Linebacker U: Steelers Are Top Dog At Finding Defensive Diamonds In The Draft
In today's NFL, the GM role is more important than ever due to the addition of a salary cap and free agency. With these additional hurdles, building a contender is often a struggle between finding a balance of veteran players and contributing rookies to fill out their 53-man roster.
Many have heard the saying "next man up" in hopes of a backup player to respond in their new role as a starter due to an injury. The mark of a good GM is if the talent you've put behind your starting 11, on each side of the ball, has what it takes to get the job done.
Each GM has their own approach but Kevin Colbert is one of the top guys at his position on finding young talent in the late rounds of the draft that can be developed into key parts of the 53-man roster for the Steelers, from battling for a roster spot to contributing on special teams or even earning positional playing time.
For the past few years, Colbert has proven his worth in finding defensive talent in the late rounds of the draft that have provided a major impact on that side of the ball. This has allowed the Steelers to go after bigger needs in the draft and free agency, allowing them to gather top-end talent on offense with higher draft picks.
Let's start with a player that could be a key contributor that no one is talking about going into this season.
Tyler Matakevich, 2016 (7th Round)
In a world of analytics, Tyler Matakevich went under the radar for most people in the draft falling all the way to the 7th round. Matakevich was not a person that combine or physical numbers that jumped out at you, with a 40 timed in at 4.8 and is only 6ft tall, Matakevich looked to be slow and small, not what you want in the NFL.
The thing that does jump off at you is his game speed and his fundamentals. Matakevich was a tackling machine in college and it jumped into his first year. Only playing a few snaps on defense last season he was impressive with 8 tackles vs. Miami. With Lawrence Timmons gone in FA and Vince Williams assuming the starting role with Shazier, Matakevich is going to be the third guy in the rotation and he is showing some great value for a 7th round pick. I think he steps up in this role this up coming season and is a solid contributor. Ryan Shazier in 3 seasons has not started more than 13 games. Matakevich will be the next man up and I feel he has the ability to take on the role in a spot start capacity for the Steelers.
Vince Williams, 2013 (6th Round)
Vince Williams is the diamond that every GM hopes to find in the 6th round. Williams is not a flashy guy like famous 6th rounder Tom Brady, but believe me, any GM would be happy to walk out of an NFL draft with a Vince Williams talent in the 6th round.
Williams was buried on the depth chart when he was drafted in 2013. With hard work and dedication to mastering special teams, he made the roster out of camp. In his rookie season, Williams battled to starting when Larry Foote went down and started 10 games that season.
With a solid rookie season, the Steelers decided to still draft a MLB in the first round once again, making Williams a back up. Even with a solid rookie season, the Steelers still decided to draft a MLB in the first round, once again making Williams a back up for the 2014 and 15 seasons.
Williams role for these seasons was a spot starter and special teams contributor, but with the hard work of three years under his belt (and the writing on the wall that Lawrence Timmons was on his way out after the 2016 season), the Steelers rewarded Williams with a contract extension.
For the first time Vince Williams enters NFL training camp as a starting MLB on the Steelers roster. Not only that, but he is now a trusted leader on the defensive side of the ball, proving that he was a true diamond of the 2013 draft for the Steelers.
James Harrison - 2002 (undrafted)
The Steelers have been known to be called "Linebacker U" referring to all the great LBs they have had over the years. Probably one of the best of them is James Harrison who wasn't drafted at all. The story of James Harrison is no fairy-tale; it's a story of hard work and passion. Harrison entered the league as a very small 6 ft., 240 lb who was a walk on to Kent State University and the went undrafted in 2002 NFL Draft, leading very littler odds of him making a NFL roster.
Harrison was a practice quad player and was cut by the Steelers and Ravens a combined 5 times. The Steelers could have gone with someone one younger and bigger when Clark Haggins went down 2004 but the Steelers brought back someone that had spent a few camps with them and could pick up the game fast if needed.
This is where Colbert showed his worth again: bring in someone that would be a good depth player help on special teams and could fill in on a pitch.
Harrison being on of the first to start the newfound development path that Colbert puts forth for young men trying to make the team, Harrison was a key part of Super Bowl XL, where he helped on special teams a contributing with 3 tackles. The following season, he became one of the Steelers starting OLB, which was the start of a journey that could one day be the best NFL stories to Canton.
In a world of analytics, Colbert has shown that it's not all about the combine stats, the height, weight and strength of a player. Some players do not have the numbers but have what it takes to play in the NFL. This is a lost art among the younger GM generation. Pittsburgh is lucky to have a GM that hits and develops young talent in the late rounds and continues to make Pittsburgh "Linebacker U".
- Coach W.