The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will Jarvis Jones take a significant step forward in establishing himself in the starting lineup?
Perhaps no single subject has garnered more discussion, and articles, over the course of the past three season as has the topic of Jarvis Jones and where exactly he might stand, both in terms of his ability to perform on the field, as well as his status with respect to the Steelers.
A former first-round draft pick in 2013, Jones has never come close to living up to his 17th overall selection based on an evaluation that evidently too heavily favored his ability to close in on sacks via stunts that were designed to feature him as the playmaker, while ignoring his minimal productivity in creating his own pass rush.
That is more or less what the Steelers have gotten over the course of the past three years, with the outside linebacker generating only six sacks, including two in the regular season and one in the postseason in 2015, over the course of his three-year career.
It is obvious by now that he is not going to be an elite player. He was never an elite talent, to start with. But the question has now become whether or not he can be a quality starter, which is the question posed to the front office as they ponder whether or not to exercise his fifth-year option.
The fifth-year option should only inspire Jones to play harder whether he gets it or not, because he is essentially in a contract year. If he does not get it, he will be playing for a new free agency contract. If he does get it, he will either earn it and fight for a long-term extension, or not get it and be released.
He did make strides last season, forcing fumbles and intercepting a pass, and his pass rush was a bit more consistent than it has been, even if the sack total might not necessarily bear that out.
Perhaps the Steelers should consider dropping him into coverage less and giving him a greater frequency of opportunity to establish a rhythm as a pass rusher. If he is rotated in and out less with James Harrison, assuming he is on the roster, we should be able to get a much better feel for how the defense performs with him established in the lineup, rather than as a bit part. There were positive signs last season that they could get along fine with that, but time will have to be the judge.