Steelers could look to NFL Draft to find competition for ILB Williams
The Steelers will head into the NFL Draft trying to replace a recent first-round pick at linebacker who didn’t work out.
Less certain is whether they will try to replace an older first-round pick at linebacker who did work out.
The underwhelming Jarvis Jones era is over, and the Steelers are expected to select an outside linebacker early in the draft that begins Thursday with the first round.
The productive Lawrence Timmons era also is over, yet the Steelers are giving backup Vince Williams the chance to win the job and finding an inside linebacker early in the draft isn’t considered an immediate priority.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock thinks the Steelers will go outside in the first round, but he believes “losing Timmons is bigger than people think.”
Timmons spent a decade entrenched in the middle of the defense before signing a two-year contract with the Miami Dolphins in March. His successor, assigned to play alongside Pro Bowl selection Ryan Shazier, is Williams, who just completed his fourth season.
“We know what Vince is. We know what he is capable of,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He will be given an opportunity to assume that position. It’s not going to be without competition.”
Competition already on the roster includes Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort and Steven Johnson. Whether the Steelers will add to that competition in the draft remains the be seen.
The highest-graded inside linebacker, Alabama’s Reuben Foster, has character issues. First, he was sent home from the NFL Combine after getting involved in a confrontation with a medical office. Then, a drug test taken at the combine came back diluted.
That could hurt the draft stock of Foster, the Butkus Award winner who had 115 tackles (13 for a loss) and five sacks last season.
“That’s always really disappointing,” Mayock said. “It has to be taken into consideration. … I don’t see him sliding all that far. I think he’s a top-20 pick all day long in any draft.”
The biggest riser among inside linebackers is Temple’s Haason Reddick. Initially viewed as an outside linebacker and potential candidate for the Steelers at No. 30, Reddick played inside some during an eye-opening Senior Bowl performance, and he had impressive workouts at the combine.
Reddick went from being a fringe first-round prospect to another potential top-20 draftee. As a senior, he finished third in the nation with 22 1⁄2 tackles for loss and led Temple with 10 1⁄2 sacks.
“He has made up so much ground in this process that the two of them (Foster included) are considered pretty closely together at this point,” Mayock said.
Florida’s Jarrad Davis is the other inside linebacker with a first-round grade. He finished second on the team in tackles despite missing four games with leg injuries.
“Davis has a little thump to him in terms of toughness,” NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said. “He can roam sideline to sideline and make plays.”
Second-day possibilities include Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan, the LSU tandem of Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith and Florida’s Alex Anzalone.
A late-round possibility whose name should be familiar to Steelers fans is Illinois’ Hardy Nickerson. He played three seasons at Cal before finishing at Illinois, where his father, the former Steelers linebacker of the same name, was defensive coordinator.