Until the “Draft Weekend” is upon us in late April, Fansided.com’s writers will be unveiling new and updated versions of their own 2013 N.F.L. Mock Drafts. During this period, I will be writing up weekly break-downs and providing analysis on each of Pittsburgh’s projected selections from Fansided’s weekly installments (last week’s is here). So without further delay, let’s get to my take on who Josh Sanchez believes will be selected by the Steelers (pick #17 of 32 in the 1st Round) in his latest Mock Draft:
Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker, University of Georgia
Jones’ medical issues could cause him to fall in this draft, despite being one of the top players based on pure talent. If he is to fall on draft day, he would go no lower than this pick to the Steelers. Pittsburgh needs to add youth to the linebacking corp and there is no better way to do that than by adding a top prospect. There is some belief that the Steelers could look for a nose tackle, but I am not buying into that. Expect them to resign Steve McLendon and plug him into the role they have been grooming him to fill for the past few seasons.
First of all, let me say that if a scenario occurs in which Jones, who I believe is a Top 3 prospect based on talent, falls to Pittsburgh, I will be nothing short of intrigued and on the edge of my seat when the Steelers are “on the clock.” Why you may ask? Well, that’s because I believe that Jones would be a perfect fit with the Outside Linebacker-needy Steelers.
Over the last two years, the 6’2″ 242 lb. Jones has established himself as arguably one of college football’s best pass-rushers and possibly even the best Defensive player overall. In 2011, Jarvis’ first year at Georgia, he was named a 1st Team All-American by the A.P. after he registered an incredible 70 Tackles, 13.5 Sacks, and 19.5 Tackles for Loss during his first 14 games with the Bulldogs!
Considering how much Jones would have had to do for an encore this past year would have been a pretty “tall order” to say the least. Yet the increased expectations did not faze the Bulldog Linebacker at all as he enjoyed an even more productive year in 2012 than he did in 2011 as a Redshirt Sophomore. Over only 12 games, Jones logged 85 Tackles, 14.5 Sacks, and a ridiculous 24.5 Tackles for Loss! Some might say that Manti Te’o was this past season’s best Defensive player in College Football. But when I consider what Jones did in by far the toughest Conference in collegiate football, my vote for The Chuck Bednarik Award (College Football’s Defensive MVP would have gone to Jarvis for his efforts in 2012.
Unfortunately, the reason Jones could drop has everything to do with him being a potential injury risk. Jones suffers from a mild case of “spinal stenosis,” an ailment which is a narrowing of the spinal column. Jones sustained this injury after he took an awkward hit during his Freshman season when he played at U.S.C. (University of Southern California). According to an article by Jordan Conn of ESPN, Jones was told by a doctor that he could play again, but Southern Cal’s team doctors would not clear him.
Undeterred, Jones sought out to transfer to another program in 2010 to continue his football journey. After he was cleared medically, the recruiting frenzy for the pass-rushers’ services began once again and he eventually landed at the University of Georgia. Jones Redshirted during the 2010 campaign with the Bulldogs, and over the last two years he has basically emerged as one of Division 1-A’s best players.
Accolades and talent aside, spinal stenosis is not something to be taken lightly, and while Jones is talent-wise a Top 3 prospect, his potential label as an “injury risk” could scare teams away come April. Franchises, especially ones in the Top 10, will be doing their due diligence on Jones because because he has such a great skill-set as a pass-rusher. More news will likely surface regarding Jones and his health, particularly around the time The Combine gets underway. Thus, those of us interested in the Draft should all pay close attention to what happens. If in fact Jones checks out medically at The Combine and the other off-season activities he is sure to participate in over the next few months, I would be less confident that he would fall to the Steelers because his potential is too great. Nevertheless, I am sure that G.M. Kevin Colbert will at least “kick the tires” on Jones in the possible event he falls to them in Round 1.
If Jones is not medically cleared however, then he is not medically cleared, and I hope that the Steelers’ brass elects to stay away. As special of a player as he is, if Pittsburgh’s Front Office believes he will be unable to play and produce at a high level, even if he falls to them, then Colbert & Co. should go in another direction (i.e. Inside Linebacker Alec Ogletree, Jones’ teammate at Georgia) because there are just too many holes on the Steelers’ Defense which need filling right now.
Speaking of holes on Defense though, the Steelers would really benefit if they could use the Draft to improve their personnel and depth Outside Linebacker.
