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NFL Draft

Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: Linebacker

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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.

Steelers draft picks in the 21st century series: Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Line | Quarterbacks | Special Teams | Defensive Line

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.

Andy Russell
Jack Ham
Jack Lambert
Robin Cole
David Little
Mike Merriweather
Bryan Hinkle
Hardy Nickerson
Greg Lloyd
Kevin Greene
Levon Kirkland
Chad Browne
Jason Gildon
James Farrior
Joey Porter
James Harrison
Lawrence Timmons
LaMarr Woodley
Ryan Shazier
T.J. Watt

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.

Not that there haven’t been a few missteps, (see Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones), but as a whole, the Steelers legacy of excellent linebackers hasn’t skipped a beat under Colbert.

2000: 5th round, Clark Haggans, Colorado St.
2001: 2nd round, Kendrell Bell, Georgia; 6th round, Roger Knight, Wisconsin

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
2004: none
2005: 5th round, Rian Wallace, Temple
2006: none
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
2009: none
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?

2018: None
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:

SEC: 3
ACC: 6
Big 12: 0
Big 10: 6
PAC 12: 5

Power 5: 20
Group of 5: 7

Notes:

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.

NFL Draft

Mic Drop: Adam Zielonka of Washington Times on McFarland, Brooks

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Instead of trading for a proven running back like Leonard Fournette, the Steelers simply drafted a rookie with their 4th round pick. That rookie is Anthony McFarland out of the University of Maryland. To fully explain what McFarland brings to the table, Mike Asti was joined by Adam Zielonka, who is a sports reporter for the Washington Times. Zielonka also touched Antoine Brooks, the other Maryland product drafted by the Steelers.

Click here to also watch Mike and others discuss if the Steelers should have instead traded for Leonard Fournette on Pittsburgh Sports Live.

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2020 NFL Draft

Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft

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Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.

Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.

“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”

With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.

Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.

Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.

“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”

Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.

“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”

Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.

It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.

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2020 NFL Draft

Mic Drop: NFL Draft Recap Show

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It was eat, sleep, draft coverage, repeat for Mike Asti and the Steelers Now crew this past week. And now that the draft is over, Mike Asti evaluates each pick and gives his thoughts on some moves he says the Steelers should have made.

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