We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 15 primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed a number of them, those being Ramon Foster, Tyson Alualu, Anthony Chickillo, Daniel McCullers, and Jordan Berry. Significant unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Le’Veon Bell, Jesse James, and L.J. Fort. They re-signed seven exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, and Xavier Grimble, as they await Mike Hilton’s signing.
Also of note were the release of Morgan Burnett, the trades of Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert, and three significant signings in free agency, adding starters at cornerback, inside linebacker, and potentially wide receiver in Steven Nelson, Mark Barron, and Donte Moncrief, respectively. Maurkice Pouncey also received a two-year contract extension.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason Additions: 2
Offseason Deletions: 2
Vince Williams: Williams is the team’s most experienced and most veteran linebacker, having been a starter for the past two seasons, but he is not an every-down player. Though still sometimes underrated, the Steelers understand his limitations.
Jon Bostic: Signed last year in free agency, Bostic started but was often subbed out, even ahead of Williams, despite ostensibly being the more athletic and skilled in coverage of the two. Depending on how the draft goes, his roster spot could be in jeopardy.
Tyler Matakevich: Heading into his fourth season, it seems as though Matakevich is destined to be a career special teams player. It’s something that he does excel at, though such players are always vulnerable to being moved.
Ryan Shazier: Though he is not going to play this year, he is still on the roster, and Shazier recently shared a major step forward in executing an elevated box jump. It’s hard to say he’ll never be able to play football again, but he’s going to remain a part of the team whether he does or doesn’t.
Mark Barron: One of the biggest free agency signings in team history based on per-year payout, Mark Barron was signed to start at inside linebacker, but he could potentially face competition from a rookie draft pick depending on who they’re able to draft. He will still have a role regardless. Could he potentially even start over Williams in that event?
Tegray Scales: Scales doesn’t have any of the measurables that you want, but he had the production at the college level. Which sounds like a special teamer. A futures signing back in January, he’ll compete for a spot at the bottom of the roster, or the practice squad.
L.J. Fort: The Steelers tried to keep Fort, but the Eagles offered him a three-year, $10 million contract. He played an increasingly large role last season as the year progressed and was their go-to in sub-packages, sometimes even the only inside linebacker on the field.
Matthew Thomas: A 2018 undrafted free agent, he spent most of the year on the 53-man roster and even played a few snaps on defense. Early on, they talked about having a package for him, but it never developed, and the coaching staff soured on him to the point that he wasn’t even signed to a futures contract after he was released and moved to the practice squad.
Notes And Draft Outlook: Despite the addition of Barron, inside linebacker is still being viewed as the Steelers’ top priority, so much so that there is rampant speculation they could jump up in the first round to try to land one of the two Devins if they are in striking distance. It wouldn’t surprise if they doubled up at the position in this year’s draft thanks to the available depth.