Jeremy Fowler: ‘We Should Watch For Draft Movement’ At ILB From Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers still have a long road ahead on the path of contention. Coming up just shy of reaching the postseason is not exactly the ambition the organization has set for itself. While much improvement is needed on offense, there are key concerns on defense as well.

Irrespective of questions about pending free agents, one of the key areas of concern is at the linebacker position. Many would argue that it is still in need of an upgrade if they manage to return every player at the position from last season’s roster.

That would not be news to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who indicated that he anticipates this will be a potential target in April. “Losing inside linebackers Devin Bush and Robert Spillane leaves a void up the middle, and we should watch for draft movement there”, he wrote in a recent ESPN Insider article previewing the team’s offseason.

Bush was the team’s first-round pick in 2019. They initially traded up 10 spots to get him. He has struggled over the past two years to get back to even his pre-injury level of play, suffering a torn ACL in 2020.

As for Spillane, he has been in and out of the starting lineup. When he does start, it has tended to mean the team is disappointed in its starters, if healthy. Outside of Bush and Spillane are questions about Myles Jack. One has to wonder if the Steelers are committed to him and his $8 million base salary due in 2023.

Pittsburgh is not averse to addressing the inside linebacker position in significant ways through the draft. They have used first-round picks on the position three times under head coach Mike Tomlin. Bush was the latest and least successful, but he was preceded by Ryan Shazier in 2014 and Lawrence Timmons in 2007.

They have also used free agency and even trade when they felt it was necessary. Jack is the most recent example of a significant (for them) veteran move. He replaced another one, Joe Schobert, for whom they traded in August of 2021. Before him was Mark Barron.

It would be hard to accept the notion that the Steelers are satisfied with their level of play at the position in recent years. Even if they have occasional consistency in tackling, the dynamic splash plays have been virtually absent. No inside linebacker recorded a takeaway or a sack in 2022.

Among the more notable inside linebackers coming out of this draft class are Trenton Simpson, Drew Sanders, Nolan Smith, and Noah Sewell. While it would be nice to get more help along the inside, of course, they have other areas worth addressing. Like either of the trenches, for one thing, and there seems to be increasing outside focus on cornerback.

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