The Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase tends to get draft pick envy over the Cincinnati Bengals. It seems as though at least once every draft, the Bengals draft a player that Steelers fans really wanted Pittsburgh to take, and to do so just before they did. William Jackson III is the most obvious example—and certainly the most valid—but there have been many others.
One that we saw last year was inside linebacker Malik Jefferson. Truth be told, it was both Jefferson and edge defender Sam Hubbard, who does look like a promising player. But let’s refresh our memory. The Steelers held a pick just behind the Bengals, who had two selections in a row, in 2018.
Pittsburgh ended up trading a seventh-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks to move up those three spots, and they used that third-round pick to draft quarterback Mason Rudolph, who will now be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup and a potential heir apparent.
But up until that point, The Steelers had done very little to address the inside linebacker position that offseason following the Ryan Shazier injury. They signed Jon Bostic to a two-year, $4 million deal, and that was it. It was reported that they tried to trade up in the first round to land one of the top four inside linebackers, but were unable to get a deal done.
So instead of dipping back into the position in a later round, they ultimately held off. The inside linebacker position proved to be a weakness last year, one of the biggest on the team, but they didn’t feel that any other player drafted from that point forward would be an immediate contributor anyway.
Long story short, they passed up on a whole bunch of inside linebackers, including Jefferson, and those who hated the idea of drafting yet another quarterback were livid. Well, Jefferson is now available, as the Bengals have released the former third-round pick before he enters his second season.
Their linebacking corps now consists of Preston Brown, Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson, and Germaine Pratt, who was a third-round rookie draft pick this year. The Bengals currently have 11 defensive linemen, including Hubbard, Carl Lawson, and Jordan Willis, on their 53-man roster alongside the only five linebackers.
Doing Jefferson no favors was the fact that the team did a nearly complete overhaul of the coaching staff, from the head coach all the way down, so it’s not uncommon for a new head coach to part with some early draft picks from the prior regime if he doesn’t believe that they fit what they plan to do under his guide.
During the preseason, he played in three games, registering nine tackles. He did not play in the preseason finale due to what the team called a non-football illness, but that shouldn’t be attributed as a factor in his release.