It’s the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest need of the offseason.
It’s also the toughest position to evaluate.
Kevin Colbert broke down the difficulty of evaluating outside linebackers speaking to reporters at the Combine today.
“Outside linebacker in our defense is probably the most difficult because 80 percent of them, 90 percent, don’t play on their feet in college. We have to try to project if a guy can stand up and do the extra things beyond pass rushing that he’s going to be required to do in our defense. So the margin of error at the outside linebacker positions is really greater than any other position because most of the time it is a projection.”
The most obvious difference is having to drop into coverage with awareness and fluidity. Colbert said every year, three or four players get knocked off their board as strictly 4-3 ends because they don’t show the ability to drop. In Pittsburgh, the right side seems to do so more than the left but you can expect any given linebacker to drop on at least 20% of his pass rush opportunities. Last year, James Harrison hit the 30% mark.
Colbert laid out what the position demands.
“You’re looking for someone who can rush the passer, play on a tight end or a tackle, and drop into coverage on occasion.”
He did point out those traits are usually immediately evident and that it isn’t about if a guy knows what he’s doing but if he shows the physical tools to be coached up.
“You just watch their feet, their hips, their hands, their awareness when they drop. You’re not really going to get into if they understand and know what they’re doing. You’re just looking at the physical ability to do it. You can transfer most of them if they have the athleticism to do it. It’s just a matter of knowledge beyond that and repetition.”
Lucky for Colbert, this year’s class will have plenty of talent to project. There’s a gluttony of pass rushers who will be taken somewhere in the late first round. Three EDGE rushers who have experience playing with their hand up are Temple’s Haason Reddick, Houston’s Tyus Bowser, and Washington’s Joe Mathis.
Reddick is likely to be the only one of those three in the first round conversation but keep an eye on the other two names as potential picks in the second round.