The Pittsburgh Steelers, Keith Butler, Developmental Pass-Rushers, and Recent Pro Days

I for one would be excited and intrigued if the Steelers decided to take a talented Pass-Rusher like Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo, Bjoern Werner, or Damontre Moore with their 1st Round selection in April’s Draft.  Unfortunately, because the franchise has so many issues to fix on their roster in addition to Outside Linebacker, they might not elect to take a player to develop at the position until Day 2 or Day 3 on “Draft Weekend.”

Why am I mentioning this right now?

Well, on Wednesday and Thursday, Pittsburgh’s Scouts and Linebackers Coach Keith Butler attended a couple of notable college “Pro Days” at Auburn and Texas Christian.  During this time, Butler and Pittsburgh’s Scouts evaluated two projected post-Round 1 Pass-Rushers, Corey Lemonier and Stansly Maponga.

Lemonier had somewhat of a disappointing 2012 season. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook – USA TODAY Sports

 

Corey Lemonier

As far as Lemonier is concerned, I mentioned almost one month ago how the former Auburn Defensive End could be a possible developmental 3-4 Outside Linebacker for the Steelers to target on Day 2 of the Draft.  The 6’3″ 255 lb. Pass-Rusher’s stock has gone up a bit around the League since he ran a 4.6 40 Yard Dash at The N.F.L. Scouting Combine last month, and definitely impressed people at his Pro Day with a Vertical Jump of 34.0 Inches.

Although Lemonier did not perform the other Combine activities, he did work out as an Outside Linebacker for Butler during his positional drills.  Although Corey played Defensive End throughout his entire college career, Butler actually offered some words of encouragement for the young Pass-Rusher.  Lemonier told the press after his work-out that:

 

He [Butler] said definitely I could play some linebacker.

 

While the former Tiger has impressed many during the offseason workout period, he is by no means ready to step in and contribute right away at the N.F.L. level.  Lemonier’s biggest issue in college dealt with his consistency, his poor production in 2012, and his “streakiness” rushing the opposing signal-caller.  Granted, Lemonier performed well during his Sophomore campaign to the tune of 9.5 Sacks and 13.5 TFL’s, and even racked up 5.0 Sacks in Auburn’s first 4 games last Fall.  But Corey recorded only 0.5 Sack over the Tigers’ final 6 contests, and struggled to get off the ball quickly and anticipate snap-counts on a consistent basis.

The former Defensive End blamed his poor production on the fact that he was being double-teamed for much of the year in an A.P. article.  And while that assertion holds some weight, it would not hurt Lemonier to maintain his current weight, learn use his leverage at the point of attack better, and build his overall strength to “set the edge” against N.F.L. Guards and Tackles against the run.  Moreover, Lemonier must adjust to playing in space on a more regular basis if he transitions to Linebacker, because he will be asked to play against the pass more often than he did as a Down-Lineman at Auburn.

Although there are significant questions surrounding Lemonier, the Steelers might be willing to take a chance on a player like him in Round 2 or Round 3.  Corey’s teammate at Auburn, Tight End Philip Lutzenkirchen, said that the former Defensive End is a “freak athlete.”  So if the Steelers believe that they can hone Lemonier’s awesome athleticism and develop other areas of his game, they could stand to use his “freak” ability to wreak havoc off of the edge.

 

Maponga could be a solid Mid-Round selection. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Stansly Maponga

Like Lemonier, Maponga is another former college Defensive End leaving school early with eligibility still remaining.  And like Lemonier, there is plenty to like about the former Horned Frog as a developmental Pass-Rusher at the professional level.

While Maponga only measured at The Combine and performed on the Bench Press, he was nevertheless able to record 30 reps of 225 lbs. in Indianapolis.  For a guy (6’2″ 251 lbs.) to record that many reps with 34.125′ Arms is a testament to how much raw strength he has, and how much of an advantage his combination of “reach and strength” can be at the next level if he can continue to work on his array of pass-rushing moves.  Maponga’s raw strength should also allow him to anchor himself and set the edge against the run better than some lighter and weaker players at his position, but he must be more consistent at setting the edge and holding up at the point of attack.

