The Pittsburgh Steelers are committing a large chunk of both cash and cap space to outside linebacker Jason Worilds this offseason, who signed a transition tag worth close to $10 million for the 2014 season.
The four-year veteran pass rusher was only asked to be a starter for the first time in 2013, having been playing behind two Pro Bowl-caliber starters in James Harrison—who was released last offseason—and LaMarr Woodley—who was released just last month due to chronic injuries and a high cap number.
Worilds, of course, is being paid to be able to rush the passer, and by season’s end, he did put up respectable figures. He ranked eighth in pass rushing productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus, with a score of 10.4.
Much of that productivity came in the second half of the season, after he moved over to left outside linebacker to fill in for Woodley.
The numbers do show that Worilds had more success as a pass rusher on the left side than the right last season, but that’s not much of a surprise to anybody that watched him play throughout the season.
His pass rushing productivity rate on the left side was 11.3, while on the right, he managed just 8.6. Still, that is notably better than what Jarvis Jones was able to register in his rookie season. He finished the year with a rate of 6.9, among the worst from 3-4 outside linebackers with the qualified numbers of snaps.
It’s worth pointing out that Worilds’ shift to the left side also coincided with his harnessing of his pass rushing repertoire, most significantly his spin move, which he has learned to use with great effect, so I’m hesitant to oversell the value of playing on the left side.
As a matter of fact, Worilds’ improvement began the game before moving over to the left side, in Week Nine. In that game, he registered a PRP score of 22.2, notching one sack and four hurries on 18 pass rushes. Only three rushes and one hurry came from the left side in that game.
From Week Nine to Week 14, in fact, he had quite a stretch of efficiency, registering a pass rushing productivity rate of 13.6 over that span. Six of his eight sacks came from that span of games before he began to battle with injuries.
Those injuries affected his productivity, although he did manage to notch one more sack in Week 16. Yet the injury was significant enough limit his snaps in the last couple weeks and to sit out the season finale.
The Steelers are banking on the chances that Worilds had indeed turned the corner down the stretch last season. He had a nice stretch of highly productive games that tailed off in a way that coincided with injury. Now it’s time to see if that can be sustained over a full season for the first time in his career.