Pittsburgh’s Outside Linebackers combined to register 15.0 Sacks over the course of the 2012 regular season.
LET ME REPEAT, the players who manned the premier pass-rushing spots in Dick LeBeau’s Defense combined to average LESS THAN 1.0 SACK PER GAME for the Steelers last year.
I know that I cannot speak for every member of “Steeler Nation.” Yet if some of you fans do not believe that it would be in Pittsburgh’s best interests to find a play-making pass-rusher early on in the 2013 Draft, then I would have to question if you watched any of the Steelers’ games over the course of the 2012 campaign.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh’s brass, they must address multiple pressing needs on both sides of the ball during Draft Weekend. Thus, positions like Inside Linebacker, Free Safety, Strong Safety, Cornerback, Wide Receiver, and Running Back, could take precedence over Outside Linebacker when the Steelers go “on the clock” in Round 1.
In the event that G.M. Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Front Office go in one of the aforementioned directions with the franchise’s first overall selection this April, Pittsburgh will have to wait until Day 2 to fill their pass-rusher needs. Thankfully for the Steelers, there are some talented pass-rushers who should be available to them in Rounds 2-3.
Brandon Jenkins is a pass-rushing prospect who intrigues me, because his stock will likely drop due to the foot injury he sustained during the first game of his Senior season. Before his Lisfranc surgery, Jenkins was probably considered one of the better Defensive Ends in college football. In addition, Jenkins formed one-third of the tremendously athletic trio of pass-rushers for the Seminoles along with Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. Sadly for the former Defensive End, his injury could drive his draft stock into the middle of Day 2 when he could have been a possible 1st Round pick had he performed well this past year.
In 27 games during his Sophomore and Junior seasons, Brandon racked up a combined 33.5 Tackles for Loss (TFL’s) and 21.5 Sacks. From what I have watched of the Florida State Defensive End, he has a good deal of lateral quickness for a guy who is 6’3” 260 lbs. and the strength of a player that size to boot. Furthermore, Jenkins possesses some underrated speed to make things happen off of the edge and collapse the pocket. In the event that Jenkins can develop a more formidable bull-rush, he could be one heck of a threat at the Outside Linebacker position.
How healthy Jenkins will be by Training Camp and OTA’s is a bit of a mystery, but what the Florida State pass-rusher has working for him is the fact that he sustained his injury back in September. By the time Week 1 rolls around Jenkins will have had a calendar year to recover from surgery. While he likely will not be asked to start unless injuries strike, the former FSU Seminole could be a viable rotational pass-rusher by the end of the 2013 season.
If the Steelers are interested in value and versatility, they could find themselves a mid-Round “gem” in the form of Jamie Collins. During his collegiate career, Collins was moved all over the football field, and was able to play effectively and consistently no matter where he was positioned. I for one am a huge fan of Collins’ versatility, and I would hope that Dick LeBeau would find all sorts of interesting ways to use the former Golden Eagle.
A “Bandit” End at Southern Mississippi during his final two years in Hattiesburg, Collins helped the Golden Eagles in a number of different ways. Jamie not only registered a combined 190 Tackles, he also found numerous ways to get the ball back for USM’s Offense as he forced 5 Fumbles and picked off 3 passes. Collins’ best work however came as a pass-rusher as he was able to wreak quite a bit of havoc from his Defensive End spot as he racked up 39.5 TFL’s and 16.5 Sacks (10.0 in 2012) during that span.
A “Tweener” prospect, Collins is definitely undersized to play Defensive End at the professional level (6’3″ 245 lbs.). He will also definitely need to hold his own against the bigger and bulldozing N.F.L. Offensive Tackles and learn how to set the edge against bigger and stronger players. Nevertheless, Collins does have good burst of speed off of the edge and a great deal of athleticism to develop into a 3-4 Outside Linebacker at the professional level.
