2019 Offseason Questions: Will Steelers Have To Trade Up For Top ILB This Year?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.

How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the Steelers have to trade up to get one of the top inside linebackers this year?

The Steelers bargain shopped for an inside linebacker in free agency last year, bringing in Jon Bostic to compete for the starting job opposite Vince Williams that opened up after Ryan Shazier was injured. They did this because they were planning on coming out of the first round with an inside linebacker. They tried to trade up for the last of the top four, Rashaan Evans, but failed.

Now a year after missing the postseason and General Manager Kevin Colbert publicly stating that they did not do enough in 2018 to replace Shazier, they are entering another draft in which there appear to be a few top candidates separating themselves from the rest.

The 2018 NFL Draft saw four true inside linebackers go in the first round. That’s something that had not happened in several years prior to that, so perhaps the team was caught off-guard. There may be only three at the top of the position this year. While they have a higher pick with the 20th overall, will it be safe enough for them to sit and wait?

Yesterday was a good one for the linebacker class at the Combine, which won’t make it any easier for the Steelers to get one of the top players, let alone to have their choice. But the need at cornerback, which may be nearly as big, should be a deterrent against them trading up, which is something they haven’t done in the first round in a number of years—never under Mike Tomlin.

Of course the approach that they take in the draft is also going to depend on the outcome of free agency. The last year they had a chunk of salary cap change was in 2017 and they did try to spend that on Dont’a Hightower, whom they virtually locked in the building to try to get him to sign before he decided to return to New England.

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