Study: What Pittsburgh Looks For In Outside Linebackers

We’re back taking another dive into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft history in an attempt to have an idea of who the team will be targeting in the 2017 NFL Draft. Today, we’re looking at the Steelers’ biggest need. Outside linebacker. As always, we’ll begin by listing the draft picks and the measurables for every OLB selected under Mike Tomlin.

We’ll search for trends and compare/contrast to this year’s class.

2016: Travis Feeney

Height: 6’3/5
Weight: 230
Arm Length: 33 3/8
Hand Size: 9 1/2
40 Time: 4.50
Ten Split: 1.58
Vertical: 40
Broad: 10’1’0″
Short Shuttle: 4.42
Three Cone: 7.20
Bench: N/A

2015: Bud Dupree

Height: 6’4
Weight: 260
Arm Length: 32 5/8
Hand Size:9 3/4
40 Time: 4.56
Ten Split: 1.60
Vertical: 42
Broad: 11’6″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A

2013: Jarvis Jones

Height: 6’2/3
Weight: 245
Arm Length: 33
Hand Size: 9 1/8
40 Time: N/A
Ten Split: N/A
Vertical: 30.5
Broad: 9’3″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Bench: 20

2011: Chris Carter

Height: 6’1
Weight: 248
Arm Length: 33
Hand Size: 9 3/8
40 Time: 4.67
Ten Split: 1.64
Vertical: 36
Broad: 9’6″
Short Shuttle: 4.34
Three Cone: 6.98
Bench: 27

2010: Jason Worilds

Height: 6’1/2
Weight: 254
Arm Length: 32 7/8
Hand Size: 9 1/4
40 Time: 4.72
Ten Split: 1.62
Vertical: 38
Broad: 9’6″
Short Shuttle: 4.29
Three Cone: 6.95
Bench: 24

Thaddeus Gibson

Height: 6’2
Weight: 243
Arm Length: 33
Hand Size: 8 3/4
40 Time: 4.79
Ten Split: 1.69
Vertical: 32
Broad: 9’7″
Short Shuttle: 4.27
Three Cone: 6.84
Bench: 32

2008: Bruce Davis

Height: 6’3
Weight: 245
Arm Length: 34 1/4
Hand Size: 10 1/8
40 Time: 4.50
Ten Split: 1.50
Vertical: 33.5
Broad: 10’3″
Short Shuttle: 4.03
Three Cone: 6.70
Bench: 19

2007: LaMarr Woodley

Height: 6’1/4
Weight: 266
Arm Length: 32 7/8
Hand Size: 9 7/8
40 Time: N/A
Ten Split: N/A
Vertical: 38.5
Broad: 9’9″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Bench: 29

My criteria is as follows:

6’1+ (8 of 8)
240+ (7 of 8)
Arm Length: 32 1/2 (8 of 8)
4.75 better (5 of 6)
1.65 ten split (5 of 6)
33+ inch vert (6 of 8)
9’5″+ broad (7 of 8)
Sub 4.35 (4 of 5)
Sub 7 three cone (4 of 5)
Bench: 20+ (5 of 6)

Unfortunately, with this admittedly specific criteria, not a single OLB met all the criteria. So let’s look at this from another angle.

One thing you have to understand about this criteria is that it’s actually uncommon for any draft pick to check every single box. They  check most but are missing somewhere. Instead, let’s see how many boxes a Tomlin OLB should hit to be in consideration again, by using history.

Travis Feeney: 6/10 categories met
Bud Dupree: 7/10
Jarvis Jones: 4/10
Chris Carter: 10/10
Jason Worilds: 10/10
Thaddeus Gibson: 7/10
Bruce Davis: 8/10
LaMarr Woodley: 6/10

Five of the eight meet at least seven of the ten pieces of criteria so for this case, that’s what we’ll use. Here are the players who meet at least seven aspects. However, I am going to eliminate any player who doesn’t meet the criteria that every outside linebacker drafted since 2007 have met.

That’s height (6’1+) and arm length (32 1/2), which all eight have met. I’m also putting an “x” in categories the player did not meet.

NameHeightWeightArm Length40 Time10 SplitVerticalBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree ConeBench
Tarell Basham6’3/626934 1/44.701.6132.5x9’11”4.357.27x15x
Myles Garrett6’4/427235 1/44.641.634110’7″??33
Takkarist McKinley6’225034 3/44.591.613310’2″4.62x7.48x24
Carroll Phillips6’3/224233 3/44.641.6430x10’3″4.37x7.06x23
Haason Reddick6’1/4237x32 3/44.521.5936.511’1″4.37x7.01x24
Derek Rivers6’4/124832 3/44.611.613510’3″4.40x6.9430
Tyus Bowser6’2/524733 1/44.651.5937.510’7″?6.7521
TJ Watt6’4/425233 1/84.691.593710’8″4.136.7921
Tim Williams6’2/724432 3/44.681.6433.510’4″4.57x7.36x?

Couldn’t fit it into the table but here is the number of criteria each of those guys met from highest to lowest (7).

Watt: 10
Rivers: 9
Bowser: 9
Garrett: 8
McKinley: 8
Reddick: 8
Basham: 7
Phillips: 7
Williams: 7

Ok…so that’s the list. Sorry to throw so much at you. This one came out a little bizarre. The Steelers have brought in Rivers, McKinley, and Phillips for visits while showing strong interest in Watt, who may have hit every category if we knew what his ten split was.

Here are the players who do not fit well. Ones who miss in at least half (five) of the categories or more. The Steelers have drafted just one of those guys…and that was Jarvis Jones.

