2013 Draft

Drafting Hybrid Players In Round One To Be Outside Linebackers Is A Risky Proposition

When you watched rookie Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Adrian Robinson play last preseason you could see a good deal of expected flaws, but you could also see a young player that could get after the quarterback, albeit against third string competition. The Steelers saw enough out of the undrafted Temple product, however, that they decided to keep him on the 53 man roster all season.

Robinson, as expected, only played on special teams once the season started, but you have to wonder if they saw enough in him to give them the impression that he could at least serve as a backup in 2013, and perhaps even as a starter down the road.

The future of James Harrison is still up in the air, and will be until March 12 rolls around. Should he wind up being a salary cap casualty then Jason Worilds would more than likely be asked to fill his shoes. Behind Worilds and LaMarr Woodley sits Chris Carter, who I am pretty sure that the coaching staff hasn\’t given up on just yet.

The Steelers did not draft an outside linebacker last April, so the odds are good that they will draft one at some point this year to put at the end of the conga line. Will the Steelers draft an outside linebacker with their first selection this year?

While it always causes a debate, Lawrence Timmons was technically the last outside linebacker drafted by the Steelers in the first round when he was selected 15th overall in the 2007 draft.

“We\’re a 3-4 team and he\’s a right outside linebacker,” head coach Mike Tomlin said following the selection of Timmons.

Timmons, of course, was quickly moved inside and luckily that move wound up being a very good one. I would hate to think what would have happened had it not.

In the 2013 draft class there are a handful of first round hybrid players that will likely wind up being 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL. A few of them, however, will be drafted by 4-3 teams to be defensive ends. These hybrid types generally don\’t have much experience standing up and dropping into coverage, so the process of scouting such a player, that will be projected to go from having his hand in the dirt predominantly to standing up full time, has to be spot on. Especially for a first round selection.

Keep this in mind as well. Timmons, was only the third linebacker that the Steelers had drafted in the first round in the history of the franchise. Huey Richardson, the Steelers first round pick in 1991, was a bust, and like Timmons, eventually moved inside during his rookie season. Robin Cole, who was drafted in the first round in 1977, had much better success as he played 11 seasons in Pittsburgh at outside linebacker. He was never a household name, however, and he only made the Pro Bowl once.

It is easy to get excited about Jarvis Jones, Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo, Damontre Moore and Bjoern Werner, but there is quite a bit of unknown related to each as far as them being a slam-dunk productive outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense. Specifically the Steelers 3-4 defense.

Each draft class is different, but the Steelers track record as far as selecting first round outside linebackers to play outside linebacker isn\’t stellar. Keep in mind that the transition period would more than likely be a year or more for any of the prospects listed above. Rookies just don\’t start on defense right out of the chute for the Steelers unless their name is Kendrell Bell.

So what am I getting at here? I think that the Steelers feel better about their pipeline of outside linebackers than most of the fanbase does. Enough so that they aren\’t willing to risk their first round draft pick on a hybrid this year. Instead, they will likely be more inclined to draft an outside linebacker after round one, where the risk is diminished some.

Maybe, just maybe, the Steelers think that Robinson can eventually become another Harrison. Maybe they are confident that Woodley will rebound and be the linebacker that he once was. Maybe Worilds is finally ready to step in now and become a starter. Maybe they just want to go a safer route with their first round pick in 2013.

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