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What type of linebacker did the Steelers get in Elandon Roberts?

The Steelers have overhauled their inside linebacker position during free agency.

Green Bay Packers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 league year is underway. After double dipping at the position, the Steelers inside linebackers will have a new look for 2023. When looking at specifically Elandon Roberts, what type of linebacker should Steelers fans expect? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

Elandon Roberts is joining the Pittsburgh Steelers as his third NFL team in what will be his eighth season in the league. Drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round in 2016, Roberts spent four seasons in New England before spending the last three years with the Miami Dolphins.

In his seven-year career, Elandon Roberts has 457 tackles with 39 being for loss to go with 26 quarterback hits and 11.0 sacks. Roberts also has four forced fumbles with two fumble recoveries, eight passes defensed, and one interception that was returned 85 yards for a touchdown.

When looking in his career, Roberts most success was likely seen in 2021 where he had his touchdown return as well as two forced fumbles and 83 tackles. But 2022 might have been his most useful season in the NFL. Starting all 17 games for the Dolphins, Roberts had a career high in tackles with 107 and sacks with 4.5. Roberts also had a career high in tackles for loss with 10 as well as snaps played on defense with 680.

Another item of note is that Robert was used as a fullback with the New England Patriots turning the 2019 season. Throughout the year, Roberts played 58 offensive snaps were he had one reception for 38 yards and a touchdown.

When looking at some of the advanced defensive statistics, Robert did surrender an 80% completion rate in 2022 according to Pro Football Reference. Giving up 28 completions on 35 targets for 304 yards, Roberts was credited with surrendering two receiving touchdowns on the season.

Now that we’ve taken in some of the numbers, let’s break down the film.

The Film Line:

I dug in depth into three games from Elandon Roberts for this film: His Week 7 game against the Steelers, his Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills (his worst game according to PFF) and his Week 16 game against the Green Bay Packers (his best game according to PFF). Roberts showed the exact same strengths and weaknesses in all three games. In fact, one of the hardest parts about this film room was choosing which plays to use since there were so many plays showing the same traits.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker on the hash marks in the middle of the screen.

Roberts does a great job here, mirroring Harris, pausing to seal one run lane, then getting outside to make the tackle. It’s also a really good tackle. Check it out.

Najee Harris goes for the stiff arm, but Roberts swats his arm down and keeps his arm inside Harris’ arm to the back couldn’t throw him to the ground. You know, like he did to Myles Garrett in Week 17:

Najee Harris is the one introducing Myles Garrett’s helmet to the grass.

Elandon Roberts stuffed the run and kept himself out of the Najee Harris highlights. Not bad. Even though he’s a smaller linebacker (listed at almost exactly the same size as Devin Bush) Roberts doesn’t seem to have the problems Bush had with shorter arms leading to getting stiff-armed a lot.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker that runs with the back before the snap.

Roberts isn’t super athletic, but he can get outside in a hurry. Here he’s able to navigate the blocking slot receiver and hold the gain to 2 yards. Notice he turns and runs with this play. Roberts can shuffle laterally with a lot of backs, but he’s not fast enough to get away with it here and he has to turn and run.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker in-between the hash marks.

When Roberts is charging the ball he’s a missile, and he’s not the most agile. This is where you see more of his missed tackles— when he’s going full speed to get to the ball and the carrier dodges him.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker between the hash marks in the middle of the screen.

If you look at the plays where Roberts gets outside quickly, it’s because of aggressive reads like this one. You can see he doesn’t reverse course quickly as he’s not a “twitchy” linebacker, and it leaves a nice cutback lane for the runner on this play.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker on the hash marks in the middle of the screen.

Here’s another missed tackle. If you have read many of these Vertex articles, you know I’m not going to criticize him for this play. Getting to the runner in the backfield disrupts the play and gives his team mates a better shot at making a stop. Would it be great if he could get back there and finish the job? Of course. But slowing the back down is also a good play as you just need your teammates to finish the play like they did on this play.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker next to the hash marks in the middle of the screen.

Here the runner is coming right at Roberts and Roberts plays it smart and makes the stop, letting the back commit to a direction before committing himself. In the games I watched, I found Roberts to be a very sound run defender in space with his only real limitation being he isn’t a change-of-direction, twitchy athlete.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker on the hash marks in the middle of the screen.

Remember Elandon Roberts is listed at almost the exact same height and weight as Devin Bush, yet here he is driving Zach Gentry backwards, sealing off Najee Harris’ run lane. I have a ton of clips of Roberts fighting blockers, taking on anyone in his path and doing his best. When the blocker gets him squared up, he loses a good bit because of his size, but his aggressive play often leads to him getting to the spot before the blocker is ready and he wins those a lot with force and leverage. Elandon Roberts may not be built like a Buck linebacker, but he plays like one.

Roberts isn’t a coverage linebacker. He’s not bad in zone, as you can see in a number of these clips, and in short zone he closes to the ball fast. He’s also a good man cover guy on less athletic backs and tight ends and adds being a good add-on blitzer when his man is blocking. He was used as a two-down linebacker and was more likely to leave the field than leave the box. But I did find this play:

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker between the hash marks in the middle of the screen.

That’s a pretty solid Tampa-2 drop. I would rate him equal to any of the Steelers linebackers last season in coverage (not a big endorsement, I know) and I expect he won’t be on the field in dime and maybe not even in nickel all the time. But he’s not a big liability either.

Elandon Roberts (#52) is the linebacker just to the left of the hash marks.

Roberts aggressiveness makes him a good blitzer, even if he’s not anywhere close to a Vince Williams, and you can see it forces Aaron Rodgers out of the pocket and into a tougher throw. He does the Aaron Rodgers thing and makes the throw anyway, but the blitz was good.

The Point:

Elandon Roberts gives the Steelers a smart run defender who also brings aggressiveness, fight, and hustle to the position. The Steelers have consistently had at least one linebacker who wasn’t great in coverage, and as long as Elandon Roberts isn’t their main cover linebacker, they’ll be fine.