By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers are unquestionably in the midst of draft preparations to determine which players they will target and select come this April. Their needs are obvious, yet their greatest need, as evidenced by the lack of pressure on the quarterback the past two seasons, is one for a pass rusher at outside linebacker. While the team can hope that James Harrison, if he is back, gets healthier, LaMarr Woodley gets in shape, and Chris Carter and Jason Worilds take the next step in their development, to simply hope and not take action in the draft could result in opposing quarterbacks having inordinate amounts of time to move the ball downfield.
With that said, who are a few of the top prospects that the Steelers could possibly be looking to draft for an outside linebacker spot in this year’s draft? The analysis that follows will provide an initial look at potential first and second rounders that the Steelers could select as we sit here in January.
|Name||School||Height||Weight||40||2012 Stats||Draft Projection|
|Jarvis Jones||Georgia||6’2||242||4.84||86 TKLS / 15 SKS||Top five|
|Ezekiel Ansah||BYU||6’6||273||4.73||62 TKLS / 4.5 SKS||Mid-first|
|Corey Lemonier||Auburn||6’4||242||4.78||34 TKLS / 5.5 SKS||Late first|
|Chase Thomas||Stanford||6’2||245||4.95||71 TKLS / 7.5 SKS||Second round|
|Brandon Jenkins||FSU||6’3||257||4.70||(injured in 2012)||Second/third round|
Jarvis Jones – Georgia
Will most likely be gone when the Steelers pick at 17, Jones is the highest-rated outside linebacker in this year’s draft. Transferred from USC to Georgia, Jones is described as an explosive player whose best attribute is his ability to rush the passer, and while he is reported to play high at times and get eaten up by blockers, he plays aggressively and viciously, characteristics that the Steelers value. Would the Steelers trade up to get Jones? Not likely. But if he happens to fall a few spots before the Steelers pick, they could make the jump. The reality? He will be off the board way before the Steelers make their selection.
Ezekiel Ansah – BYU
Ansah, born in Ghana, Africa, is an intelligent, rangy player that has demonstrated the versatility to play defensive end and outside linebacker, despite never playing collegiate football until 2010. Is a naturally quick and explosive pass rusher, who like Jones, has a tendency to play high and get run over at times. Is young football-wise and has a huge ceiling that under the right coaching could blossom into an outstanding pass rusher. Not an organically aggressive player. Should be available when the Steelers pick, or could go off the board a few picks earlier.
Corey Lemonier – Auburn
Lemonier played defensive end at Auburn but has the capability of standing up on the outside in a 3-4 defense. Is described as durable, aggressive, and explosive and always plays full-go. Does not have much experience dropping into coverage and does over-pursue and miss tackles from time to time. Saw his sack total drop to 5.5 from 9.5 in 2012. Not forecasted to be drafted until the mid-twenties, the Steelers would have an opportunity to select Lemonier if they believed him to be worthy.
Chase Thomas – Stanford
From Georgia, was recruited as a defensive end, but played out his career as an outside linebacker, recording 27.5 sacks and 50 tackles for loss in his career. Has never been injured and is a high character guy. Better against the run than he is as a pass rusher, Thomas is quick to set the edge and excels in identifying the play. Limited athletically, Thomas will need to develop his ability to rush the passer and also to drop into coverage effectively. Thomas is forecasted as a second round pick.
Brandon Jenkins – Florida State
Suffered a LisFranc injury in 2012, Jenkins collected 8 sacks in 2011 and 13.5 sacks in 2010. He was also responsible for 37.5 tackles for loss during his career at Florida State. Can get collapsed by blockers and needs to get stronger to match-up against NFL tackles. However, Jenkins has an impressive first-step and demonstrates a consistent effort in getting to the passer. Has experience in coverage, yet must improve his play against the run. Jenkins is a second, possibly third round pick as a result of his injury.
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