With Devin Bush returning from injury, Vince Williams and Robert Spillane being brought back, and Buddy Johnson being drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, inside linebacker is not considered a huge need for the Pittsburgh Steelers headed into 2021. However, if the Steelers choose to keep five inside linebackers, which is not abnormal, signing a free agent that can contribute on special teams would make sense. Marcus Allen is not a lock to make the roster at either safety or linebacker, and Ulysses Gilbert cannot stay healthy.
The Steelers also have a serious lack of depth at outside linebacker. Cassius Marsh was decent on special teams last season, but it would be more comforting to have a player who could play quality snaps on defense when called upon.
This, my friends, is a situation that can be solved with a free agent that would cost next to nothing: Chris Orr.
Orr is a second year linebacker out of Wisconsin who had a very successful collegiate career, recording 188 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries. Much of that production came in his senior season when he was used as a blitzer more often. In 2019 alone, Orr recorded 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He did not play in 2016 due to an ACL injury.
Orr signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2020, and he seemed to make a good impression early on, being brought up to the active roster for three games. He only played six snaps on defense and fifty snaps on special teams, but for someone who most people did not expect to even make the practice squad, he showed enough to the Panthers to keep him around for the entire season. However, after the free agent signings of Denzel Perryman and Hasaan Reddick, there was not going to be room for Orr on the roster. When the Panthers signed former Jaguars defensive tackle Caraun Reid two weeks ago, Orr was released and is now looking for a new team.
Teammate Zach Baun got most of the praise for the success of the Wisconsin linebackers, but Chris Orr had a very underrated part in their success. The stats will show you that he is a good tackler and blitzer, but he is capable of much more than that. Orr is not a guy that you want to be covering a receiver or athletic tight end in the slot, but he was reliable against most running backs and in-line tight ends. I never fully understood claims that Orr was not athletic enough to make an NFL roster, because his tape proves otherwise. Nevertheless, Orr put the critics to bed at his pro day, recording a 4.65 in the 40, a 36.5 inch vertical jump, and 20 bench reps. His 6.99 in the 3-cone drill would have been fifth fastest among all linebackers at the scouting combine, and his 4.08 in the 20-yard shuttle would have topped all linebackers in Indianapolis.
Again, I want to thank Jacob Bost for getting the clips prepared for these articles. The first clip we are going to look at is against Central Michigan.
Orr’s assignment is to cover the running back. He displays good closing speed, but the strength he displayed on this tackle is what caught my attention. He dives for the back in effort to bring him down before he reaches the first down marker, but he also grabs hold of the running back and does not let go. If he goes for the legs, the back can potentially extend his body to get the first down. He smartly grabs the back toward the middle of his body and is able to hold on, making the tackle to bring up fourth down.
Here is the next clip. Orr is #54.
After diagnosing the run, Orr shoots the gap and is able to get in between tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Tyler Linderbaum to meet running back Tyler Goodson in the backfield. He keeps his pads at a good level throughout the entire play and is able to bring down Goodson with the help of, believe it or not, Isaiahh Loudermilk.
The next play is against Ohio State.
When the running back stays near the line to block, Orr comes downhill. When Fields takes off to run, Orr is able to disengage from guard Jonah Jackson and combine with Zach Baun to get just enough of Justin Fields to keep him from getting the first down. Orr consistently does a good job disengaging from opponents and making tackles, especially in the run game.
We have seen what Orr would bring as a tackler, but let’s look at the most intriguing part of his game: blitzing. Here is another play from that Ohio State game.
Orr shows good patience here. Rather than getting caught in the block to the right, he hesitates for a split second, allowing the block to open up a hole. Orr then has a free shot at the quarterback up the middle, and he is able to get to Fields before Fields can get rid of the ball. Orr displays good awareness on a consistent basis, and he does an excellent job timing his blitzes. His patience and awareness as a pass rusher make him very effective on stunts.
The final two plays are against Northwestern. Here is the first one.
This one is just too easy. I was tempted to leave this one off the article completely simply because it does not take much to win on this play. A little hesitation in the hole followed by a swim move is all he needs to avoid the running back on this one. Orr’s hunger as a pass rusher is something that we rarely see from inside linebackers, and that defense really fed off the energy that he brought each week. Whether the sack is simple or difficult, Orr always shows positive emotion that motivates his teammates.
When searching for information on Orr during both last year’s draft cycle and again this past week, I noticed that all the teammates that I found mentioning him had only positive things to say about him. He seems to be a high-character player, and the comments from his teammates only confirm that in my mind.
Orr was send up the middle quite often, but he also has experience blitzing off the edge. Here is the final play we will look at.
Orr is originally in the middle but slides toward the edge. He goes unblocked and has a free shot at the quarterback once again. I cannot go through every play of Orr in this article, but one thing that pops up a lot on his tape is his willingness to hit people. He may not be the biggest linebacker, but he plays bigger than his size and is not afraid to make the giant hit that can shift the momentum of a game. It all goes back to that energy we talked about a minute ago. His big-play capability is a big reason why I am such a big believer in him.
Orr showed more than enough flashes in college for me to believe in his potential as a linebacker. He lacks the ideal length to be an edge rusher, but he has proven that he can get to the quarterback from either the inside or the outside. He will never be a full-time edge rusher, but I believe he would bring just as much as on special teams and more as an edge rusher than Cassius Marsh would. Orr would also not cost anymore than what the Steelers are paying Marsh.
Inside linebacker is definitely Orr’s primary position, and the Steelers love sending pressure from their inside linebackers, which makes him an ideal fit. He would not see much, if any, playing time at that position this season unless there is an injury, but if either Vince Williams or Robert Spillane leave next offseason, the door will be open for Orr to make an impact as an inside linebacker. In year one, though, he will be a guy who can spell T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and compete with rookie Quincy Roche for quality minutes.
Having only one reliable backup at edge means that you have no reliable backups at edge. A third edge rusher is used quite often, which is exactly why Quincy Roche does not solve the issue at depth. He is an unknown himself, but he will likely see a lot of playing time during his rookie season. Cassius Marsh is the only other backup currently, and he is not a player you want to see on the field outside of special teams. Money is tight right now, but grabbing the cheap Chris Orr may be exactly what this cash-strapped Steelers team needs.