Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Outside Linebacker

By Matthew Marczi

Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.

If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.

There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.

Whether or not the Steelers have some depth at the outside linebacker position depends greatly on what they do in the coming months leading up to the draft. Will they be able to re-sign Jason Worilds? Would they be willing to part with LaMarr Woodley?

Right now, Jarvis Jones is the only truly known commodity, and we still have a lot to learn about him. Behind him is Chris Carter, going into his fourth year and hardly showing any signs of improvement on defense or special teams. Woodley is still under contract, but his future is uncertain.

LaMarr Woodley: Speaking of Woodley, he just finished—or didn’t finish—his third season since signing a shiny new contract before the 2011 season. He had a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber first half of that season before beginning a very worrying path of soft tissue injuries to his hamstrings and calf muscles.

While he is still able to perform at a high level when healthy—he was virtually the only source of pressure for the Steelers in the first half of this past season—the injuries are really starting to pile up, and he’s missing far too many games. It’s getting to a point where a decision for the future needs to be made, and whether he can be a part of it.

Jarvis Jones: Worilds isn’t under contract right now, so Jones is in the starting lineup by default. He was thrust into the starting lineup too early in his career, and it hurt the team some, because he simply wasn’t quite ready.

Jones finally started to come around toward the end of the season, and finished the year with his best game, but one thing that still hasn’t developed is his pass rush, which is kind of crucial for a 3-4 outside linebacker. He knows what he needs to do in the offseason to get better at his craft.

Chris Carter: Carter got a chance to play some in the final two games of the season due to illness and injury, and he didn’t disappoint—as in he did exactly what many expected him to do. I still don’t understand why many seemed excited about him due to his performance against the New England Patriots in 2011 when Woodley went down, which was highly unimpressive to these eyes. He’s in the final year of his contract, but I would still write his name in pencil for now.

Vic So’oto: Recently signed to a futures contract, Vic So’oto has played at least intermittently for three seasons now with several different teams. Most of his experience came in seven games with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Right now he’s fourth on the depth chart by default.

Draft Strategy: The draft strategy could depend a lot on whether or not the Steelers re-sign Worilds. Even if they do, however, depth is still of a primary long-term concern, because it’s clear that Woodley is not in the long-term plans. Carter is not a viable asset for depth. You don’t want Lawrence Timmons going back outside either.

Dave Bryan mocked an outside linebacker to the Steelers in the second round in his first mock draft of the season. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. The last time they had critical depth concern, they had rock-solid starters, yet drafted Worilds in the second round. Barring some serious movement in free agency, which is unlikely, I would be shocked if the Steelers don’t take an outside linebacker in this draft at some point, and it could be early.

Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Defensive End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Nose Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Inside Linebacker

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • steeltown

    Im actually rooting for So’oto to overtake Carter this year.. and lets be honest, even if Worilds and Woodley are on roster this next season we will still draft OLB at some point, somewhere between the 2nd and 5th Rd IMO

  • Chad H

    To many question marks at the position. I believe they will draft an OLB in rd 2 and if one slides in rd 1 they may pick one there.

  • 243546

    Definitely need to draft an OLB. How early depends on what happens with the Worilds/Woodley situation. If the Steelers don’t bring Worilds back, and keep Woodley, you have to assume that they will want to put themselves in a position to move on from Woodley after the 2014 season if he has another less than stellar season.

  • GH05T

    i would be very suprised if they didn’t sign worilds but as far as woodley is concerned i would keep him for another year just for cap reasons and the fact that worilds hasn’t shown he can hold up for a full season

  • steeltown

    Actually minus the last game of the season against Cleveland, Worilds has been the healthiest OLB on roster the last 2yrs

  • Axe Skot

    When all is said and done, I will be shocked if they don’t draft at least two outside linebackers.

  • 243546

    If the plan is to keep Woodley this year, I would sign a mid ranged FA OLB for depth, spend an early pick on an OLB, and let Worilds walk. Most likely scenario after 2014 is Woodley being let go, and a FA OLB and 2014 draft pick in a camp battle heading into the 2015 season. In the mean time, focus on making the D-line a strength, which will make the LB corps look better regardless of what happens with the OLB situation,.

  • steeltown

    Something tells me they find a way to re-sign Worilds to start at LOLB and find a way to keep Woodley to play ROLB, with an eye toward releasing him after 2014 should he fail to stay healthy (again) and at that time move Jarvis from a situational pass rusher to starting ROLB

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Oh, for the good old days, when an Pro Bowl LB would leave the Steelers in free agency, and his replacement was immediately as good or better than him. I want to cry when I think about how good we had it as fans of the Steelers.

    I think they need a different game plan. I wish I knew exactly what would work.

  • dkoy85

    To get back to that point would involve a good deal of participation in free agency and the release of all the veterans and the extension of Ben. Find a Clark like replacement for Polamalu in FA, a second tier CB to push for Gay’s spot, sign worilds, keep woodley, and sign some depth at ILB. Then draft those positions with the hopes of pushing to start in 2015. Also, get Allen signed to a long term deal. Chances of that happening are slim to none but sure would make for an interesting camp and 2014 season. Regardless we need a key Cotchery type signing on D this year to puch for either CB or safety while this years draft class is groomed.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Yup. Need some constant pressure like Harrison used to provide. Oh, do I miss his best years. I am getting sentimental these days that the season is over.

