Many Steelers fans are familiar with Houston cornerback William Jackson III, who's projected to be selected in the first round of this year's draft. Many scouts and draft analysts have mocked the rangy ball hawk to the Steelers at 1:25. But the team has also shown interest in another talented Cougars defender, linebacker Elandon Roberts.
The Steelers brass was on hand at Houston's Pro Day, and came away so impressed with Roberts, that they asked him to participate in a private workout, according to NFL Network Reporter Rand Getlin.
Roberts is the lesser known prospect coming out of Houston, but he was the team captain, the leader of the defense, and earned American Athletic Conference First Team honors last season. A tackling machine, the senior linebacker led all of FBS with 88 solo tackles (142 total), and 19 tackles-for-loss in 2015, helping lead the Cougars (13-1) to their most successful campaign in school history.
With inside linebackers Terence Garvin and Sean Spence recently departing in free agency, Pittsburgh should be looking to use the middle to late rounds of this year's draft to restock what was once the deepest position on the team.
Roberts is very much in the mold of Spence. He's a fundamentally sound tackler, possesses a high football IQ, and is a fiery leader and competitor. Like Spence, Roberts isn't a freakish athlete, and his Pro Day results bear that out.
PRO DAY RESULTS:
40-yard dash: 4.6 seconds
Vertical: 36 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet
Short shuttle: 4.26 seconds
3-cone: 7.23 seconds
Bench: 25 reps of 225 pounds
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 235 lbs.
But, he's an exceptional run stuffer, and has a nose for the football. Roberts recorded double-digit tackles in seven games in 2015, including a ten-tackle performance in a 38-24 victory over No. 9 Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. But his most impressive performance of last season came in a game against American Conference rival Memphis, in which he recorded 18 total tackles, a sack, and an interception.
It will be crucial for the Steelers to find an adequate backup mack linebacker in the draft, who can also contribute on special teams. Starter Ryan Shazier, who when healthy, is one of the most explosive defensive playmakers in the NFL, has missed 11 games in his first two seasons due to injury.
Like Akron linebacker prospect Jatavis Brown, who I profiled for the site a couple of weeks ago, Roberts is projected to be a day three selection, and could go anywhere from rounds 5-7. Whether its Brown, or Roberts, I fully expect Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin to add another inside linebacker to the roster to compete with LJ Fort and Steven Johnson to provide depth behind Shazier.
For Roberts, the bottom line is what he lacks in speed and athleticism, he makes up for with technique, instincts, and an incredibly strong work ethic. If given the opportunity, I believe he will excel as a reserve linebacker, and a special teams contributor at the next level.