Why The Steelers Need Help at Outside Linebacker
To be perfectly blunt, the Steelers are in dire need of a face-lift at the Outside Linebacker position for depth and transitional/re-building reasons. Unless you failed to watch any of the games, it was pretty apparent that the production from the Steelers’ Outside Linebackers was nothing short of anemic last year. Sure, James Harrison might have tied for the team lead in Sacks in 2012, but he only had 6.0 (Kudos to Lawrence Timmons for his 6.0 though as he is not an edge-rusher). I am and have always been a huge “Deebo” fan, but his days with the team could be numbered.
Harrison is scheduled to make $6.57 million dollars in Base Salary alone during the upcoming season, and $7.575 million dollars in Base Salary the season after that during the final year of his contract. Unless the soon to be 35 year old Harrison massively restructures his deal, the relentless pass-rusher we know and love could be made expendable due to his price tag. Plus, it does not help that he has dealt with knee and back issues over the last two years too.
Pittsburgh’s other starter at the position, LaMarr Woodley, was just as unproductive as Harrison was last year, if not more. In fact, one could argue that Woodley played even worse in 2012 (Sacks dropped from 9.0 to 4.0) than he did in 2011, looked even heavier than he did and 2011, and he was even sidelined again (3 games in 2012, 6 games in 2011) due to more hamstring issues and an ankle injury. Despite it being an unpopular view to take at the time, I knew that the decision to sign Woodley long-term was a bad idea in the Summer of 2011. I did not forsee though how awful of an investment it truly was.
With Woodley’s constant time on the bench last year, coupled with a long offseason still to come, it would not shock me in the least if he showed up to Latrobe this Summer looking like the “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” from “Ghostbusters.” Overall, Woodley has played in 23 Games since he signed his big deal, has recorded only 13.0 Sacks, questions surrounding his complacency have arose from members of his Coaching Staff, and he will turn 29 years of age this Fall. Yeah, I’d say some heat in the form of playing time being lost needs to at least be put on the veteran sooner rather than later.
Jason Worilds, the team’s top backup at the position, did a nice job as a rotational player in 2012 as he notched 5.0 Sacks during his limited snaps and even started 3 games. Worilds however will be a UFA after this year ends, and his status with the club beyond this year will be in doubt if the Steelers continue to face salary cap issues. The Steelers had better find a way to re-sign Worilds though, because behind him is where the depth is almost non-existent and inexperienced.
2011 5th Round Draft pick Chris Carter illustrated nothing to prove that he is ready to assume a starting role with his performance last year. While Harrison was sidelined, Carter had a golden opportunity to shine and move up the depth chart. Sadly, Carter flopped, was dominated by opposing Offensive Tackles, and recorded only 8 Tackles and 0.0 Sacks in 8 games before he was shelved for the year with an injury.
2012 UDFA and Special Teamer Adrian Robinson had some nice moment attacking the passer during the preseason last year. I should add though that Robinson did so against opposing backups, and has yet to take any sort of meaningful snaps with the Defense in a regular season game. I believe that Robinson has a nice skill-set, but whether or not he can take his game to another level next year is still a huge question.
Like many others, I will be intrigued to watch Jones’ stock over the next few months. During this time, I will try to keep myself updated on what teams are saying about his medical condition, and cross my fingers that if he is indeed healthy enough to play, he falls to the Steelers and they take him. It will be a risky endeavor for the Steelers no doubt. If they pick him and he pans out, they acquire a dominant pass-rusher who becomes the next great Outside Linebacker in franchise history. Or, they him and his back gives way, an important re-building chip is wasted.
As I alluded to above, the Steelers need help at Outside Linebacker, and they need it now. Even if Jones does not fall, I would not be upset if they took Alex Okafor of Texas in Round 1 at #17, as he proved to be quite the productive pass-rusher during his collegiate career. The Steelers should be desperate to improve their anemic pass-rush from last year, and the franchise can use all of the talented personnel they can acquire. As a unit, the Steelers Outside Linebackers, the premier pass-rushing positions on Dick LeBeau’s Defense, recorded 15.0 Sacks in 16 games.
Whether Jones is the answer, or someone else is, it does not matter. What matters is that the Steelers find a way to fix the mess they current have at Outside Linebacker. Because if nothing is done now, the situation could be even worse in 2014 and beyond.
Readers: What do you have to say? Would you be stoked if Jones fell to Pittsburgh? Do they need upgrades at Outside Linebacker as bad as I believe they do? Why? Why Not?