We cut our teeth with the defensive line in the last edition of Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st century, now we’re moving on to the linebackers.
Does anything more need to be said about Pittsburgh Steelers and the linebacker position? No there doesn’t. Let’s just make a list instead.
There are about 50 Pro Bowl seasons, dozens of All-Pro teams and three Hall of Fame plaques amongst those listed. A few (Hardy Nickerson, Chad Browne) found more success elsewhere. But a majority of these names spent their careers terrorizing quarterbacks and shutting down running backs right here in Pittsburgh.
Since Colbert came to the Steelers in 2000, he’s had his hand in drafting a few of the names on this list, and his latest, T.J. Watt, looks like he may be on pace to set a franchise record or two of his own.
What could have been? Kendrell Bell looked like the next great one after a Pro Bowl rookie year for the inside linebacker from Georgia. Bell had 9 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Unfortunately that was by far his best season with the team, and after four years left for Kansas City, where he had two unproductive years.
2002: 2nd round, Larry Foote, Michigan
2003: 2nd round, Alonzo Jackson, Florida State
2005: 5th round, Rian Wallace, Temple
2007: 1st round, Lawrence Timmons, Florida State; 2nd round, LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
Talk about hitting the lottery. The Steelers go back-to-back with linebackers in the 1st and 2nd rounds and they hit a home run with both. Timmons would play 10 years with the Steelers making the Pro Bowl in 2014 and being an extremely steady piece in the middle of the defense. Woodley became a star in his second season racking up 11.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He would repeat that level of performance in 2009, 2010 and was on pace for an even better 2011 until injuries derailed the season and, unfortunately his career.
2008: 3rd round, Bruce Davis, UCLA; 6th round, Mike Humpal, UCLA
2010: 2nd round, Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech, 5th round, Stevenson Sylvester, Utah
2011: 5th round, Chris Carter, Fresno State
2012: 3rd round, Sean Spence, Miami
2013: 1st round, Jarvis Jones, Georgia; 6th round, Vince Williams, Florida State
One of the biggest busts in Steelers draft history. Despite being the 17th selection in the draft, Jones did almost nothing in four years with the team and was out of the league after that. In his 50 games with the Steelers he had 6 total sacks and 11 tackles for loss. 6th round pick Vince Williams has had a much better career, and is still a productive player for one of the best defenses in the league.
2014: 1st round, Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; 6th round, Jason Zumwalt, UCLA
No one will know how good Shazier could have become, but he was well on his way to superstardom before a freak injury left him partially paralyzed and forced him into retirement.
2015: 1st round, Bud Dupree, Kentucky; 6th round, Anthony Chickillo, Miami
2016: 6th round, Travis Feeney, Washington; 7th round, Tyler Matakevich, Temple
2017: 1st round, T.J. Watt, Wisconsin; 7th round, Keion Adams, Western Michigan
The best pass rusher the team has had since James Harrison. T.J. Watt was runner up DPOY in 2019 and there’s really nothing that would indicate he won’t continue to improve. Look for another run at DPOY in 2020 and maybe a sack title to boot?
2019: 1st round, Devin Bush, Michigan; 6th round, Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois; 6th round, Ulyssees Gilbert, Akron
The Steelers have high expectations for Bush. They wouldn’t have traded up in the first round to get him if they didn’t. He was probably a little out of his depth in the beginning of the season (the New England game in particular) but he progressed nicely throughout the year. Year number two should be a much better indicator of his true talent.
2000-2020 linebacker draft breakdown
Total selections: 27
Years selecting LB: 16/20
Selections by round:
1st round: 6
2nd round: 5
3rd round: 2
4th round: 0
5th round: 3
6th round: 6
7th round: 2
Selections by conference:
Big 12: 0
Big 10: 6
PAC 12: 5
Power 5: 20
Group of 5: 7
The Steelers have spent their 1st round pick on a linebacker in 5 of the last 7 seasons. … Jarvis Jones is the obvious bust, Ryan Shazier was on the path to superstardom before getting injured, the other three (Dupree, Watt, Bush) seem to have worked out. Colbert and Tomlin like ACC and Big 10 linebackers, with a penchant for Florida State, Ohio St. and Michigan. … The team has completely stayed away from the Big 12. … The Steelers took two or more linebackers in 10 of the 20 seasons under Colbert and six of the last seven seasons. … There have been no linebackers drafted in the fourth round under Colbert.