I have no problem admitting that I enjoyed watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl in rather dominating fashion. The Buccaneers team and schemes were classically old school, and have to be viewed as a favorable outcome for all us old timers and football purists. Outside of the plethora of the "Where are they now?" former Steelers players and coaches scattered throughout the Buccaneers franchise, I didn't have a dog in the fight. I couldn't care less about any halftime show, and the always highly anticipated commercials were impressively unimpressive to say the least.
The most impressive aspect of the Buccaneers all around outstanding performance was the way their defense stymied Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs explosive offense like nobody else has been able to do since Mahomes has been the Chiefs starting QB. The Chiefs offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time in the Mahomes tenure. It wasn't just the fact that the Buccaneers defense did the unthinkable, but in the fashion that they accomplished the feat. Lead by hands down the best inside linebacker tandem in the NFL.
The Pittsburgh Steelers hopefully were paying attention. Devin White and Lavonte David were the most dominant and disruptive defenders on the field. Their combination of speed and power threw a monkey wrench in the Chiefs best laid plans. Mahomes has made a living utilizing his security blanket; better known as All World TE Travis Kelce, whenever a clutch completion was needed in a crucial situation. Kelce was visiably frustrated throughout the game by David's aggressive and physical coverage. He was unable to simply overpower or run away from the uber talented David. That simple fact completely changed the complexion of the game. Without their constant glaring mismatch at their disposal, the Chiefs offense struggled to adjust.
Now the Steelers are preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft, and they have plenty of holes on the roster that need filling, especially on the offensive line. While they desperately need an influx of talent at the running back and tight end positions, offensive line is definitely the biggest area of need, with Maurkice Pouncey's retirement and three former starters entering free agency. Based on that common knowledge the Steelers have to go offensive line early and often in the 2021 NFL Draft, especially in the first round. Maybe, maybe not. After watching Tampa Bay's defense in the Super Bowl, the Steelers maybe tempted to look for a stud inside linebacker to pair with Devin Bush.
If the Steelers are looking for an inside linebacker with truly special attributes at the position, then Zaven Collins from Tulsa should definitely be on their radar. Listed at 6'4" and 260 lbs. Collins has superior length and girth for the position, coupled with solid speed and quickness for a player his size. His already exceptional power should only improve with age and NFL caliber strength training. He sheds blockers easily and is a superior tackler. He is an accomplished pass rusher, either from his inside position or from the edge. This versatility sets him apart from the other inside linebacker prospects in this draft class and makes him worthy of first round consideration in my opinion.
Another inside linebacker the Steelers could consider late in the first, or more likely in the second round, would be Nick Bolton from Missouri. Especially if they are the least bit concerned with Devin Bush's ability to make a full recovery from ACL surgery. Actually Bolton is very similar to Bush in both stature and ability. Bolton is vertically challenged for the position; listed at 6'0" and 232 lbs., but is a high volume tackler due to his athleticism, aggressive nature, and superior instincts. His forty times and explosive testing numbers at his pro day workout will greatly impact his draft positioning.
The Steelers may decide they simply have too many pressing needs at the aforementioned positions to spend a early round selection on the inside linebacker spot. If that proves to be the case, I would suggest that the Steelers take a long and hard look at Tony Fields II from West Virginia in the sixth round. Fields only played one season for the Mountaineers, but he made the most of the opportunity and showcased NFL draftable talent while leading the team in tackles. He is similar in size to Marcus Allen; listed at 6' 1" and 222 lbs, but I feel that Fields is a far more natural linebacker than Allen. He is an example of the new age inside linebacker capable of staying on the field for all three downs.
He is a willing and able tackler, though he will struggle in some matchups to shed and engage due to his size limitations. He excels as a pursuit linebacker due to his all out effort and excellent mobility. Another prospect who's pro day will hold special importance toward his draft positioning. He will excel on special teams immediately, and will bring a junkyard dog mentality to the locker room and meeting rooms. He was the spiritual and vocal leader at WVU right out of the gate, a defense that just happened to be not only the best defense in the Big 12, but one of the best defenses in the nation.
Prior to the Super Bowl, I thought it was a no brainer that the Steelers would go offensive lineman in the first round this year. Now I am not so sure, seeing how many top center prospects are being given late first to early fourth round grades. Depending on which offensive line prospects catch the Steelers fancy, and where and when they are projected to selected, it is feasible that the Steelers could be enticed to truly go best player available in the first round and draft a stud inside linebacker to pair with Devin Bush.
As an admitted lover of all things defense, particularly old school smash-mouth football, I am intrigued by the possibilities.