C.J. Mosley. Joe Schobert. And yes, L.J. Fort. Those were the three top inside linebackers of the AFC North, according to PFF’s metrics. They tweeted out the list of the top five guys at the position from 2018.
2018's highest-graded linebackers from the AFC North pic.twitter.com/iC1fKLwwMM
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 16, 2019
Vince Williams came in fourth place, giving the Steelers two names to the list. But metrically, Fort graded out nearly ten points higher after finally getting the chance to play extensive snaps.
I know the list is a little wonky of the “this batter has had five home runs on a weekday, on the road, with the moon at waxing crescent” variety. Fort’s competition isn’t stiff here. But it’s nice to see him get acknowledgement of his play on a bigger stage.
Most fans on these boards, and us blahgers included, have been pounding the table to get Fort on the field since Ryan Shazier’s injury. Pittsburgh explored literally every other option last season, signing Sean Spence, kicking Arthur Moats inside, before finally relenting – sort of – and giving Fort some time in the playoff loss to Jacksonville.
Even in 2018, Fort wasn’t part of the initial plans, not logging a defensive snap until Week Four against Baltimore and only 39 by the bye week. He finished the year with 48 total tackles – three of them for a loss – with a sack, fumble recovery, while blocking a punt and field goal on special teams.
He’s set to be a free agent this March and while he’s expressed a desire to return – who knows if that’s lip service – he’s likely gunning for a starting or at worst, significant role for 2019. Pittsburgh has continually been reluctant to do so, turning to him when all else fails, and if he can get a linebacker needy team strapped for cash come calling, PFF may be grading him for a new division next year.