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.

  • SteelerDave

    Tough situation. I do think Robinson might one day be the real deal and his time learning has hopefully been productive.

    I may be of the minority but my feeling has been that we should go to a 4-3 zone because of the skill set of the players we have. Ziggy and McClendon are much, much better built to be DT’s in a 4-3. Heyward is a 4-3 type of DE. Woodley could be dominant as a 4-3 DE if he is in shape. Why is it that colleges like 4-3 and yet the NFL is trending to 3-4? I would love to draft Ansah, keep Woodley as a OLB and run with it. The time for change and innovation is at hand.

  • steeltown

    I see Robinson and Chris Carter backing up Woodley and Worilds this year, with a draft pick in the mix as well. The OLB’s are often injured and I dont doubt they carry 5 on the active roster again this season

  • I agree. I think the Steelers are ready to see what Worilds can do in a full time role. It is his time to show what he has. I also think Carter is in a similar situation if not only in a back up role . We will have to wait and see what happens with Harrison but March 12 is creeping up soon….Only then will we know for sure. Right now I am more concerned with the ILB depth as opposed to the Outside Starters.

  • steeltown


    We got lucky last season when Timmons and Foote stayed healthy all season long. That doesnt always happen. Even if/when Foote signs a one year deal through 2013, we dont really have anyone behind he and Timmons….. B.Johnson and Sly are not starter material

  • Kysteeler

    I really agree with you on switching to the 4-3 (even though it won’t happen). We are hurting at true 4-3 linebackers if we do make the switch, but I think were in the same position as we are now, with question marks at ILB and OLB.

    I’m not sure if Dave or anyone has looked at the numbers but I felt like we went to the 4-3 a lot more this past year. .

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    To me, the big question mark is Worilds. Can he be stout against the run? Can he stay healthy? Can he be productive (or at least serviceable) for 60 minutes a game over an entire season?

    The Steelers should not just be hoping the answer is yes to those questions. He’s been in the building for 3 years and they should know if he is or isn’t a starter. If he’s not a starter, they need to move on, try to keep Harrison for another year and develop Robinson, Carter and whoever comes in the draft.

    Regarding drafting an OLB in the first round, I agree with the article, however I’d make an exception for a natural pass rusher. Someone like Aldon Smith who the 49ers only used in passing situations his first year would be just fine with me in the first round.

  • TheBlitz

    Regadless of if Harrison is let go, I’m hoping Worilds finally get to see the field on a full time basis without splitting time. But based on the recent trend on how the Steelers use young players, I’m a little skeptical that we will get all the answers we need to know around Worilds skill-set as the OLB opposite Woodley moving forward at the end of next season.

    Here is why:

    Remember when Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders had to unnecessarily split playing time in favor of Randle El ? It almost severely altered their development, although it was pretty clear that Randle El was old and done.

    How about last season with the running back by committee which led to Dwyer not fully developing as a full time RB although he played well in two games when Mendy and Redmand were out and racked up 100 yards in each of those games in the process.

    Last year it was Worilds and Carter splitting time early in the season when Harrison was hurt. We didn’t see flashes from Worilds until toward the end when Carter was put on IR.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s why I’m skeptical…

  • nicolaisim

    Regardless of the Harrison situation – we need McLendon starting for a whole season. He will be the biggest contributor to a renewed passrush!

  • SteelSpine

    Almost any position drafted in round 1 is risky proposition.:) Seriously tho I agree about hybrids. “Conversion” (of any positions) & “First round” don’t even sound like they go together. Long ago after Steelers converted from playing 4-3 D to 3-4, Steeler brass justified it saying college DEs too small for NFL didn’t get picked early those were avail later in drafts therefore good teams like Steelers who didn’t have high picks could get their OLBs in later rounds. That worked for many years because we could afford time to develop LBs on bench, because we always had good starting LBs.

    All that came to screeching halt last year because we didn’t have depth for OLB; our starting OLBs were hurt or still hurt & our only backup OLB Worilds was injured too. So had to pray for Harrison’s return last year with half his body, & for whatever reason coaches wont give Robinson or BJohnson any chance regardless how many OLBs are hurt. In the past our developing LBs on bench were terrorizing on special teams so ya could see their time is near when they’ll step in & be solid & never lose their starting spot. We had none of that last year.

    We now cannot afford to wait several years for a new signee to play OLB; need a new dude more-ready to play OLB sooner because we’re in basically same status as last year at OLB with injuries & shortage at OLB (I’m not counting on Carter).

  • Jason White

    Jarvis Jones is the only guy that I’d take at 17 if he fell that far and even then I am still not sure about his health but I think he is more ready than the rest of those guys. Jonathan Cooper is probably as safe as a pick you could make there. The O-line would hopefully be complete for the next decade and if they stay healthy would probably be one of the best in the league. I hope they can keep Harrison around for one more season but I understand if they don’t, Keenan needs to be the top priority. I know though at some point Worilds needs the chance to show he can be the guy and I am also excited to see the progression of Carter and Robinson.

  • LucasY59

    Worilds was still recovering from his offseason wrist surgery, that is why Carter was getting the starts when Harrison was out at the beggining of the season

  • LucasY59

    I totally agree with not taking a DE project to turn into a 3-4 OLB. the only two 1st rd OLB’s I would have on my board would be Jones or Jordan (neither would be the guarentee pick, but would be a possibility) both have played OLB and would not need the time to adjust to a position change. I think Worilds is the guy this year, he was the “project” only playing 4-3 DE in college. He has taken the time to make the switch to OLB (he may have been ready last year, but being behind Harrison and Woodley makes it hard to get on the field, other than as a injury replacement) Robinson and Carter are also making the switch.
    I think any OLB that the Steelers take this year should be 3-4 OLB in college (they have enough DE Hybrids) Cornelius Washington was the OLB across from Jones at Georgia and I think he is a good mid rd prospect

  • HarryBackside

    Damontre Moore played OLB in a 3-4. He backed up Von Miller in 2010, then took over for Miller in 2011. A&M hired a new head coach after the 2011 season, and switch to a 4-3 defense in 2012, which was Moore’s only year playing DE.

  • HarryBackside

    No to Washington. 3-4 OLB isn’t a good fit for him.Washington wasn’t able to produce at Georgia. He didn’t begin to open peoples eyes until the Senior Bowl, where he played as a 4-3 DE.

  • HarryBackside

    The college trend is moving towards the 3-4, Defenses have been making the switch because the scheme is better at defending against spread offenses, because it puts more speed on the field to attack the spread. The other reason is because of the supply of players. College coaches are having an easier time finding LB’s than DE’s.

  • TheBlitz

    I like Moore as a 3-4 OLB. He has experience at the position. I have the feeling he will be available at 17 and I sure hope he gets picked.