According to Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin, Avery Williamson will be a back-up inside linebacker as he joins the roster. Following the injury to Devin Bush, the Steelers have had Vince Williams and Robert Spillane starting at inside linebacker.
Spillane has completely outplayed projections. When a former-first-round pick and star player like Bush goes down it is always hard to replace them. It is especially concerning when the player replacing them is a former-undrafted player without much NFL experience.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and Spillane is still holding his own. He has made some big plays for the Steelers’ defense so far:
Robert Spillane to the house for the @Steelers!
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2020
The issue, however, is that Spillane is not Bush. Yes, he has played well and better than any of us would have expected. The problem, though, is two-fold. First, the Ravens targeted Spillane in the passing game. He made a great play on the pick-six, but he also struggled in coverage at times. This is an area that other teams will continue to look to exploit.
Second, the Steelers have no depth at inside linebacker. Ulysees Gilbert III has a back injury; he became the top back-up when Spillane became a starter. That left the Steelers with only Marcus Allen and Antoine Brooks Jr, both are converted safeties, as their back-ups.
Enter Avery Williamson
Williamson comes to the Steelers in a very cheap trade. The Steelers sent a fifth-round pick in 2022 for Williamson and a 7th. Pittsburgh will also likely receive back more than a 5th round pick in 2022 via compensatory picks given their upcoming free agents. All in all this trade is basically a free rental of Williamson for the rest of 2020.
The addition of Williamson brings plenty to like: He should be familiar with some of the Steelers’ concepts as he played under Dick LeBeau in Tennessee for his first four years in the NFL. Keith Butler worked under LeBeau for many years so there should be some familiarity for Williamson.
“At the early stages of his career he played in Tennessee (for the Titans) in a system of defense that was very similar to ours, not only in terms of how it was constructed but also the language itself,” Tomlin said when talking about the trade.
During his six-year career, Williamson has been very dependable. He has only missed one game in six NFL seasons. That is good news for the Steelers considering the injuries they are facing at the position.
How Does Williamson Fit In?
Right now it appears that Williamson will start his career in Pittsburgh as a back-up. The key word there is: start.
Yes, he will come in and have a lot to learn. However, it is highly unlikely that Williamson won’t soon be inserted into the starting line-up for the Steelers. Yes, they needed to add depth at the position, but Williamson doesn’t just look like a depth piece.
He has three one-hundred tackle seasons and has started 81 NFL games. The Steelers are trying to get their seventh Lombardi Trophy this season and they will be putting the best players on the field in order to get that done. In my opinion the best inside linebacker on this roster, Bush excluded due to injury, may now be Williamson.
If that is the case, he can’t be left on the sidelines.
Avery Williamson played with Bud Dupree at the University of Kentucky.
Avery Williamson will wear the number 51 with the Steelers.