The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a 3-4 defensive team for ages and that front relies heavily on the play of its outside linebackers to not only be able to rush the passer, but set the edge against the run and drop into coverage as well.
More teams will be switching to a 3-4 in 2013 with the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns now set to make that transition. That means the need for those special type of hybrid college defensive ends will be in even more demand now moving forward. Most college teams still play 4-3 fronts, so there figures to be a premium early in the draft on players such as Barkevious Mingo, Ezekiel Ansah and Dion Jordan as all three are tweeners that likely fit in a 4-3 front as well.
Identifying college defensive ends that can play outside linebacker in a 3-4, especially in a Dick LeBeau run 3-4, has always been a chore, and with more and more teams now competing for those same type of players the last few years it will make it even more challenging than ever to get a good one. The transition from having a hand in the dirt to standing up is one that many players struggle with and that will not change anytime soon.
The Steelers chose to keep undrafted free agent Adrian Robinson on the 53 man roster last year, as opposed to trying to stash him on the practice squad, because they definitely saw the potential that he has. He remains very raw, and continues to be a work in progress, but certainly can get off of the edge quickly as we saw last preseason.
Also, if you think that the Steelers are ready to give up on Chris Carter after two seasons, you better guess again. Some players take a little while longer to convert than others and I only need to point to James Harrison as an example of that. Carter has played all of 150 snaps so far on defense, and thanks to him missing his rookie offseason program due to the lockout, 2013 will essentially be his second season even though it will technically be his third.
The Steelers pick 17th this April in the draft, and as it looks right now, there is a good chance that the top hybrids could very well be off the board when it comes time for them to make their selection. General manager Kevin Colbert will stick to his board and loves to get positional value, so it would not be surprising to see the outside linebacker position be put on hold until later in the draft as a result as he will not chase a need over better value at another position.
Remember, even if the Steelers do draft an outside linebacker in round one or two this year, that player would be hard pressed to be anything more than a special teams contributor during his rookie season. That\’s just the way it works in Pittsburgh with all linebackers not named Kendrell Bell.
The Steelers will almost certainly draft an outside linebacker at some point during the 2013 draft and you can expect they will be adding a few more undrafteds afterwards as well in hopes of finding another Robinson. The position, however, has become one that is in such high demand and it figures to remain that way for the next several years.