By now you should know it is impossible for the Pittsburgh Steelers to have a draft class without selecting a linebacker. In case you were unaware, the Steelers selected two linebackers in the 2016 NFL Draft, an outside linebacker in Travis Feeney from Washington, and an inside linebacker in Tyler Matakevich from Temple.
The Steelers add two linebackers, all while losing both Sean Spence and Terence Garvin in free agency this offseason. Despite those departures, the Steelers linebacker corps remains intact heading into 2016. Time to take a look at the depth chart and update it accordingly with the new names and faces.
Steelers Linebacker Depth Chart:
Travis Feeney +
Tyriq McCord +
Tyler Matakavich +
+ denotes a Rookie
You would be hard pressed to find a team which is known more for its linebackers than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Year after year, the team is known for those tenacious outside linebackers who get after the quarterback, and the versatile inside linebackers who roam the middle of the field tracking down ball carriers like gazelles.
You can picture the names: Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, James Harrison and even LaMarr Woodley in his time with Pittsburgh, along with Levon Kirkland, James Farrior, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons. It's a proud group who did their job to a 'T' while in the Steel City.
However, look at the current depth chart, and it doesn't have the same ring to it compared to years past. Harrison is still on the team, but, despite being in tremendous shape, is far from what he once was as a Defensive Player of the Year winner -- father time has that impact on all of us. When looking at the rest of the outside linebacker corps, they are hard pressed for a play maker off the edge. However, what if the draft selection of Travis Feeney is a sign of a changing of the tides in Pittsburgh? Instead of your typical 3-4 outside linebackers, maybe the team is preparing itself for more sub packages and athleticism over brute force? If so, between Feeney and Dupree they have themselves one heck of a duo.
At inside linebacker, you would be hard pressed to find two more capable players than Shazier and Timmons. Shazier is a budding superstar, when healthy, and Timmons has become the old reliable player on the defense. Vince Williams is a very under appreciated asset to the Steelers, and could be called upon for more playing time in 2016 as the Steelers started to take Timmons off the field in certain sub packages and situations in 2015 -- something that hadn't been done since his rookie year.
Just like the outside linebackers, the transition of this team is slowly going from fierce and over-powering into a speed demon unit with the intelligence to back it up. This is where the pick of Matakevich screams of special teams potential, rather than defensive potential. Could Matakevich turn into a quality player and provide depth at the inside linebacker position? Absolutely, but is he the next James Farrior? Don't be silly.
The plain and simple answer to these questions is how the defense is changing. It is slowly evolving into a unit based on athleticism and speed. The team has drafted this way the past few years, and will hopefully reap the fruits of their labors in 2016 and beyond. Just because the defense might be run differently, and have different components, doesn't mean there won't be those classic "DEE-FENSE" chants echoing through Heinz Field next season...the defense just might look a little different. If the team gets results, does it really matter how they are achieved?