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 pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will Jarvis Jones take a significant step forward in establishing himself in the starting lineup?
The question of whether or not fourth-year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will ever blossom into an All-Pro any time soon can likely by now be safely put to bed. I would imagine that the number of people still holding out hope for that fantasy has grown to be quite small by now.
The question that remains relevant is not whether or not he will ever live up to his draft stock after the Steelers made him the 17th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but whether or not he can simply live up to the expectations of being a competent 16-game starter—and one that doesn’t need to be platooned.
Last season, realizing the inadequacy of their pass-rushing situation, the Steelers adopted a rotation among their outside linebackers in a move that I cannot recall ever seeing in Pittsburgh, at least in recent memory.
I do not expect that Bud Dupree will be rotated off the field much in his second season, assuming that he continues to make the progress that is expected of him—which is quite far ahead of where Jones was after one season—but Jones has not yet garnered similar faith.
Jones, in fact, played the fewest snaps among all of the outside linebackers who were a part of that rotation, with Dupree logging the second-most number of snaps, and not far behind the total logged by veteran James Harrison, who took the bulk of the right outside linebacker snaps ahead of Jones despite the latter being the nominal starter.
Jones did make progress last season, even as a pass rusher, even if he only totaled three sacks between the regular season and the postseason—Dupree had four—but was it enough to justify belief in the likelihood of him settling in as a player who can log almost every snap of every game and consistently contribute a winning performance?
We simply have not seen that from Jones in three years, so it can’t be extrapolated. But it is something that the Steelers ought to find out soon. Harrison has at best one season left if he doesn’t choose to retire now. Otherwise, it’s back to the draft board. Or simply continuing with a rotation whose existence was only spawned by the lack of a player performance demands that he play every snap.