By Matthew Marczi
Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.
If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.
There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.
Whether or not the Steelers have some depth at the outside linebacker position depends greatly on what they do in the coming months leading up to the draft. Will they be able to re-sign Jason Worilds? Would they be willing to part with LaMarr Woodley?
Right now, Jarvis Jones is the only truly known commodity, and we still have a lot to learn about him. Behind him is Chris Carter, going into his fourth year and hardly showing any signs of improvement on defense or special teams. Woodley is still under contract, but his future is uncertain.
LaMarr Woodley: Speaking of Woodley, he just finished—or didn’t finish—his third season since signing a shiny new contract before the 2011 season. He had a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber first half of that season before beginning a very worrying path of soft tissue injuries to his hamstrings and calf muscles.
While he is still able to perform at a high level when healthy—he was virtually the only source of pressure for the Steelers in the first half of this past season—the injuries are really starting to pile up, and he’s missing far too many games. It’s getting to a point where a decision for the future needs to be made, and whether he can be a part of it.
Jarvis Jones: Worilds isn’t under contract right now, so Jones is in the starting lineup by default. He was thrust into the starting lineup too early in his career, and it hurt the team some, because he simply wasn’t quite ready.
Jones finally started to come around toward the end of the season, and finished the year with his best game, but one thing that still hasn’t developed is his pass rush, which is kind of crucial for a 3-4 outside linebacker. He knows what he needs to do in the offseason to get better at his craft.
Chris Carter: Carter got a chance to play some in the final two games of the season due to illness and injury, and he didn’t disappoint—as in he did exactly what many expected him to do. I still don’t understand why many seemed excited about him due to his performance against the New England Patriots in 2011 when Woodley went down, which was highly unimpressive to these eyes. He’s in the final year of his contract, but I would still write his name in pencil for now.
Vic So’oto: Recently signed to a futures contract, Vic So’oto has played at least intermittently for three seasons now with several different teams. Most of his experience came in seven games with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Right now he’s fourth on the depth chart by default.
Draft Strategy: The draft strategy could depend a lot on whether or not the Steelers re-sign Worilds. Even if they do, however, depth is still of a primary long-term concern, because it’s clear that Woodley is not in the long-term plans. Carter is not a viable asset for depth. You don’t want Lawrence Timmons going back outside either.
Dave Bryan mocked an outside linebacker to the Steelers in the second round in his first mock draft of the season. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. The last time they had critical depth concern, they had rock-solid starters, yet drafted Worilds in the second round. Barring some serious movement in free agency, which is unlikely, I would be shocked if the Steelers don’t take an outside linebacker in this draft at some point, and it could be early.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Defensive End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Nose Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Inside Linebacker