The recent signing of free agent pass rusher Melvin Ingram has Steeler Nation buzzing; and rightfully so. The Pittsburgh Steelers saw how valuable depth was at the outside linebacker position in 2020 when Bud Dupree missed extended time due to injury. Alex Highsmith did an amazing job at making an immediate impact in Dupree’s absence, but with the offseason departures of Dupree and Ola Adeniyi, the Steelers were forced to draft and shop for replenishing the depth chart. Historically, the Steelers allocate four roster spots for outside linebackers. With T.J. Watt, Highsmith, and now Ingram shoe-ins for the final 53-man roster, who is going to be left out after training camp? Who will make the cut? What does this mean for other younger players competing for a spot? Let’s dive in:
Roche was the Steelers’ 6th round selection (216th overall) back in May 2021. Roche comes off a strong season at Miami (FL) and was ranked in the top-15 of edge rushers going into draft weekend. In OTA’s and Minicamp, Roche has impressed coaches and players with his work ethic and technique and looks to be as advertised. Roche will need to work on his coverage skills and footwork to be that true “outside linebacker”, but he has a very high ceiling. Of all rookies heading into training camp, Roche has the best chance to secure that fourth outside linebacker spot come September.
Watson joined the Steelers shortly after the draft as an undrafted free agent rookie. In May, I highlighted Watson as a potential player to make the final roster, but the signing of Ingram makes this less-likely. Watson is a true edge rusher and was a game-wrecker in college at Kentucky. However, similar to Roche, Watson’s coverage skills are lacking and this will need to be groomed in camp to take his game to the next level. For Watson, I see him landing on the practice squad. He has one of the toughest paths to the final roster, but a practice squad spot is the next step to becoming an NFL starter.
Jones landed in Pittsburgh in the spring after a short stint with the Houston Texans. He went undrafted in 2020, signed with Houston, but then released before the start of the 2020 season. Jones played a major role as a senior at Notre Dame and was an impact player on defense. Like Watson, Jones has a difficult journey to the final roster. Unfortunately, I see Jones not making the Steelers roster in 2021. His best-case scenario would be the practice squad, but that seems unlikely. Between Ingram, Roche, Watt, and Highsmith, Jones won’t be able to compete at the high level needed to secure a spot in Pittsburgh.
Earlier this month, I listed Marsh as being on the outside looking in going into September. I still stand by this. Marsh is that “in between” player, being listed as a defensive end, but processing more of a linebacker’s build. With the Steelers committed to a 3-4 defense, a smaller defensive end doesn’t have much of a place in Pittsburgh. Fortunately for Marsh, being on the move isn’t anything new to him as the Steelers are Marsh’s 7th team since he’s been drafted in 2014. Therefore, he’ll find his place somewhere in the NFL. But given the investment the Steelers are making with Roche, I think Marsh is going to be left out after camp.
Who do you think will be the Steelers fourth outside linebacker in 2021? Let us know in the comments below!