As most of us already know, the Steelers are bereft of experienced depth behind LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds at outside linebacker. What makes the situation at the position even more of an issue is the fact that Woodley has been useless and injury-prone since he signed his recent deal worth $61.5 million, Worilds will be a UFA after the 2013 season ends, and Chris Carter and Adrian Robinson are big question marks as well. I mean, the positional unit only recorded 15.0 sacks last season, so I think it’s pretty safe to assume that an upgrade or two needs to come via the draft.
If Pittsburgh’s brass do select an outside linebacker in Round 1, I believe that it will either be Jarvis Jones of Georgia or Bjoern Werner of Florida State.
Many teams could be scared away by Jones’ poor pro day workout and his spinal stenosis condition. If this happens, the Steelers could very well be waiting with open arms for the former Bulldog at #17 overall, because they desperately need help at outside linebacker.
While Jones’ poor workout, past injury, and questions about how well he can set the edge against the run are causes for concern, the linebacker absolutely tore up the S.E.C. as a pass-rusher and play-maker over the last two seasons. In fact, I would say that Jones was downright incredible during his two year stint in Athens. Overall, Jones made 155 tackles, 28.0 sacks, and 45.0 tackles for loss, and was adept at making “splash-plays” and forcing turnovers when the Bulldogs needed him to the most!
If Jones is available at #17, and the Steelers make him their pick, I for one will not be upset to see him manning the weakside-outside linebacker position.If the Steelers do not care for Jones, or are scared off by his medical history, they could elect to target Bjoern Werner as a possible solution to their pass-rushing problem.
While some believe that Werner is best suited to play as a down-lineman in a 4-3 base defense, I maintain that the defensive end possesses the necessary athletic tools to transition to the strongside-outside linebacker position in a 3-4 scheme. Although “The Germinator” is a bit larger than Jones, he was nevertheless fantastic in the pass-rushing department for the Seminoles during his collegiate career. Over the last two seasons, Werner emerged as one of college football’s best pass-rushers and play-makers behind the line of scrimmage. Overall, Bjoern notched 20.0 Sacks and 29.0 tackles for loss in addition to 79 tackles, and he was named the ACC’s Defensive MVP last year for his efforts.
At 6’3″ 266 lbs. Werner might not have Barkevious Mingo-type speed off of the edge and must work better in space if he is asked to defend against the pass. Yet the defensive end has a strong bull-rush, long arms (33.25″), and deceptive speed which help him get to the opposing quarterback and beat offensive tackles in passing situations. Although I previously mentioned how the former Seminole has some consistency issues when he has defended the run, his long arms and raw strength could be honed to help him better “set the edge” with solid coaching and technique tips from John Mitchell and Keith Butler.
Tight End (Wild Card)
One player who could be a potential “wild-card” in Round 1 for the Steelers is Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.
While I do not believe that tight end is as pressing of a need as the three I mentioned above, I still recognize the fact that Heath Miller might be hobbled after the knee injury he suffered in Week 16 of last season. Furthermore, Miller will turn 32 this fall, and the team might not be confident that Matt Spaeth and David Paulson are long-term answers at the position.
Thus, if the Steelers elect to go “B.P.A” over “Need” in the 1st Round, Eifert might make a heck of a lot of sense.
A large-framed player (6’5″ 250 lbs.) with tremendously reliable hands, Eifert shined as a “Golden Domer” and was a huge reason why Notre Dame reached the National Championship Game this past January.
Eifert emerged as one of the best tight ends in the country over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the passing game. In 2011, Eifert set career-highs in receptions (63), receiving yards (803), and touchdowns (5). Despite the fact that Tommy Rees and Everett Golson had their issues in the passing game, Tyler was nevertheless a huge part of Notre Dam’s passing attack and managed to haul in 50 catches for 685 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The part of Eifert’s game that I particularly like is his ability to not only line up as an “in-line” tight end and be a threat in the passing game, but also line up in the slot and even outside the numbers and create mismatches in the red zone as well.
As I mentioned previously, the Steelers should be in the market for a player to improve their red zone offense, and Eifert could be a valuable weapon in that area of the field. Because he is 6’5″, he can outreach most cornerbacks in jump-ball situations, Tyler can line up outside the numbers and bring the fade route back to Pittsburgh inside the 10 yard line. In addition, Eifert’s big frame would undoubtedly allow him to post up against slot cornerbacks and be in favorable positions to receive passes near the goal line in spread types of formations.
While Eifert is nowhere near the blocker that Heath Miller is, he definitely improved in that department over the course of his college career. Tyler has the tools and the size to become a competent “in-line” tight end if he is asked to fill that role on a regular basis, and a team like Pittsburgh could definitely use a valuable offensive “chess piece” like the former Notre Dame tight end.
Although I do not believe that tight end is as pressing of a positional need as the three I discussed above, I would be pleased if the Steelers took the former Notre Dame player to be Heath’s current understudy and eventual replacement in two to three years.
Readers: Which player at which position do you believe the Steelers will select in Round 1?
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