Steelers 2019 NFL Draft Spotlight: Akron LB Ulysees Gilbert

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more under the radar picks in this draft was Ulysees Gilbert. Sure he's a late round pick, and there are a lot of obstacles to his success. Some would be quick to point out that based solely on his draft position he doesn't even have that great a chance of making the team. I'm not saying the guy is my favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, though. There's a lot more to be excited about for Gilbert than for a lot of other 6th round picks.

Let's look at some of those reasons:

1. Productivity

He wasn't as productive last year for some reason, but in 14 games in 2017 produced 140 total tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, and a fumble recovery. Yeah, those are MAC stats, but at least he proved he can dominate lesser competition. He's also got that playmaker spark. A lot of folks criticized Devin Bush for not being that guy, but Gilbert has 3 defensive TD's to his credit the past two years.

2. Intent

The Steelers didn't just pick Gilbert because they wanted a ST player and he was the best available. This is a guy they had their eye on, having attended his pro day and brought him in for an official visit. The brass really like this guy and they know exactly how they want to use him.

3. Athleticism?

Check out these numbers

Devin Bush - 4.43 forty, 21 reps on the bench, 40.5'' vertical, 124'' broad jump, 6.93 three cone
Ulysees Gilbert - 4.46 forty, 20 bench reps, 39.5'' vertical, 126'' broad jump, 6.94 three cone

Sure, those are pro day numbers, and Gilbert is 10 pounds lighter, but that's serious speed, explosion, and agility, and like Bush he's not just a raw project who currently gets by only on athleticism. He does a good job reading keys, navigating traffic and all the little things that ILB's have to do.

4. Size?

The big number is 224, which is big because it's little. He's undersized to be a full time ILB, but how undersized really? Gilbert could potentially bulk up with an NFL weights program, but he may not even have to. Sure, guys like Telvin Smith and Deone Bucannon playing at 215 are the exceptions, but it shows there are ways to use an undersized ILB, and the Steelers seem not just willing but intent on finding that kind of role on their defense.

5. Versatility

Against SEC opponent South Carolina last year, the Zips used Gilbert repeatedly in coverage on WR's. You know how we love LB's covering WR's. They also had him for quite a few plays as an edge rusher, so the guy can play all over the field in a variety of roles. That's an obvious fit from what we've seen over the past several years, but it got even more interesting when both Tomlin and Colbert described him as having OLB potential.

6. Sixth round magic, baby

The Steelers' last 11 picks in the 6th round include Antonio Brown, Jonathan Dwyer, Vince Williams, Dan McCullers, Anthony Chickillo, LT Walton, and the great Colin HOLBA. Sure, nobody just said "Wow, Jonathan Dwyer in the 6th round, what a steal!" But 50% of your 6th round picks making the roster is pretty impressive, and good backups are good backups. The Steelers have a habit of getting solid backups (or more) where most teams are just picking up camp bodies.

7. Pittsburgh Linebackers

Let's go back to that OLB comment, because we just drafted a significantly undersized OLB in Sutton Smith and then called a guy who is 10 pounds lighter than that and who has never really played OLB backup OLB material. The Steelers drop their OLB's into coverage more than any other 3-4 team; have they decided they maybe need to stop looking at prototype 3-4 OLB types and find a new market inefficiency in tweeners who can run, cover, and hit? Anyway, with Devin Bush, Terrell Edmunds, Mark Barron, and Ulysees Gilbert, the Steelers will have the potential to do some things with fast guys who can cover and hit in the middle of the field. That's not even considering Sutton Smith as a potential hybrid ILB/OLB or Marcus Allen and Brian Allen (now listed as a safety on the team depth chart) as backup safeties.

8. Cost savings

You can just change the number on your Marcus Gilbert jersey

9. He's from my hometown, and my dad knows his dad, so we're practically brothers.

10. To be perfectly up front...

I will also mention one big concern and that is some significant knocks on his zone awareness in his scouting report. If he is going to be a coverage ILB he's going to have to be able to play zone as well as man, and will definitely need to improve in this regard to have much of an impact.

The bottom line is that Gilbert may be held back from a starting role by his size and will be held back from a situational role by his lack of awareness in zone if he can't improve in that regard, but it wouldn't take a lot for him to really excel as an undersized LB with versatility to give opposing offenses plenty of headaches.

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