It was just a few seasons ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers boasted arguably the NFL’s best linebacker group. However, the departures of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and Larry Foote have rendered it a much more middle-of-the-road unit.
2007 first-rounder Lawrence Timmons has taken over as the leader of the group and has proven more than worthy of the role. In fact, Timmons’ 26 career sacks and nine career interceptions trump draft-mate Patrick Willis’ 20.5 and seven, respectively.
Unlike the group Timmons was surrounded by upon entering the league, though, there’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Florida State product. And much of that is in regard to who will be playing alongside the veteran.
The Steelers have yet to find a long-term replacement for the now-retired Farrior. The aforementioned Foote proved serviceable in 2012, but a season-ending injury in ’13 likely signified an unceremonious end to his career.
Foote’s replacement, then-rookie Vince Williams, didn’t embarrass himself, but his poor coverage skills may doom him to a rotational role.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, this draft’s linebacker class isn’t the deepest, and if they opt for a late-round prospect, they could land another two-down linebacker. There is one young man, however, who’s solidified himself as the cream of the crop: Alabama’s C.J. Mosley.
Depending on where Ryan Shazier is picked and where he lines up in the NFL, Mosley may be this year’s lone first-round inside linebacker. He’s easily the surest bet to secure a role as a three-down starter in his rookie season.
Due to a lengthy injury history, Mosley’s draft stock has been anything but static, but he will likely be on the board when the Steelers are up at pick 15. And he would represent an immediate upgrade for a team in search of several.
Mosley dealt with hip, shoulder and elbow injuries during his collegiate career, but those rarely hampered his ability to excel on the field.
Mosley was lauded at Alabama for his instinctive play and commitment to film study. These characteristics led to him notching over 100 stops in each of the past two seasons.
His laundry list of achievements point to the impact he had on the Crimson Tide’s championship defense. Mosley was anointed an All-American for each of the past two seasons. He also took home the Butkus Award, which is annually bestowed upon the nation’s top linebacker.
Of course, Mosley didn’t earn that hardware solely on the strength of his tackle numbers. No, the 21-year-old displayed playmaking ability as well. He notched 23 tackles for loss, six-and-a-half sacks and three pick-sixes en route to multiple national championships.
Many would contend that the Steelers could get by with Williams in ‘14 and should bypass Mosley on Day 1 in lieu of more “important” needs. However, those opposed to Mosley ought to consider what he would mean to the 10 players around him.
A player who commands the respect of opposing offenses such as Mosley would make life significantly easier on the men up front, the pass-rushing outside linebackers and even his potential running mate in Timmons. And, of course, the front seven performing at peak efficiency would take immense pressure off the secondary.