If you’re like me you’d love the chance to be a General Manager. We all have our opinions on players throughout the draft process and throughout the season of who we would prefer to have on the team or active roster. I thought this might be a fun process to look at a group of players give some background information on each player and see who you would keep.
I’ll give you three players either from a position group or some other roster scenario and you decide which two you will keep and one player to cut. At the end of this process we’ll have a good idea of who you think should be on the roster.
This position is kind of in an unusual situation. The starters are set and the backups seem to be set as well. Yet the depth at inside and outside linebacker is sorely lacking in experience.
On the inside, with Mark Barron being let go in the offseason Vince Williams and Devin Bush assume the starting positions and are an excellent paring of youth and experience, speed and power and both are above average at diagnosing the plays.
Behind them are two players lacking in game play experience for different reason. Tyler Matakevich signed on with the Bills opening up space. 2019 draft pick Ulysees Gilbert was showing some promise on special teams before a back injury curtailed his season. Robert Spillane was added to the active roster in November and immediately made himself know on special teams wrapping up 10 special teams tackles in 8 games. Neither has much experience playing on the defense but other than a couple rookie UDFA’s there is no one else on the roster to challenge them.
The outside linebackers have a similar situation with the starters set with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree who combined for 26 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 30 tackles for a loss and 53 QB hits and were recently named the #5 Edge Defender duo in the NFL by PFF. Anthony Chickillo was not resigned and is now in New Orleans. Up next is Ola Adeniyi who played in all 16 games but just 62 snaps on defense. He tallied 8 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. They added Alex Highsmith in the draft an athletic small school pass rusher to add to their depth. A UDFA and a rookie will likely be their backups.
There is a question of how many linebackers they will keep on the roster with 8 or 9 being likely and if they do keep a ninth they will have to be a contributor on special teams. Let’s say for now they keep the 8 above and we’re looking for practice squad players.
Tuzar Skipper – He made the most of his 2019 preseason opportunities racking up 5 sacks but that didn’t keep him on the roster when the season started. The Giants picked him up and he got some run with 40 defensive and 27 special teams snaps. He had 3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 QB hit before the Giants let him go. The Steelers brought him back in mid-November but he wasn’t a factor.
On the good side, pass rushers are hard to find and even though it was preseason he produced more than anyone. The Steelers liked him enough to bring him back and sign him to a two year deal. He’s still in the learning phase and should be better year two.
On the negative side, he’s another UDFA and has been cut twice in his rookie season. The Giants had no pass rushers and they cut him. Once he was brought back to Pittsburgh he couldn’t impress enough to get in the game on special teams, which is where he must play if he makes the team this year.
Leo Lewis – The bigger of the rookie free agent inside linebackers the Steelers brought in this year. A four year starter at Mississippi State and finished with 235 tackles. He could eventually back up either ILB spot.
On the good side, he has the size advantage (245lbs) over fellow LB John Houston (220 lbs) and fits the size the Steelers like in their linebackers. He has decent range and fluid skills and is willing to fill downhill.
On the negative side, is this the best there is to offer? Two UDFA ILB’s to fight for a practice squad spot? From our report he lacks demeanor and motor you want on the inside and struggles to get off blocks. There has to be something better ILB’s available when the cuts start to happen.
James Lockhart – A pass rusher from Baylor with a high motor who was overshadowed by collegiate defensive line teammates that were drafted but shows potential. He’s got a high motor, knows how to get pressure and is a strong tackler.
On the good side, the potential is there. He has strength and quickness, can use power or speed to get pressure. His demeanor fits nicely with being a special teamer, where Skipper could not make an impression, and that is where he’ll have to start his career
On the negative side, he only had one year of solid production in college. While he can get pressure he struggles to get off the block once he gets there missing out on a lot of plays. In a strange off season, it would be easier to stick with Skipper than start new with Lockhart.
Time to Choose
The active roster spots seem to be pretty much set so this is about practice squad choices. On the staff’s way too early draft rosters all three had the ILB’s as Bush, Williams, Gilbert III and Spillane. All three also has the OLB’s as Dupree, Watt, Adeniyi and Highsmith with Matthew and Dave having Skipper on the 53 man roster as well. Alex went with 4 OLB with Skipper and Lewis on the practice squad.
I’ll give Lewis the nod over Houston at ILB and I’m going to give Lockhart a shot over Skipper.
Previous Roster Decisions
QB – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges (Cut Paxton Lynch)
RB/FB – James Conner, Benny Smell , Anthony McFarland, Derek Watt, Jaylen Samuels (Cut Trey Edmunds, Kerrith Whyte to PS)
DL – Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs, Chris Wormley, Daniel McCullers (Cut Carlos Davis)
Practice Squad Candidates – Lynch, Davis, Henry Mondeaux, Josiah Coatney, Kerrith Whyte, Trey Edmunds