The Pittsburgh Steelers have three inside linebackers under contract who have either played snaps for them or who were just acquired to multi-year contracts as outside unrestricted free agents. Four of the five who were on the roster for most of last season are now gone, with Devin Bush and Robert Spillane signing elsewhere, Myles Jack released, and Marcus Allen unsigned.
Technically speaking, Tae Crowder also returns, though he never played a snap for the Steelers last season, but he does have meaningful playing experience. Still, the team did add Cole Holcomb on a three-year, $18 million deal and Elandon Roberts on a two-year, $7 million contract. They’re presumably set at the top, right? How will they approach the draft?
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes the inside linebacker position “could be in play after 49”, meaning after their second, natural second-round draft pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. In other words, he doesn’t see the Steelers using a selection there before the third round. “I think they are content to see how Mark Robinson develops in year 2 behind the two guys they brought in”, he added.
Robinson was taken in the seventh round a year ago out of Ole Miss. A former running back who only converted to defense late in his college career after a transfer, he showed every bit of his rawness last season, but the Steelers were intrigued about his hitting ability.
Unsurprising for a 225th-overall draft pick, he was a healthy scratch for most of the season. But by year’s end, perhaps due to a combination of positional health, a souring on Bush, and the rookie’s natural progression, they began to give him some opportunities.
Robinson dressed for five games in all — at first only due to injuries — playing in four, including three on defense. His most notably game was in week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens in which he started and logged 50 percent of the snaps, or 26 in all, registering seven tackles.
After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about what he saw in Robinson that led him to grow comfortable in putting him on the field. He responded by jokingly asking who ever said he was comfortable.
Either way, he got on the field and made an impression, some good, some bad. With Holcomb and Roberts brought in, however, the pressure will not be on him to grow at a pace that he is not ready for. If he does develop, then it will be a bonus.
In the meantime, the Steelers will expect him to become a staple on special teams. Whether or not, and when, they add another inside linebacker to the room through the draft remains to be seen. It’s certainly possible, but I’m inclined to agree that it won’t come in the first two rounds unless the draft breaks in a rather unusual and unexpected way.