Coming into the preseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ number one concern was finding a starting Mack Inside Linebacker. The players that have been in the fold to date, Tyler Matakevich and Jon Bostic, have simply left something to be desired through two preseason games. Said another way, everyone knew that the drop off would be significant when Ryan Shazier went down with an injury, but the severity of it to this point is perhaps even worse than expected. Recently, the team moved Bostic ahead of Matakevich on their official depth chart, which may or may not truly mean something. What to do?
How about begin looking at Matthew Thomas?
When the Steelers didn’t draft an inside linebacker, many questioned the move. Of course, the Steelers have historically done a great job in the draft by taking the best available athlete, and perhaps when applying that strategy an inside backer simply did not surface. Regardless, they were able to pick up Thomas, a Florida State inside linebacker, as a free agent upon conclusion of the draft.
To date, it’s looking like a pretty strong move. In fact, through two preseason weeks Pro Football Focus has Thomas at number eight on their Top 10 NFL Rookie Performances list on defense.
Thomas was an enigma at FSU. He led the Seminoles in tackles with 77 in 2016, which had everyone stoked enough to land him on the 2017 Preseason Bednarik Award Watchlist. Further, he came up huge in the Orange Bowl that year against Michigan, achieving 15 tackles including 3.5 for a loss. He followed that season up by leading the team in tackles again with 85. Unfortunately, he missed time throughout his career due to both suspension and injury, and questions resulting from this is probably why he wasn’t drafted. After all, his size (6’3”, 232 lbs.) and speed (4.5) would certainly seem to indicate the potential to play in this league.
You have to be worried about Thomas’s dependability. Further, he’s a rookie and therefore would be way behind when it comes to understanding of the NFL game. But the truth is that right now the team is missing a clear starting inside linebacker, and without one they are going to struggle big time. Is it time to give up on Bostic and Matakevich? No. Fact is, the team can’t because there are no other guarantees in sight, and an undrafted rookie doesn’t qualify as one. But to not give Thomas a real look and chance to move up the depth chart at this point would simply be foolish.