I know, I know, we have four No. 1 draft picks already playing at linebacker, the Steelers would be crazy to spend another number one on yet another linebacker. But it is not as crazy as you might think. There are actually some very good reasons why the Steelers need another high draft pick linebacker to help strengthen the backbone of their defense.
But before we get into the reasons why they will draft a linebacker with the 25th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, lets put some caveats in that will help you wrap your head around this:
1. This is going to be very much based on a Best Player Available strategy. The bet here is that despite what Walter Football says, Taylor Decker will be long gone by the time the Steelers are on the clock. The same will hold true for most of the first round rated cornerbacks and safeties. The Steelers are not going to reach (not in the first round anyway).
2. The re-signing of free agents. With Willliam Gay, Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin out there, if one or two of them sign with the Steelers, along with Cockrell and Golson, taking a CB in the first round becomes much less imperative.
3. What's Deebo going to do? James Harrison, God bless him, gave us one heck of a season last year. Of the 4 OLB's who took the majority of snaps, Harrison easily took the most of the group. He also often made the biggest splash plays as well. But Deebo is going to be 38, going on 39 next season. Can we really expect him to give fans a similar effort? That is if he even decides to come back instead of spending more time with his sons and two puppies.
OK so that is the Harrison factor, but what about the rest of the linebacker crew? After all there were around 12 of them on the roster last year. Good question, let's take a look:
1. Jarvis Jones - OK he is probably never going to be one of the greatest Steelers OLBs. But lets stop the talk of cutting him loose now. He was solid at the end of the year, if not spectacular. It costs us nothing to agree to give him a 5th year option for 2017. But it doesn't mean we have to pay it. If Jarvis stays healthy and continues to make progress, maybe we can instead sign an extension or new contract at a reasonable rate after next season. Paying him the 5th year option would probably be ludicrous. So, if Jones isn't reasonable about a new contract in line with his stats and not his draft position, he will probably leave after this season. If so, drafting an outside linebacker this season will leave that pick in perfect position to take over the slot in 2017.
2. Arthur Moats - Hey I love 55. He gives us a solid effort every snap on the field. But I don't think many of you would disagree that we would like to see Moats in a backup role. He can play both the weak and strong side backer position, he is not a cap buster in salary. Great depth provider. Not a reason not to draft a linebacker with our first pick though.
3. Bud Dupree - No complaints here. If Bud keeps progressing, he will be special. Pencil him for the next 5-7 years in one of the OLB spots. He needs a solid compliment on the other side.
4. Anthony Chickillo - I liked what I saw from him and he has the pedigree. But right now it is hard to imagine him as more than a special team player and occasional fill in.
6. Lawrence Timmons - The iron man of the linebacker crew, Timmons is under rated as a great player. But he is also approaching 30 with a lot of games under his belt. How many more years can he play at this high a level? Remember he was drafted the same year as LaMarr Woodley, and you know where he is now.
7. Ryan Shazier - When healthy, he is a game changer, as we saw in the Cincinnati playoff game. Forget those naysayers who think we should move him to safety, Shazier is the future of this team and the leader of the defense. He just needs to stay healthy.
8. Sean Spence - I love this guy, great inspirational story. Only the Steelers would have kept this guy hanging around while he rehabbed and we were rewarded for it. The problem is he played so well, he may have priced himself out of signing with Pittsburgh. He is an unrestricted free agent. You can't blame him for chasing the highest buck, who knows how long you can play in the league? So I think as much as we would like Spence back, the only way he re-signs with the team is with a nice hometown discount.
9. Vince Williams - Love Williams. Great special teams guy and more than capable fill in at ILB. He has at least one more year left and gives us great depth. But he is a solid backup, not starter material. Also, after this year he could leave to FA as well.
That would see us lose Spence and Williams by next off season. Timmons is two years older by then, who do we have in the wings to play alongside Shazier?
10. 11. &12 - Terry Garvin, L.J. Fort & Jordan Zumwalt - Great special teams fodder, but do you see any starters here? I keep waiting to see what Zumwalt has but I am thinking at this point it's not enough to care too much.
So heading into the 2017 season, we may not have Jarvis Jones, and if we do, he may not be starter material. Deebo will be home lifting weights. Moats may still be here as depth and Bud is coming into his prime. The first round edge linebacker we draft in 2016, experienced during the season is ready to assume a starting role. Or heading into 2017, the ILB we picked in the first round is ready to be first man up behind an older Timmons or to spell Shazier.
Either way the Steelers need a linebacker. And we all know it is hard for the Steelers to resist taking a linebacker early when the opportunity presents itself.