With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up in a bit, and having finished taking stock of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, it’s now time to look back and see how the team assembled the roster they currently have through the draft.
It would be most simple to set a dividing line at 2007, the year Mike Tomlin took over at head coach, so we will revisit the past seven drafts, encompassing 59 selections, to see how the team treated each position, and look into why that is.
The next position we’ll revisit is outside linebacker. With three premium picks used at the position in Tomlin’s tenure, the team certainly hasn’t ignored the primary pass rushing spot. Yet entering the 2014 season, questions linger about how secure it is.
2007 – LaMarr Woodley – 2nd round (46)
Tomlin got his linebacking unit off to a hot start when he drafted LaMarr Woodley with the second pick of his head coaching career. He registered four sacks as a rookie in limited snaps before taking over the starting job in his second season. Over the next three seasons, he notched 35 sacks, intercepting three passes and forcing six fumbles.
All was not well after that, however. After cashing in on a big contract, Woodley got off on a tear to start the 2011 season, notching nine sacks by the halfway point, but it began a rash of nagging lower leg injuries that caused him to miss 14 starts and parts of other games over the next three seasons. Ultimately, the team made the tough decision to release him this offseason, in large part due to his chronic injuries.
2008 – Mike Humpal – 6th round (188)
Mike Humpal was a late-round prospect of really no note. He got injured and spent his rookie season on injured reserve when he was released and cleared waivers. He didn’t make the roster in his second season and that was it.
2010 – Jason Worilds – 2nd round (52)
Sensing a dearth of talent behind their two starters, the Steelers drafted Jason Worilds in the second round in 2010, even with both starters still playing at a high level. Worilds had had sporadic success, chiefly as a pass rusher, in his first three seasons, but inherited a starting job in year four.
He quickly lost it to Jarvis Jones, but regained it after a few games, and eventually even usurped Woodley at left outside linebacker. By the midway point last season, Worilds at times looked like a different player, mastering his spin move and racking up sacks while playing significantly better against the run than at any other point in his career. He’s currently locked up on a transition tag, but the Steelers would like to get a long-term deal done in the summer.
2010 – Thaddeus Gibson – 4th round (116)
The Steelers actually double dipped at outside linebacker in the 2010 NFL draft, with Thaddeus Gibson joining the party via the fourth round. Because of school obligations, he missed a lot of offseason preparation, however, and thus was essentially the ninth linebacker. When the Steelers needed a roster spot, he was the one to get axed. He’s bounced around on several teams since then while seeing very little action.
2011 – Chris Carter – 5th round (162)
Many seemed to be higher on Chris Carter initially than I was. In his rookie season, he was asked to play when Woodley first went down with the hamstring injury, and to my eyes, he simply looked overmatched from a strength standpoint. Three years later, it still looks the same. He’s yet to accomplish much of anything in around 250 career snaps, and may struggle to make the roster this year.
2013 – Jarvis Jones – 1st round (17)
The Steelers sensed that the outside linebacker position was reaching a critical mass. James Harrison seemed no longer a viable option, and was released. Knowing that Worilds was entering his final season and Woodley was suffering chronic injuries, it was probable that only one would remain in 2014. So they drafted Jarvis Jones in the first round in 2013.
In truth, he had a fairly unspectacular rookie season, especially as a pass rusher. While he played fairly well overall against the run, he definitely played like a rookie. He’ll be counted upon to start this season, so the team needs to see major strides taken in year two.