In fact, I would be interested to see Collins work out at Inside Linebacker in addition to Outside Linebacker, and even be used as an interior blitzer in sub-packages early in his career. Using both him and Timmons on some A-Gap blitzes would give opposing Interior Linemen a ridiculous amount to deal with, and it would also allow the Steelers to utilize multiple pass-rushers in different spots on the field. Plus, as a former Defensive Back, Collins can hold his own in pass coverage and would definitely be better than any of the Outside Linebackers the Steelers have on their roster in that area.
Collins is one of the most intriguing Day 2, Front-7, Defensive prospects sure to be available, and he could definitely be of help at least somewhere on a Defense with so many holes to plug in the near future. Who knows? Maybe Keith Butler can develop him into another solid mid-Round Non-Big 6 Defensive End in the mold of a Joey Porter or a Clark Haggans?
In the event that Corey Lemonier has a good offseason workout period, his upside could have scouts excited about his potential two to three years down the road. At 6’3″ 242 lbs., Lemonier has a good amount of experience (25 Starts), and the potential to be a stand-up pass rusher to boot. Nevertheless, I must question exactly how productive Lemonier truly was during his career at Auburn.
Although Lemonier shined statistically as a Sophomore to the tune of 13.5 TFL’s, 9.5 Sacks, and 5 Forced Fumbles, his Junior campaign was less than stellar. In the Clemson and L.S.U. game I watched, the Defensive End was terrific. He was quick off the ball, flashed some speed off of the edge, and made some good stunt moves back to the interior as he recorded 4.0 Sacks in those two contests combined. Outside of those games however, Lemonier was almost invisible for the Tigers along with the rest of the Defense last year.
After his early season tear in which he recorded 5.0 Sacks in Auburn’s first four games, Corey registered only 0.5 Sack over his final six. In some of the games I watched, Lemonier also appeared to lose major amounts of steam as time wore on, and his anticipation was really inconsistent as he was sometimes the final guy off of the ball on Auburn’s Defensive front. Like Collins, Lemonier must also prove that he can be strong enough to take on N.F.L. Offensive Tackles and set the edge in the running game. And as far as the passing game goes, the former Defensive End must prove that he can hold his own in pass-coverage against athletic Backs and Tight Ends who will try to exploit the former Down-Lineman in space.
Of all the prospects I list today, Lemonier has the biggest “boom/bust” potential. When he has looked “on” at Auburn, he has definitely looked “on” and worthy of a 2nd Round pick. But when he looked “off,” particularly down the stretch last year, he looked “off.” If he falls to them in Round 2 or even Round 3, the Steelers would ultimately have to decide whether or not they would be willing to gamble on a talented, yet streaky pass-rusher to help re-build their Defense.
Injuries or not, 15.0 combined Sacks is a downright embarrassing season total for what are supposed to be the two premier pass-rushing positions in the type of Defense the Steelers employ. Things need to change in Pittsburgh at the Outside Linebacker positions, and those already in place need to be pushed by some younger, hungrier, and scheme-fit players. James Harrison could be gone due to salary cap constraints and injuries, LaMarr Woodley appears more concerned with dressing up like a member of “Run DMC,” and 2014 UFA Jason Worilds has been relegated to backup duty during most of his career.
No matter where they select one (or multiple ones), the Steelers must find players with skill-sets to bring the opposing Quarterback to the ground, and/or force them to make bad decisions through the air. Whether or not those bad decisions will be caught by Pittsburgh’s Cornerbacks who have cinder-block-hands is another matter entirely, and could be explained in another post. Thoughts on the Cornerbacks aside, I think you readers know where I’m coming from when I say that Outside Linebacker should be high on the Steelers’ “Wish List” during Draft Weekend.
Readers: Do you think the Steelers will find a Day 2 pass-rusher? Or do you agree with me that Round 1 would be better spent on a pass-rusher like Barkevious Mingo, Dion Jordan, Alex Okafor, or Jarvis Jones if he falls to them? Are there other potential Day 2 pass-rushers you like? Chase Thomas? John Simon?
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