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 by then. 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 2021 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 starters or primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only five of them, those being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, Zach Banner, Tyson Alualu, and Jordan Berry. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Robert Spillane and J.C. Hassenauer, while signing Ray-Ray McCloud to a non-tender deal.
The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Derek Watt, and Eric Ebron were restructured, while those of Steven Nelson and Vince Williams were terminated, the latter being re-signed. Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired.
Of note, the Steelers have added five players as unrestricted or street agents from outside of the organization, including three offensive linemen in Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, and former Steeler B.J. Finney. The group also includes linebacker Miles Killebrew and running back Kalen Ballage.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 7
Offseason Additions: 2
Offseason Deletions: 0
Devin Bush: Bush is entering year three now after missing most of last season due to a torn ACL. We have already seen what a difference he can make on the field. The Steelers are counting on his return providing a major boost to the defense.
Vince Williams: After a scare, cut as a salary cap casualty, Williams found his way back to the team by re-signing on a lesser deal. A primary starter for most of the past half-decade, he and the team know his career is winding down. We may see some platooning at his position this year.
Robert Spillane: It would be Spillane platooning with him if it comes to that. He started seven games last season filling in for Bush. He profiles better in Williams’ spot, and would’ve been projected outright to start there if the latter were not re-signed.
Marcus Allen: Now entering year four since Pittsburgh drafted him, Allen is moving into his second season since the Steelers converted him to an off-ball linebacker. Previously, he played safety. This will be an important season in seeing just how he can contribute on defense, or otherwise becoming a career special teamer.
Ulysees Gilbert III: The defining narrative of Gilbert’s young career so far has been his back issues, which have landed him on IR three times in his first two seasons. Once viewed by fans as a very promising up-and-comer, he could be competing for a roster spot this year.
Miles Killebrew: Signed in free agency, primarily for special teams purposes, Killebrew does have experience on defense with the Lions. He has played both linebacker and safety as a hybrid. Until further notice, we’re assuming the team views him as a linebacker, matching his depth chart listing.
Jarvis Miller: Miller is one of five players the Steelers signed after seeing them work out as alumni on the Pro Day circuit. He spent time at Penn State before playing last season at Massachusetts.
Players Deleted: N/A
Notes and Draft Outlook:
While the position could potentially benefit from the addition of a blue-chip prospect or something near it, the depth chart at inside linebacker may be as stacked as it’s going to get. They are already returning all five players who started the 2020 season with them, and added Killebrew to the mix, but adding another player through the draft if they present good value is obviously on the table. Avery Williamson, who finished the season with the team last year, remained an unsigned free agent.