LINEBACKERS – 14
(Free Agent Scorecard: 3 unrestricted – William Gay, Ryan Shazier, Ryan Shazier)
In his four years at Stanford, Anderson (6-foot-4, 244 pounds) had 28.5 tackles for loss and 11.0 sacks. He signed with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie last April, and he also spent some time with the Steelers last offseason before being waived/injured. He will compete as an outside linebacker in the Steelers' scheme.
Check out the best photos from the 2016 season practices.
Blount, 6-3, 249, is the son of Steelers' Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount. He entered the NFL in 2016 as an undrafted rookie with the Miami Dolphins, but he was waived in late August. Out of football for the rest of 2016, Blount, 6-3, 249, signed with the Steelers on Feb. 14. He played inside linebacker at Florida A&M.
The second pick in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, Chickillo has been more of a tease than anything else to this point in his still-young NFL career. He had six special teams tackles as a rookie, and there were times during his second NFL training camp when he looked like he might be the team's best outside pass rusher. But those flashes didn't last long enough to translate into consistent production on the field. He had 2.5 sacks in 2016 to go along with 24 tackles. The Steelers continue to look for players to boost their pass rush, and that will give Chickillo another opportunity to impress this summer. It might turn out to be his last best chance to do that.
His absence at the start of the season due to injury, and then what he contributed starting Nov. 20 as the team's injured reserve/designated to return player, provided stark evidence of his value to the team right now. In the five regular season games the Steelers played in December/January, Dupree led all NFL linebackers with 4.5 sacks, and he clearly is the team's best option at LOLB. For Dupree, there is work to be done this offseason to improve aspects of his game, but it's also clear that picking him on the first round of the 2015 draft was a good move. As the Steelers prepare for 2017 and examine ways to improve their pass rush, Dupree looks to be part of the answer.
Fanaika signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2016. Fanaika, who played at Utah, was released during training camp and signed to the Oakland Raiders practice squad. The Raiders released him, and he was signed to the Washington Redskins practice squad. He is 6-3, 270, and as such would figure to project on the left side. A power rusher during his time at Utah, Fanaika had four sacks for the Utes in 2015.
Primarily a backup inside linebacker and special teams player, Fort has been a fringe-of-the-roster guy during his time with the Steelers. He has some NFL experience, which makes him somewhat valuable in that role. Maybe the Lawrence Timmons situation with regard to unrestricted free agency opens a door for Fort, but that's going to be something that plays out over the course of the rest of this offseason.
At the end of the 2016 season – Harrison's 14th in the NFL – he indicated an interest in continuing to play, and the Steelers have indicated an interest in having him return. Harrison will be 39 in May, but on the field he performs like a much younger man. In 2016, Harrison had five sacks to become the Steelers' all-time leader in that category, and in the critical Christmas Day victory over the Ravens that clinched the AFC North title, he contributed 11 tackles. Monitoring Harrison's snaps is the wise thing to do, but what's also true today is that he's the best outside linebacker on the Steelers' roster.
After being inactive for the first three weeks of the regular season, Johnson emerged as a core special teams player. Over the next six games, Johnson recorded six special teams tackles and forced a fumble that was recovered by Greg Warren. But then he injured an ankle and went on injured reserve. The fact Johnson could have become an unrestricted free agent but was re-signed by the team a couple of weeks ago indicates the Steelers believe he has value.
An unrestricted-free-agent-to-be, Jones never lived up to the expectations generated when the Steelers made him a first round pick in 2013. After leading the NCAA in sacks in back-to-back seasons while playing in the SEC for the Georgia Bulldogs, Jones never was able to translate that into the same level of production in the NFL. In 50 career NFL games, including 35 starts, Jones recorded six sacks, and he had only one in 2016. There were some flashes along the way, and there also were some injuries that undoubtedly retarded his development, but after four seasons Jones is most likely to take advantage of free agency to find a fresh start elsewhere. This was a relationship that never worked out, almost from the beginning.
For a seventh-round draft pick in 2016, Matakevich never presented himself as anything but someone who belonged in the NFL. He made the team out of training camp, and he also was active on game day for all 16 regular season games plus the three in the playoffs. He came to the Steelers as someone who made a lot of tackles during his college career at Temple, and finding the football was something he was able to do as a core special teams player. Matakevich had 12 special teams tackles in 16 regular season games, and as an inside linebacker his immediate future could take a different shape if Lawrence Timmons doesn't return for 2017. Not that Matakevich would replace Timmons as a starting inside linebacker necessarily, but he would become a contender for more playing time on defense. In the interim, he can become increasingly valuable on special teams.
He is versatile. Can start at outside linebacker if needed. Knows how to find ways to contribute – either on defense or special teams – when he doesn't. Good teammate. Good person. Moats, who will be 29 shortly, is all of those things, and a championship team needs people like him on its roster. But he's not productive enough as a pass rusher to be a full-time starter for the Steelers. Not with this current personnel makeup. Not with the emphasis placed on outside linebackers who can be productive pass rushers. Moats deserves to make the team and be active on game days. But going into 2017, the Steelers have to be better at rushing the passer.
It should be apparent now why the Steelers used a first-round pick on Shazier and the vision they had for him within their defense. He's the No. 1 playmaker on the team's defense, and he can make plays at every level – in the offensive backfield, around the line of scrimmage, and in the secondary. He had 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, and three forced fumbles in 13 regular season games, and in six career playoff games he has two interceptions, four passes defensed, and two forced fumbles. Whenever fans look at estimates of the Steelers' salary cap situation and long for the team to spend it in free agency, one of the guys they should be thinking about is Shazier, because at the very least the team is going to have to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract for 2018 and then re-sign him long-term after that.
This is one of those situations where both the team and the player would be better served by continuing the current relationship instead of seeking greener pastures, but who knows how this ultimately plays out. Timmons was the Steelers' No. 1 pick in 2007 – Mike Tomlin's inaugural as coach – and he has played in 158 regular season games and 14 more in the postseason, with 136 starts among that 172 total. "First of all, you have to talk
about his availability and/or durability," said Tomlin. "This guy has been doing it for a long time. I can't even remember the last time he's missed a game, or if he's missed a game, or even if he's missed a practice for that matter. He's uniquely talented, no doubt, and that's why we took him where we took him in the first round in 2007. But his level of availability is extraordinary over that period of time." There are things, at his age (31 in May) and stage of his career, that Timmons can't do as well as he once did, and so maybe it becomes time to stop asking him to do those things. Timmons has made close to $60 million during his Steelers career, and while the team cannot and should not continue paying him as it has been lately, he does still have value. For his part, does Timmons want to start all over with another team and a different system and new teammates?
If things don't work out with Timmons, Williams would be the odds-on favorite to replace him in the starting lineup. During a different era of NFL football, when running it was the goal of every offense in every game, Williams could have been a superstar because his strengths as a player are geared toward preventing the opponent from doing that successfully. Even still, Williams has been a productive player who always seems to take the field with the proper demeanor for his job description, and his enthusiasm and love of the game can be contagious. If Timmons leaves, Williams deserves to get the first chance. If Timmons stays, he should understand that Williams isn't simply along for the ride.