As a pass-rusher, Maponga not only has a solid bull-rush move which utilizes his strength and long-arms, but also an effective spin-move and speed-rush which can be further developed at the next level.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that Maponga is a more polished and consistent pass-rusher than Lemonier at this stage in their careers’, although Lemonier has far and away more athletic upside of the two.

Granted, Stansly’s fastest 40 Time at his Pro Day was much slower than Lemonier’s (4.84), but he actually performed his work-outs and drills (4.37 Seconds Short Shuttle, 7.38 Seconds 3-Cone Drill, 9 Foot 6 Broad Jump, and 29.5 Inches Vertical Jump) with a broken left toe.  Maponga sustained his broken toe during the middle of the 2012 season, and only missed 2 games because of it.  Unfortunately for the former Defensive End, his production dipped from his 2011 level (55 Tackles, 13.5 TFL’s, 9.0 Sacks, 5 FF’s), to the tune of only 26 Tackles, 6.5 TFL’s, 4.0 Sacks, and 2 FF’s in 2012.

Hall of Famer and Steeler Scout Mean Joe Greene was in Fort Worth for Maponga’s workout, and had some positive things to say about the former Horned Frog:

 

We needed to see him run, and we needed to see him do the linebacker drills to see how he would work out during those drills…At Pittsburgh, he’ll be too small to play defensive end.  We need him as a linebacker.  For a defensive end who’s trying to play linebacker, I thought he did pretty well.

 

Maponga, like Lemonier was also a Down-Lineman over the course of his entire collegiate career.  Thus, Stansly’s skills dropping back into coverage will not only need to be developed, but likely learned and honed early on in his career.  In addition, the former Horned Frog will likely have to develop an adequate amount of lateral quickness to deal with quicker Backs and Tight Ends if and when he is used in Man-Coverage situations as a stand-up Outside Linebacker.  Otherwise, he could be exploited and a liability

Teams however could also shy away from Maponga early on Draft Weekend due to the foot injuries he sustained at T.C.U..  Not only will Stansly likely have to have surgery on his left foot this offseason, he also had the same surgery on his right foot during his Redshirt Freshman season of 2010.  Maponga does not appear to be worried, and is more concerned with taking the necessary precautions to stay healthy:

 

I don’t feel any pain, but word around the league right now is that my bone is kind of soft,…It might not break right now, but it might break later….I need to get it taken care of.

 

If the Steelers decide to go in other positional directions than Outside Linebacker on Thursday and Friday of “Draft Weekend,” I hope they seriously consider adding Maponga in Round 4 or early in Round 5.  Although he is not the raw athlete like Lemonier and other Pass Rushers in this Draft Class are, he still possesses a pass-rushing skill-set and enough athleticism to make him worthy of a mid-Round investment.  As long as Stansly checks out medically with his feet, the former T.C.U. Defensive End might be a solid fit with the Steelers as an Outside Linebacker.

 

Final Thoughts

Although Lemonier and Maponga are only two members of the extremely deep Defensive End and Outside Linebacker Draft Classes, I am definitely intrigued to see if the Steelers actually try to target either one on Day 2 or Day 3 next month.

As I stated previously, Pittsburgh’s brass has a number of offseason holes to fill via the Draft process, and Outside Linebacker could inevitably take a back seat to other positions like Safety, Inside Linebacker, Wide Receiver, and Running Back.  If the Steelers’ Front Office and Coaching Staff believe that they can find value in a Day 2 or Day 3 player like Lemonier or Maponga as opposed to one of the projected 1st Rounders I alluded to earlier, then I would be thrilled as a fan to watch how the prospect performs and develops early in their career.

Pittsburgh has struck gold with former college Defensive Ends in the Mid-Rounds like Joey Porter and Clark Haggans.  Thus, I will definitely be interested to see if the franchise believes in the potential of Lemonier, Maponga, or another player like Brandon Jenkins of Florida State, Jamie Collins of Southern Mississippi, or Trevardo Williams of Connecticut late on Day 2 or on Day 3 of “Draft Weekend.”

 

 

Readers: Should the Steelers fill their OLB needs as early as possible?  Or should they wait until later on in the Draft to do it?

 

 

 

 

 

Stats, Measurements, and Workout Numbers Courtesy of: T.C.U., Auburn, ESPN.com, and NFL Combine Page

 

Topics: 2013 NFL Draft, 2013 Pro Days, Keith Butler, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers

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