him questionable for the start of the regular season as well.
As for Thomas, he should be a lock to make the Steelers 53-man roster this weekend after putting together a preseason that included him registering 22 total defensive tackles and a strip sack that he recovered and returned 75 yards. He also had 3 total special teams tackles in the team’s four preseason games.
As for the player the Steelers ultimately drafted in the first-round this year, safety Terrell Edmunds out of Virginia Tech, like Thomas, he played in all four preseason games on his way to registering 9 total tackles on defense in addition to an interception. He also logged 2 total tackles on special teams and forced and recovered a fumble.
Moving forward from the preseason, it will be interesting to watch the rookie seasons that Evans and Vander Esch both have and see if the Steelers are able to get Thomas on the field as a starter at some point during his. Just maybe, we’ll conclude in a few years from now that the Steelers really didn’t miss out at all on Evans or Vander Esch at all. Time will of course tell.