The calendar is quickly flipping through the month of April, and each day brings us closer and closer to the 2015 NFL Draft. By now, teams should have by and large accomplished everything that they have set out to do in terms of free agent roster building, which means that their sole focus is now preparing for the draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally been able to clear the Troy Polamalu hurdle and settle into their pre-draft roster. We have broken down the Steelers’ moves at each position in free agency in terms of re-signings, free agent additions and subtractions, cuts, and retirements, so now we begin the final process: determining draft needs.
We now turn our focus to arguably the biggest area of need on the Steelers’ roster, the outside linebacker position. It just so happens that there appears to be a correlation between teams with a strong pass rush and team with good defenses. The Steelers haven’t been getting to the quarterback as frequently in recent year, so draw the logical inference.
In 2014, the Steelers went into the regular season with just three outside linebackers, but were forced to add a fourth when one of their starters went down with a long-term injury. They have brought back three of those pass rushers, with the absent member, Jason Worilds, having retired.
Those remaining are Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, and James Harrison, and which roles they might ultimately serve is as of yet undetermined. They have also added three young pass rushers, including Howard Jones from the practice squad and Shawn Lemon from the CFL.
The greatest pressure is clearly on Jones, as anybody who has followed the narrative understands. He failed to impress as a rookie, and opinions vary as to how much improvement he showed in the first three games of his second year before his injury. The Steelers are hoping he can hold down a starting job as a former first-round draft pick.
Moats was the player who became the primary starter in Jones’ spot as he nursed a wrist injury, although he was heavily and increasingly rotated out for Harrison as the games wore on. Nevertheless, he proved to be fairly successful in his playing time, notching a career-high four sacks and forcing two fumbles. He appears to be the primary candidate to begin the season in Worilds’ spot at the left outside linebacker position, given comments that the coaches would like to keep Harrison and Jones on the right side, but that could easily change.
If Howard Jones, Lemon, or Shayon Green manage to contribute anything, that will be a luxury and a surprise. Realistically, none of them will probably end up on the 53-man roster with the Steelers anticipated to invest heavily in the outside linebacker position in the draft, with a first-round selection as likely as not.
The evidence for the need rests not only in the roster, but in the statistics, as the team has only been averaging about 35 or so sacks per season of late, which is simply not cutting it. With Harrison likely in his last season and Jones still very much unproven—and Moats’ long-term viability as a 16-game starter undetermined—it’s safe to say that this spot as much as any is ripe for the picking come draft time, perhaps with multiple selections.