I understand that the Steelers’ brass used their first round pick in last April’s draft on the talented Jarvis Jones. Moreover, it certainly appears that LaMarr Woodley is looking more like his “2009 Pro Bowl-self” than his “tubby 2012-self” this fall.
As set as the franchise might appear to be at outside linebacker, I still believe that Pittsburgh’s front office might be wise to add an outside linebacker at some point during the 2014 NFL Draft.
Depth an Issue Beyond 2013 Season
As some of you already know, the underwhelming Jason Worilds will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after this season ends. In addition to Worilds potentially leaving, Chris Carter will also reach UFA status after the 2014 campaign to boot.
With only Jones and Woodley locked up long-term, and Alan Baxter recently released, the Steelers might only be “one-deep” at each outside linebacker spot next March if the team does not believe that Carter is part of their long-term plans on the defensive side of the ball.
Make no mistake, I am not declaring that outside linebacker is at the top of Pittsburgh’s “positions of need.” On the contrary, it needs to take a back-seat to positions like left tackle, tight end, cornerback, and even defensive end. Yet one must question how comfortable the Steelers’ front office must be in a soon-to-be 30 year old LaMarr Woodley and Jarvis Jones at the top of their depth chart with nobody behind them.
Woodley has been hobbled by various injuries over the last few years, and one still has to question how long he can keep his waist-line in check. Jones on the other hand entered the league with medical red-flags, and his most recent concussion is a cause for concern as well.
Who Could Be Available and Where?
As I mentioned above, I do not believe that the Steelers would add an outside linebacker over positions of need like left tackle, tight end, cornerback, and defensive end in the first two rounds of next May’s Draft. Unless they absolutely fall in love with someone like Anthony Barr of UCLA, Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, or Vic Beasley of Clemson, those aforementioned positions will assuredly take precedence.
Nevertheless, Pittsburgh could snag themselves a pass-rusher to develop behind Woodley and Jones for the time being in the mid-late (4-7) rounds, and there should be plenty available.
If the Steelers are looking to add a more “built” and stout outside linebacker, they could take a look at Scott Chricton of Oregon State (6’3″ 265 lbs.) or James Gayle of Virginia Tech (6’4″ 255 lbs.). Both possess similar frames to Woodley, both are current defensive ends at the collegiate level, and Gayle and Chricton could potentially fit as left (strongside) outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes in addition to defensive ends in some 4-3 schemes.
Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State and Jeremiah Attaochu of Georgia Tech could also be mid-round options for the Steelers as well. Unlike Gayle and Chricton though, both Lawrence (6’3″ 242 lbs.) and Attaochu (6’3″ 242 lbs.) will both probably be forced to transition to outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes due to their smaller frames.
Attaochu is an intriguing prospect, especially because he has some experience as a stand-up pass rusher, and looks rather fluid when dropping back into pass-coverage. Potential position changes aside, Lawrence and Attaochu could shine as right (weakside) outside linebackers at the professional level with a team like the Steelers and some development under linebackers coach Keith Butler.
Although outside linebacker does not seem like a pressing need for the Steelers in the present, it could be one in the very near future. As I alluded to above, Worilds and Carter could both be gone before the 2014 season begins. Moreover, it would not hurt the team to have some insurance policies on the roster if Woodley or Jones are injured or hobbled at some point over the coming seasons too.
It would do wonders from a depth perspective for this team to find a capable mid-round backup to groom, and I hope that Pittsburgh’s brass are looking to acquire another outside linebacker when the NFL Draft rolls around next May.
Like “NPC” on Facebook: Nice Pick, Cowher