The Pittsburgh Steelers have shown a lot this preseason to be excited about, both for the present, and perhaps for the future as well. They have had some young players stepping up and performing well within their competition level, which is all you can ask for at this point in their careers.
Two of the most talked about players have been a pair of rookie linebackers, sixth-round inside man Ulysees Gilbert III and undrafted free agent on the outside Tuzar Skipper. Most notably for each, Gilbert has a sack and a half and an interception on a two-point conversion attempt, while Skipper has three sacks, one of which produced a forced fumble.
Both of them were recently recognized by Pro Football Focus as among the two best rookies during the preseason’s first three weeks, each making the top 20 in a recent list that the site published of the 25 highest grades among qualifying rookies.
Gilbert came in ranking 17th. The MAC product out of Akron has been notable for his work in coverage, something that he was known for in college, and possesses similar athleticism and speed to first-round pick Devin Bush. Anthony Treash writes of him:
We all know Pittsburgh loves them some blitzing linebackers, and they stole one in the sixth-round with Ulysees Gilbert III. So far, Gilbert III has rushed the passer 17 times and has come away with five pressures and a 41.2% pass-rush win rate. Moreover, Gilbert III has been the first defender to contact on roughly 10% of his defensive snaps, which is no surprise considering he had a 4.46 40-yard time at his pro day.
Of the two, Gilbert has the better chance of actually making the Steelers’ 53-man roster because he has been playing on special teams, especially in the third preseason game, which is the surest sign that the team views you as on the bubble. Skipper has hardly gotten any work there, but has impressed on defense, the outlet ranking him fourth:
Former Toledo Rocket Tuzar Skipper has been a dual-threat edge defender with solid play both against the run (85.4 run defense grade) and in the pass-rush (86.1 pass-rush grade). In total, Skipper has four run stops and nine pressures.
Gilbert figures to be the number five inside linebacker behind Bush, Mark Barron, Vince Williams, and Tyler Matakevich. Skipper is trying to be the fifth outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, and Toledo teammate Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, who is recovering from a meniscus operation.