One position group that was significantly improved this offseason by the Pittsburgh Steelers was inside linebacker. After struggling to patchwork the position down the stretch due to injuries, the Steelers under GM Omar Khan went out and made significant upgrades to the position.

Veteran Patrick Queen was signed in free agency to a three-year, $41 million deal in a major splash for the Steelers, while Payton Wilson was drafted in the third round out of North Carolina State as the Steelers took advantage of the value on the linebacker, who fell due to perceived medical concerns, landing arguably the best off-ball linebacker in the draft.

Despite those upgrades, adding to a group that features Elandon Roberts coming off a very good year, Cole Holcomb working back from injury and Mark Robinson holding down a special teams role and being a downhill thumper against the run, the Steelers’ linebacker room ranked outside of the top 10 in the NFL, at least according to Pro Football Focus.

In the linebacker unit rankings Thursday morning, the Steelers landed at No. 13 overall, behind the Baltimore Ravens at No. 6 and the Cleveland Browns at No. 8, though they were one spot ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 14.

“The Steelers made a splash at the linebacker position this offseason by bringing in Patrick Queen from the division-rival Baltimore Ravens. Queen has improved every season since entering the league and is coming off a career-high 73.0 PFF grade,” PFF’s Gordon McGuinness writes regarding the linebacker rankings. “He has yet to turn 25 years old, so it’s reasonable to expect that he will continue to get better.

“Alongside him, Elandon Roberts posted a career-high 72.2 PFF grade on 622 snaps in 2023.”

Queen is the biggest upgrade of the offseason for the Steelers. He plugs a huge hole, one the Steelers have been attempting to fill since the loss of Ryan Shazier in 2017 to a career-ending injury.

Stealing him from the Ravens in the process is a big win for the Steelers, who strengthen a major position of need on their own roster and weaken a rival in the process.

In the 2023 season with the Ravens, his fourth in the NFL, Queen had a dominant season, recording a career-high 133 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and an interception, earning second-team All-Pro accolades. Queen is that true run-and-hit linebacker downhill against the run. He can also drop into coverage, giving him the ability to play in all situations.

At just 24 years old, Queen’s best football appears to be ahead of him. Hopefully that will come quickly in the Black and Gold.

Queen will be relied on heavily in Pittsburgh. He’ll wear the green dot for the Steelers’ defense and will look to put an end to the revolving door at inside linebacker in the post-Shazier days, which are now closing in on nearly a decade. He was an unexpected signing, but excitement is high regarding Queen as the Steelers finally have a high-end inside linebacker once again.

Roberts had a terrific 2023 season for the Steelers, stepping into an elevated role once Holcomb and Kwon Alexander went down with season-ending injuries in back-t0-back weeks. Though he played just over 50% of the snaps defensively last season, Roberts led the Steelers with 101 tackles, was a physical presence for the Steelers and really held down the fort as injuries piled up.

Holcomb is expected back at some point this season following his serious knee injury that was rather gruesome. His presence alone will be solid for depth, and if he can get back to playing at the level he was at before his injury, the Steelers’ linebacker room will be that much stronger.

As for Wilson, there are high hopes and expectations. He’s an elite athlete at the position with great size coming out of college, and his tape has some eye-popping reps against the run and in coverage. If he’s able to stay healthy and develop, the Steelers might have a gem at the position.

If things go well in 2024 for the Steelers, they should be much higher up the rankings next summer at the position from PFF.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here