Veteran Linebacker Considered ‘Logical Target’ for Steelers

Mike Tomlin

Getty The Steelers could pursue veteran linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

The Pittsburgh Steelers could be in the market for a veteran linebacker.

According to Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox, former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens is a free agent the Steelers “should pursue.” The 29-year-old veteran started all 15 games he appeared in last season for the Chiefs, racking up 80 total tackles.

Knox argues that the Steelers were “atrocious” against the run in 2021 and allowed starter Joe Schobert to walk in free agency.

“Moving away from former Steelers, linebacker Anthony Hitchens is a logical target,” Knox wrote in a story published May 9. “Pittsburgh did pick up Genard Avery and Myles Jack in free agency, but there’s a lot of work yet to be done at the second level. Pittsburgh was atrocious against the run in 2021, finishing the season last in both yards and yards per rush allowed.

“Pittsburgh also parted with linebacker Joe Schobert and didn’t draft a linebacker until taking Mark Robinson in the seventh round.”

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Steelers Lacking in Quality Linebacker Play

It’s hard to disagree with Knox’s point. The Steelers ranked dead last against the run last season, allowing the most rushing yards (2,483 yards) of any defensive unit and the highest average yards per rush attempt (5 yards per attempt).

While the Steelers made the right decision in releasing Schobert, they didn’t exactly replace him with the most productive linebackers in Avery and Jack. According to Pro Football Focus, Schobert posted a 52.2 defensive grade last season. Both Avery (47.4 grade) and Jack (37.7 grade) posted even worse numbers on better defensive units last season.

However, it’s worth mentioning that Hitchens himself struggled last season, posting a 44.1 overall grade and a 41.5 run defensive grade. Knox argues that Hitchens would represent an upgrade over Schobert for the Steelers given that he missed fewer tackles and was better in pass coverage.

“Last season with the Kansas City Chiefs, he tallied 80 tackles, 41 solo stops and four tackles for loss while only being credited with four missed tackles,” Knox wrote. “Schobert, by comparison, was credited with nine missed tackles in 2021.

“Hitchens can also help boost Pittsburgh’s second-level pass defense. Last season, he allowed an opposing passer rating of only 83.4. That’s moderately better than Schobert, who allowed a rating of 90.0 in coverage.”

In eight seasons spent with the Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, Hitchens has started 107 of the 119 games he’s appeared in.

With the Steelers lacking in dependable linebackers on the interior of their 3-4 defensive unit, taking a chance on Hitchens might not be a bad idea.

PFF Names Levi Wallace as Steelers’ ‘Most Underrated’ Player

While the Steelers may have made questionable signings at linebacker this offseason, one area they definitely addressed was at cornerback with the signing of Levi Wallace.

According to PFF, Wallace, who be 27 when the 2022 season starts, is the most underrated player on the Steelers. The veteran cornerback signed with the Steelers after spending the past four seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

“Wallace is a classic underdog story,” Sam Monson of PFF wrote in a story published May 12. “An undersized cornerback without special physical traits, he was a walk-on at Alabama and went undrafted in the NFL before going on to start consistently for Buffalo opposite Tre’Davious White. He likely won’t ever be a great player, but he’s consistently better than he is given credit for and exceeds expectations because of it. Wallace has never earned a below-average PFF coverage grade in a season, and he’ll likely continue to impress after signing with the Steelers this offseason.”

As noted by Monson, Wallace has been a consistently good player during the course of his four years in the NFL, never grading lower than 60.1 and grading at 70 in coverage last season, ranking 34th among all corners last season with at least 100 snaps.

While Wallace may not emerge as a star for the Steelers, he certainly could fill in adequately for a defensive unit that ranked 20th in points allowed per game.

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