Bills inside linebacker Arthur Moats wasn't unfairly left off the 2014 AFC Pro Bowl team. He's not an undiscovered gem ready to burst into national prominence. The Steelers interest in Moats is not on the same level as their interest in ILB James Farrior in 2000.
But he is exactly the kind of player they did not have last year.
Conversation on the ceiling and the current ability of second-year LB Vince Williams ranges from satisfactory to terrible, depending on who's discussing the issue. Williams made a few plays, and by all accounts, is a hard-working kid who will also serve as a catalyst of sorts - a lightning rod of energy and enthusiasm among a defense that lacked such things for much of last season. It's intriguing to think what kind of player he'll be now that he has a year under his belt.
But that kind of player may be Moats - Williams in four years. Moats was also a sixth round pick (out of James Madison in 2010), and also was primarily used as a two-down player (i.e. he was taken out in nickel packages, or passing downs). He came up through the Bills in a similar manner as it appears Williams is preparing to do with the Steelers. He's playing on a relatively low contract at a highly physical position.
He already has the pain and experience Williams does not. Neither can be classified as a high-level athlete in comparison to their peers. What this defense needed last season wasn't Lawrence Timmons 2.0, but Larry Foote, the less athletic Robin in comparison to the highly evolved Batman standing two gaps to his side.
Foote's injury depleted the Steelers' base defense considerably last season. It suffered its worst run defense statistics under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and the domino effect of having such an inexperienced player at the position led to LeBeau using strong safety Troy Polamalu in that position for much of the season.
The Steelers are meeting with Moats, and there is no guarantee whether any kind of deal will be reached. But if they were to work something out, odds are good the Steelers could pencil him in as the starter opposite Timmons, letting Moats, Williams and injured third-year LB Sean Spence battle for playing time.
Moats can also contribute on special teams, something another linebacker rumored to have caught the eye of the Steelers in free agency, James Harrison, like cannot do.
Farrior came onto the Steelers roster and didn't leave for 12 seasons, etching himself into Steelers lore as probably the best free agent signing the team has ever made. Please come back and haunt me in 12 years if Moats signs and becomes a rival to that claim. But Moats would be less a luxury pick and more a necessary pick for a defense that absolutely must improve against the run in 2014.