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 2022 NFL Draft.
The Steelers did not have as many starters as last year hit free agency, but as of yet, they have only re-signed one of note, Chukwuma Okorafor. JuJu Smith-Schuster has already signed elsewhere, but others such as Trai Turner, Joe Haden, and Terrell Edmunds remain unsigned.
They were substantially active in free agency, however, re-signing Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet, Miles Killebrew, Montravius Adams, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and J.C. Hassenauer. They also signed linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole in outside free agency, as well as quarterback Mitch Trubisky, cornerback Levi Wallace, wide receiver/returner Gunner Olszewski, linebacker Myles Jack, and outside linebacker Genard Avery.
The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Joe Schobert and tackle Zach Banner. As of now, they have not restructured any contracts, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is likely.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 7
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 1
Devin Bush: The former 10th overall draft pick is facing a critical season that will decide his future. If Bush does not rebound significantly from his struggles last season, he is probably playing his last year in Pittsburgh. The team has chosen to be optimistic, but at this point, we’re just hoping for not actively being a liability.
Robert Spillane: The fourth-year linebacker has been a spot starter for the past two seasons, even finding sub-package roles here and there. If Bush can stay on the field, though, Spillane will likely be limited primarily to special teams, where he first made himself known.
Marcus Allen: The fourth-year veteran is now going into his third season since converting from safety. He has played over 250 defensive snaps over the past two years, due to injuries, but his primary role has become as a special-teams ace, logging over 300 snaps last year alone.
Ulysees Gilbert III: Yet another veteran inside linebacker, Gilbert, established himself as a core special teams player last season. The two could be competing for only one roster spot this year after the Steleers chose to go heavy at the position in 2021.
Buddy Johnson: A fourth-round draft pick a year ago, Johnson spent most of the year inactive because they didn’t have an immediate special teams role for him, but he began to get looks defensively late in the season. Almost simultaneously, he suffered a foot injury that put him on the shelf for the rest of the year, but they are surely anticipating seeing some meaningful growth from him this year.
Tegray Scales: Scales is a former college free agent who has spent parts of the last few years with the Steelers. He was signed off of a practice squad late last year when the position was swamped with injuries, but he doesn’t figure to have an inside track to make the team.
Myles Jack: The Steelers signed Jack to a two-year, $16 million contract, obviously to start, replacing Joe Schobert, whom they acquired via trade in August. They subsequently released Schobert. Jack has his own flaws, but he does have more natural athleticism. It remains to be seen how much of an upgrade he actually turns out to be.
Joe Schobert: Schobert had probably the worst season of his career last year in Pittsburgh, and his being released was one of the least-surprising things to happen in the NFL this offseason, saving the team significant cap space in doing so. It is perhaps notable that they waited until after signing Jack in order to take that step, however.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
Given the uncertainty around Bush and the likelihood that Jack probably isn’t going to be a seven-year starter here, the Steelers are surely going to have an eye on the inside linebackers in this draft class, even if it is not as immediate a high priority as other positions might be.
There’s a very good chance that the 2022 season is the last for Bush in Pittsburgh, so they will likely need a new starter in 2023. Do they have that player on the roster already, in somebody like Johnson? And how much can they get out of Jack?
There are some quality inside linebackers on days two and three that the Steelers should be paying attention to, certainly, and if they present the best value on the board at the time that they select, they should not hesitate to pull the trigger.