I will admit it, I was a bit shocked when I read the following tweets by Jim Wexell of SteelCityInsider.net earlier this morning:
Every time I ask a Steelers scout about Worilds vs. Sean Lee they tell me the same thing: They had Worilds ranked higher. #mythmaking
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) November 7, 2013
@elliottbp Yeah, the publications run team's draft boards. Steelers had Worilds ranked 16th, Lee 27th, as told to me by scout a month later.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) November 7, 2013
Many have chastised Pittsburgh’s brass for their decision to take Jason Worilds over Sean Lee back in 2010, but if this information is true then I certainly cannot blame those in charge for the move.
Worilds vs. Lee: Prospect with Question Marks vs. Prospect with Question Marks
Although he showed signs of being an explosive play-maker for early in his career at Virginia Tech, including a tremendous redshirt sophomore season (18.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, two forced fumbles), Worilds was still a bit of a “project” pick back in 2010.
Not only was he a college defensive end that would be forced to move to outside linebacker at the pro level (6’2″ 240 lbs.), Worilds almost missed the entirety of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury and then dislocated his other shoulder during the 2008 campaign. While Worilds recorded 32 quarterback hurries during his redshirt junior season in Blacksburg, his sack total dropped to 4.5 and many were shocked that he declared for the draft with a season of eligibility remaining.
While Worilds was a “project” and Lee was more polished as inside linebacker prospect, the former Penn State Nittany Lion had some medical red-flags coming out of school as well. Despite the fact that he enjoyed tremendously productive sophomore and junior campaigns, Lee tore his ACL before the 2008 season and was forced to take a medical redshirt.
To his credit, Lee overcame his injury and did a tremendous job for Penn State as he put up solid numbers during the 2009 season (86 tackles, 11.0 tfls, 2.0 sacks, eight pds). Some critics questioned Lee’s speed and quickness as well, and many wondered if he could return to form fully after his ACL injury.
Why I Don’t Blame the Steelers For Taking Worilds
Look, we all know that Lee is on the verge of making his first Pro Bowl this year and has made plenty of “splash plays” for Dallas during his four-plus years in the NFL. Despite some injury-hiccups along the way, one could make a strong argument that Lee is one of the best inside linebackers in professional football right now.
Lee’s success aside, I totally understood why the Steelers made Worilds their choice and still do to this day.
Remember readers, back in the spring of 2010 Pittsburgh’s outside linebacker situation was not a solid as it appeared on paper. Although James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were entrenched as the starters, the front office was faced with the following:
- “Deebo” was on the verge of turning 32 and entering his eighth season in the league.
- Woodley was nearing the end of his rookie contract and would be due a hefty pay-day.
- There was nothing in terms of depth behind them since the “Bruce Davis Experiment” fizzled after only one season.
Due to the fact that I thought Woodley’s potential market value would be entirely too high for what the franchise should pay for a pass-rusher of his caliber, I applauded the move. Plus, any and all competent depth at such an important position in a 3-4 base defense is always a plus.
As far as passing on Lee was concerned, I also understood why the team would have passed with Worilds still on the board. While James Farrior was nearing the end of his career, the team had recently re-acquired the still-young (29 years old) Larry Foote to be his backup. In addition, Pittsburgh had Lawrence Timmons as their other starter on the roster to boot.
Most of all though, if Worilds was indeed rated higher than Lee, then Pittsburgh’s brass deserve credit for sticking to their draft boards. Although the former Hokie has not started much (14 games) during his career with the Steelers, he has shown flashes of pass-rushing ability (13.0 career sacks) and is now firmly entrenched in Harrison’s old spot despite the selection of Jarvis Jones in the first round of this past April’s draft.
While Lee might be off to a fast start to his professional career, there are still chapters left to be written for Worilds. Although he is only in his first season as a starter, he ranks second on the team in sacks (3.0) and will likely be brought back as a free agent during the spring since zero experienced depth exists outside of him and the now-veteran Woodley.
People can debate “Lee vs. Worilds” and pine for the former Nittany Lion all they want, but the decision was made almost four years ago and nothing can change that. Pissing and moaning does nobody any good, and all us as fans and analysts can do is continue to hope that the franchise sticks by their draft board and tries to improve the team at all costs.
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