By Matthew Marczi
For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.
Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.
Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: What kind of performance can be expected from Jarvis Jones in his second season?
After two straight back-to-back seasons of struggling to get pressure, the Steelers were desperate to bring in some pass-rushing ability after releasing James Harrison and watching LaMarr Woodley limp through the previous season and a half, while Jason Worilds failed to impress.
So it was that they nearly ran to the podium in order to draft Jarvis Jones with their first pick in the past draft. But unfortunately for them, it didn’t do much in terms of helping to bring pressure, as the rookie finished with just one sack, and 28 total pressures, in eight starts, 14 games, and 308 pass rushes.
The only starting outside linebacker that actually regularly rushes the passer who had a worse pass rushing productivity score than Jones’ 6.9 was the 6.2 number registered by Matt Shaunessy of the Arizona Cardinals.
Because he played outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in college, many, even Jones, seemed to believe that he would have an easier time translating his skills to the professional level. Whether or not that was the case is difficult to say, but if it is, his rookie season would have looked awful rough if he had to transition from defensive end.
Jones has clear and obvious issues in the pass rushing game, and it’s certainly less clear and obvious that one offseason and a guy named Peezy is going to fix all that ails the disappointing pass rusher.
Worilds needed to get stronger after his rookie season, but it wasn’t until his fourth year that he finally looked formidable as a pass rusher. And even Worilds at least had a repertoire of counter maneuvers—most notably the spin move—regardless of whether or not they actually worked. Jones’ bag of tricks mainly features a moderate bull rush and a straight speed rush that lacks the requisite dip and bend to get beneath the blocker.
Jones was benched in the middle of the year because he lacked assignment discipline, which helped contribute to some big plays. Even when he was forced back into the lineup due to injury and began playing better, he was still making obvious mistakes, including in the season finale, which was otherwise his best game.
It may be asking too much to turn Jones into a legitimate, effective starter in just one offseason based on what we saw in 2013. For their sake, the Steelers should hope that Woodley’s calves and ankles stay in working order and that they can retain Worilds, who could be just the latest of an increasing number of young and talented players fleeing the organization in free agency thanks to the team’s salary cap issues.