It was well-known after the draft concluded and going into the offseason that the Pittsburgh Steelers clearly had a need to address regarding depth at the outside linebacker position. The team’s top two backups by the time training camp got underway were Genard Avery and Derrek Tuszka who were uninspiring options behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
Tuszka jumped on the moving train last season after signing with the team after initial cuts, being active for 15 games and recorded 247 defensive snaps with another 194 coming on special teams. Tuszka flashed at times, coming up with two sacks with one resulting in a forced fumble, but he was inconsistent at setting the edge against the run and couldn’t consistently pressure the passer. Avery was signed this offseason and presented an athletic, high effort player at the position, but lacked the production profile you want to see at the position with 1.5 sacks being his best mark the last three seasons.
Malik Reed was traded to the Steelers from the Broncos along with a seventh-round draft choice for a sixth-round selection. Jamir Jones was claimed off waivers from the Jaguars, waiving Tuszka as a corresponding move. While Reed and Jones may not have the same name power as the likes of Melvin Ingram or Trey Flowers, both players represent an upgrade to the depth at the outside linebacker position compared to what they had with Avery and Tuszka.
First, Reed and Jones are young, cost-effective options that take up little cap space and still can see their respective games improve. Both players have special teams experience which is vital for backup linebackers on the Steelers roster with Jones logging 250 snaps there last season and Reed logging 203 back as a rookie in 2019 before becoming more of a prominent defensive player for Denver the last two years. While Alex Kozora mentioned in his film room breakdown that Reed isn’t a savvy pass rush specialist, he is a clear upgrade over what the team had previously, having recorded 13 sacks the last two seasons along with 11 TFLs and three forced fumbles.
Reed has started 26 games the last two years for the Broncos and has logged nearly 2000 snaps on defense since entering the league in 2019 according to Pro Football Reference. This notable playing time makes him an experienced, capable defender to come in at Pittsburgh’s #3 OLB off the bench or able to step in should one of the starters go down and at least hold his own compared to what the team had in the room previously.
Jones was waived for Tuszka last season despite playing well throughout training camp and preseason action. Jones was effective as a pass rusher as well as a run defender, recording three TFLs and 2.5 sacks while being a core special teamer. It appears as if Pittsburgh has recognized they may have made the wrong choice last season as they released Tuszka to bring back Jones in an ironic turn of events.
Ultimately, we should have extremely high expectations for either Reed or Jones as potential dynamos behind Watt and Highsmith in 2022 from a production standpoint, but it would be fair to suggest that both should see a fair amount of playing time on defense while contributing heavily on special teams. Reed could see anywhere from 10-15 snaps per game which would be a notable decrease from the last two seasons, but could help him be more effective being fresher when he checks in. It would be reasonable to project 3-5 sacks for him in 2022, being a capable backup option behind the entrenched starters.
Jones may not see as much playing time per contest, but still should provide Pittsburgh with a better run defender than what they had last season with Tuszka while providing similar pass rush upside. A couple of sacks on the year while playing 8-10 snaps per contest while playing almost every special teams snap would be a fair projection for Jones in his second stint in Pittsburgh.
What are your thoughts on Malik Reed and Jamir Jones? Do you think both players will represent an upgrade over what Pittsburgh had in training camp and what they rolled with last season? What should be the expectations for both backup OLBs in 2022? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section and thanks again for reading!