With Williams Now Back, OLB Likely Now Bigger Draft Need For Steelers Than ILB

Alex Highsmith, T.J. Watt

We received a bit of a surprise on Wednesday when it was reported that the Pittsburgh Steelers are bringing back inside linebacker Vince Williams just weeks after cutting him. And while we do not yet know the specifics of the deal that Williams will or has already signed, it’s a good bet that it is just one year and likely for just $1.075 million or slightly more. Regardless, of what that contract says, Williams’ return for the 2021 season, assuming he makes the 53-man roster, is a big boost for the Steelers defense and especially when it comes to the inside linebacker depth chart. That needed boost at that particular position might now even mean that the outside linebacker position is more of a need for the Steelers than the inside linebacker position is ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft taking place.

When you look at the Steelers inside linebacker depth chart right now it includes Williams, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Ulysees Gilbert III, Tegray Scales, and newcomer Jarvis Miller. At most, the Steelers will carry five inside linebackers on their 53-man roster. While the return of Williams this week doesn’t entirely prevent the Steelers from drafting another inside linebacker this year, it certainly does lessen the need to do so.

As for the Steelers outside linebacker depth chart at the close of Wednesday, it includes the likes of T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Cassius Marsh, Christian Kuntz, and newcomer Jamir Jones. Kuntz and Jones have never played an NFL snap and Marsh can best be described as a good special teams player and very occasional pass rusher who already has one foot out of the league. That basically leaves the Steelers with Watt and Highsmith as locks for 2021 right now and not much of anything else.

Could and will the Steelers add yet another experienced outside linebacker to their offseason roster prior to the draft? Sure, it’s possible and quite honestly, they should. That said, the Steelers will get what they pay for if they do and right now, they are down to paying NFL minimum salaries. In short, don’t look for Jadeveon Clowney to come walking through those doors of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Oh, that’s right, Clowney signed with the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday. Are you getting my drift? How many of you think that Melvin Ingram would like to come play for Pittsburgh for the NFL minimum for one season?

Barring the Steelers spending some real money in the next few weeks, I think you can probably count on them selecting another edge outside linebacker at some point during the 2021 NFL Draft. There’s a few I think they would like to draft as well and that short list off the top of my head include Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins, Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith, Oregon States Hamilcar Rashed Jr. and Penn State’s Shaka Toney, just to name a few. Ojulari might be a first-round candidate for the Steelers while Perkins might could be in play in round two or three, depending on if he’s still on the board. I could grow that list by five more very easily as well.

The Steelers already lost free agent outside linebackers Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi to the Tennessee Titans this offseason and those two players were essentially half of the team’s outside linebacker depth chart in 2020. While Highsmith is now primed to take over for Dupree in 2021 as the team’s starter opposite Watt, there’s essentially nobody on the team’s roster behind them right now that you would like to see play a considerable amount of snaps this upcoming season.

Prior to Wednesday, I was pretty sure that the Steelers might ultimately draft an inside linebacker this year and early at that. However, now that Williams has been re-signed, I’m not so sure the Steelers will draft an inside linebacker at all. If they do draft an inside linebacker, I have a feeling such a selection might come after an outside linebacker is picked as it certainly seems like that latter is the biggest position of need of the two with roughly two weeks to go before the annual draft takes place.

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