    Hopefully they are just 2 years away from competing for a Super Bowl, although a lot of things will have to fall in place by then.

  • 243546

    If Worilds is re-signed, unless Jones appears to be a complete bust, Woodley will be gone at the end of 2014 no matter what. That’s to big of an investment tied up in 3 players, just to have one of them sit the bench.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    No matter what happens with Woodley and Worilds, I doubt we take an OLB in the early rounds. We are looking for depth, not starters.

  • PA2AK

    False. FA can help some. Key to getting back to a healthy depth at all positions is by returning to their pre-Super Bowl mentality. Once they win SB’s with younger players, they sign them and keep them around well into their 30’s (after all, they were good enough to get us there before, why screw with a good thing), sacrificing their younger players. Without letting go of the older players, we never see the young guys get the time that is needed until their 4th year or once they are gone. Need to make the tough decisions and live or die with what you drafted/built.

  • dkoy85

    I agree. I guess I should have been more clear and said to get back to that point sooner than later- like have a chance next year. Right now we just dont have the depth to be at the point to rely on the draft. We need a few key free agent signings- im not talking about signing top talent, just solid contibutors like that of cotchery and clark. It’s possible but they’ll have to make some unpopular cuts.

  • PA2AK

    I see, and agree. the unpopular cut is what kept Pittsburgh in the hunt every year. They abandon it as soon as they win one or two. It worked in the seventies and early 2000’s, but keeping the team intact clearly doesn’t last.

  • Nolrog

    Another OLB? We have 3, two of them under contract. Needs at corner, safety, and even nose tackle are far greater. I will be very disappointed if they pick an OLB high in this draft.

  • falconsaftey43

    If Worilds is gone, you are looking for a starter. Woodley has two years left under contract and is never healthy. If they don’t sign Worilds, they need someone who can start within 1-2 years and probably contribute this year when Woodley gets hurt, that’d likely mean they are taken in this years draft. Can’t wait too long. Really only option is signing Worilds. Truth is, there are so many needs on this team that one offseason isn’t going to fix it. There is very little talent behind any of the starters. I can’t really think of a position where there are any ‘starters in waiting’ or even really any guys you feel ok starting for a week or two due to injury.

  • Steve

    What is wrong with the Nose Tackle we got? Big Mac did an excellent job with the avg gain up the middle less then 3 YPC. The need is at Corner.

  • Steve

    Harrison was an unproven OLB when Porter was let walk. The same as Lambert, who was drafted as an Outside Linebacker and not brought inside until Henry Davis was hurt.

  • DoctorNoah

    I suggest cloning Cam Heyward and starting his homozygotic twin/children at all positions on the defensive front, including outside linebacker. Currently only Bill Belichick, through inveterate devil worship, has acquired this capability and is trying breed lighter and faster clones of Vince Wilfork with modified internal skeletons like Wolverine. It is said that Dan “Professor X” Rooney has plans of his own. It is also said that Mike Tomlin bears an uncanny resemblance to Nick Fury.

  • 243546

    That’s a great point. I’ve considered the lack of depth at individual positions, but not the team as a whole. It really makes you wonder it the team will have to take a step backwards before they can move forwards? What I mean by that is that maybe the team would be better off dumping a large chunk of salary this year, accept that 2014 will be a bad season, but be in a position to strengthen the roster via free agency heading into the 2015 season?

  • tricitysteel

    I live in Washington State and seeing the Seahawks play defense the way the Steelers should is HORRIBLE! Hopefully it won’t be long before they can replenish their team speed on defense. They really need to hit on their mid round selections.

  • Chad H

    We have 1 that is productive but injured the last 3 seasons. 1 has demonstrated production for half a season and an injury history himself and a free agent. 1 who will be in his second year and didn’t demonstrate too much in the pass rush (I think he will get better but who knows.). Then Carter who hasn’t demonstrated anything. So you think we should not address this questionable need? Yes corner is a need but NT does not need to be addressed at all in this draft.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Something I have been calling for for quite some time. Let’s get on with it before the Steelers waste the careers of the truly blessed. Imagine what happens if they can’t compete for Super Bowls for another 4-5 years. God forbid! Ben, Antonio and others wasting away. No, no, that just cannot happen.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    High-need position, probably 4th to NT, CB, and S. Carter is garbage and needs to be canned. Worilds had a good year because it’s a contract year, but he is still awful against the run and in coverage. Woodley may not be resigned and/or healthy. If Jones didn’t put on weight in the preseason and study up on coverage, then that will be a huge problem. Depth is there but it is deceptively low depth. Rounds 1-2 ideally for an OLB because safeties will last till 3rd rd comp picks but their equivalent skill-level OLBs will not. Whoever we take though we should expect a non-impact player as most OLBs are these days going to a 3-4 because of coverage and hard defensive scheme learning issues. I don’t think we draft a situational pass-rushing OLB either.

  • Nolrog

    In order for this defense to be successful we need a stud at nose. Mclendon is OK, but he’s not the anchor we need.

  • Nolrog

    Not in the first round, no. We have a 1st round pick just learning, and a free agent that just blossomed. OLB, at least as a starter, isn’t a need (depth on the other hand, sure, but later in the draft.)

  • Steeler Fanatic

    O’brien Schofield!!! He is a backup for Seattle and could be a free agent steal! He would come at a reasonable price. I don’t think the Steelers will invest in another OLB in the draft this year. Heyward may be able to supplement the pass rush.