by Ryan Lang
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
The linebacker position has been an interesting group for the Steelers in recent years. They have one of the best outside linebacker duos in the league but have been lacking in solid inside linebacker play the past couple years. However, with a few key signings this offseason, they may have fixed those struggles.
Left Outside Linebackers (OLB):
TJ Watt - 6’4” 252 lbs.
Watt was drafted by the Steelers in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin. At the time, it wasn’t a popular pick, but that changed fast. Watt is a generational talent and has the potential to be in Canton one day. He is their most valuable player on the defense and the team plays at a playoff level when he’s on the field. If he stays healthy, Watt is an all-world player who will have 15 or more sacks per season.
Markus Golden - 6’2” 260 lbs.
Golden was drafted back in 2015 by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2nd round. He was inconsistent in 2022 but played really well in 2021 and the Steelers like what he brings to the field. He will be a player who can rotate in for Watt on occasion and is a good depth piece, which this team has lacked in years past.
David Perales - 6’3” 255 lbs.
Perales was picked up by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent after this year's NFL Draft. Perales attended Fresno State where in his final season he tallied 11.5 sacks and 47 total tackles. Perales isn’t likely going to see the field anytime soon since he has a superstar and a proven veteran ahead of him but if he can take advantage from learning from them he could be a good rotational guy in a couple years. For now he is 3rd on the depth chart, and may have to lean on special teams to make the team.
Left Inside Linebacker (LILB):
Cole Holcomb - 6’1” 240 lbs.
Holcomb was a 4 year starter with Washington before signing a 3-year deal with the Steelers this offseason. His season ended short last season when he underwent foot surgery and the Steelers look forward to his healthy return. He is a tackle machine but has shown to be a liability in pass coverage. With that said, Holcomb should be an upgrade from last year and help a lot in the run game.
Kwon Alexander - 6’1” 227 lbs.
Alexander was drafted in 2015 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spent 4 years there. He then went to the 49ers and then the Saints each for two years before spending 2022 with the New York Jets. The Steelers signed him to a one-year deal this offseason to help add some depth to this inside linebacker crew. He will likely rotate in when Holcomb needs a break and will go into this season as second on the depth chart.
Tanner Muse - 6’2” 227 lbs.
Muse was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft by the Raiders but has gotten all of his playing time with the Seahawks in 2021-2022. Muse started 1 game last year with the Seahawks but did manage to be a help on special teams. He is another player who needs special teams to make the opening day roster.
Right Inside Linebackers (RILB):
Elandon Roberts - 6’1” 238 lbs.
Roberts was drafted back in 2016 in the 6th round by the New England Patriots. He spent his first 4 years there before going to Miami and spending the last 3 years with the Dolphins. He arguably had his best season of his career last year when he tallied 95 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He signed with the Steelers this offseason to a 2-year deal, and Roberts should win the starting job and be playing alongside Holcomb this year.
Mark Robinson - 5’11” 235 lbs.
Robinson was drafted last year in the 7th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played in 4 games in his rookie year and totaled 9 tackles. He has impressed so far this offseason and has shown amazing growth. Robinson will play in reserve behind Roberts, and if he continues growing, he will be another option in the ILB rotation.
Chapelle Russell - 6’1” 230 lbs.
Russell was drafted in the 7th round of the 2020 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Russell was signed to the Steelers practice squad last fall and spent the season on it. He is currently 3rd on the depth chart and will likely be a practice squad option.
Nick Kwiatkoski - 6’2” 242 lbs.
Kwiatkoski was drafted by the Bears in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He is a fan favorite who went to high school at Bethel Park High School in Pittsburgh, and played college football for West Virginia. He has his work cut out for him to make the team, but he plays the game with a passion and Draft 412 would not be surprised to see him make the team.
Right Outside Linebackers (ROLB):
Alex Highsmith - 6’4” 242 lbs.
Highsmith was drafted by the Steelers in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft. He has taken his game to the next level the past couple of seasons, and has received a huge payday of 5 years worth $70 million. If both he and Watt can stay healthy, they have a chance to be the best pass rushing duo in football and take this defense to an elite level.
Nick Herbig - 6’2” 240 lbs.
Herbig was drafted in the 4th round by the Steelers this past April. He was the 2nd Wisconsin defensive player that the Steelers drafted this year after Keeanu Benton was taken in the 2nd round. He has a chance to make an impact his rookie year as a rotational guy. He is only 21 and has looked good in training camp. He will give the Steelers a viable option if Watt or Highsmith get hurt.
Quincy Roche - 6’3” 245 lbs.
Roche was drafted in the 6th round by the Steelers in the 2021 draft. However, he spent 2021 and 2022 with the Giants but signed a futures contract with the Steelers in January this past offseason. Roche is currently the #3 on the depth chart and will likely stay there for this season. It's hard seeing him pass up Herbig the way he has impressed this offseason.
Draft 412 Analysis
T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith are the stars of this group and can make this an elite defense. The Steelers have as much inside linebacker depth as they have had in years. The Steelers have enough capable bodies to withstand an injury or two.