Ryan Anderson: Arm Length (31 1/2), 40 (4.78), Ten Split (?), Vert (28.5), Broad (?), Short Shuttle (?), Three Cone (?)
Tashawn Bower: 40 (4.82), Ten Split (1.66), Vert (31.5), Short Shuttle (4.37), Three Cone (7.20)
Dylan Donahue: Ten Split (1.65), Arm Length (30 1/4), Vert (29.5), SS (4.46), Three Cone (7.02)
Daeshon Hall: 40 (4.76), Ten Split (1.67), Bench (18), Short Shuttle (4.38), Three Cone (7.03)
Avery Moss: 40 (4.79), Bench (14), Vert (32.5), Short Shuttle (4.43), Three Cone (7.25)
Al-quandin Muhammad: 40 (4.88), Ten Spit (1.73), Vert (30.5), Short Shuttle (4.47), Three Cone (7.25)
Garrett Sickels: Arm Length (32 1/8), 40 (4.9), Ten Split (1.72), Short Shuttle (4.41), Three Cone (7.21)
Dawuane Smoot: 40 Time (4.77), Ten Split (1.68), Vert (29.5), Short Shuttle (4.39), Three Cone (7.18)

Finally, you’ll notice some big names off this list: Carl Lawson, Derek Barnett, and Charles Harris. The issue all three ran into was arm length: Lawson would’ve made the list with Rivers, Watt had it not been for his lack of length. The Steelers have never drafted an outside linebacker with shorter than 32 5/8 inch arms. They prioritze length along the defensive line and OLB.

Maybe Barnett or Harris get a pass, they fall just shy, but Lawson has 31 1/2 inch arms. I know it’s *just* one number and otherwise, he looks good, but it’s hard for me to look past that apparently very important number.

If you want to look at every player I evaluated, click this link for the full list.

Previous 2017 studies:

Wide Receiver
Cornerback

Update: One reader pointed out I overlooked Jordan Willis. And wouldn’t you know it, Willis was the only guy to check every box.

*I’ve also been told TJ Watt had a 1.59 ten split at the Combine. That passes the threshold and makes him the other player to check every box.

NameHeightWeightArm Length40 Time10 SplitVerticalBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree ConeBench
Jordan Willis6’3/625533 1/24.531.543910’5″4.286.8524

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • Steel Realist PAul

    Rivers’s in the second and another in the third please.

  • MattHat121

    Would love that. Bit of a risk to assume he’s available all the way at the end of the 2nd, though. I wouldn’t mind him in the first, if all the top tier CBs are gone.

  • Jim Foles

    looks like we pick olb’s like the browns pick qb’s

  • MattHat121

    I wonder what the internal story is behind the Jarvis Jones pick…since he deviated so much from their metrics. Were they simply blinded by his production?

  • MattHat121

    Thanks for this series, Alex. I’m rethinking my expectations for Lawson in the 1st (or even 2nd), given this history, and just how much shorter his arms are compared to the historical draft criteria (1 full inch). I love him as a prospect, though. Tomlin and Colbert were at his pro day, so they are still likely considering him.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The Steelers do go off of the main grid at times so nothing is ever off the board but they have certain standards that they like to adhere to if possible. I feel Lawson is still in the running but I have a feeling Tak McKinley is the guy although I personally do not like him.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    It had to be numbers because even watching his tape as a novice like me, I knew he wasn’t that good. I hated the pick then and I guess u do not need to know how I feel about it today.

  • MattHat121

    Probably. But the 2013 draft, the 1st round in particular, was a relative dumpster fire compared to other drafts. I don’t think there were more than a couple OLBs worth their salt to come out of that draft.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Looking a lot like Watt in the first or Rivers in the second. I’d be thrilled with either.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    Jones is the prime example of what you get when you draft need over value.

  • falconsaftey43

    Very nice. I like the added aspect of how many criteria they have to meet.

  • Brian Tollini

    T.J. Watt had a 1.59 10 yard split

  • falconsaftey43

    I agree, Takk just feels like a Tomlin pick.

  • Pack

    So what about Jojo Mathis? How’d he fit in the metric? He’s my favorite olb prospect this year.

  • RickM

    No disrespect intended Alex, but personally I doubt the Steelers scout this way (looking for a whole bunch of criteria to fit together). I’d be surprised if they even have a prototype as the ‘5 of the 8 met 7 of the 10’ measurements suggests. I think, or maybe I just hope, that they closely analyze tape and evaluate physicals and personal interviews.

    I do think speed tends to influence them at some positions, but that’s about it. Barnett to me is a good example. My guess is they would kill to have him at 30, shorter arms or not. Jarvis Jones had 33 inch arms and Bruce Davis had 34 1/4. A lot of good it did them. Good technique will kill arm length every time.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    This is an excellent study. Thank you Alex. And much like the cornerback study, I think it highlights some of the problems the Steelers have had. Pittsburgh has not drafted a starting RIGHT outside linebacker since Joey Porter (1999). I’m not counting Jarvis Jones’ starts and James Harrison of course wasn’t drafted. Basically, they haven’t drafted a starting caliber weak side pass rusher in the Kevin Colbert era. On top of that, the 3 best prospects in this draft (not named Myles Garret) to fill that role, didn’t meet the minimum criteria to be considered in this study…. hmmm.
    Much like big Ben, James Harrison can’t play forever. Steelers better look in the mirror and figure out what’s wrong with their approach.

  • Mark

    I like the analysis and hopeful we trade down out of 1st round and double dip at LB position with 1st 2 picks. Then go corner in round 3 and TE with compensatory since that is what our QB wants.

  • Lambert58

    Damn, Bruce Davis was a specimen. Too bad he never panned out.

  • Lambert58

    Rivers at #62 makes sense based on this. Like how he checks the size, strength and quickness boxes.

  • Lambert58

    Or how Al Davis pick receivers? lol

  • Lambert58

    Lawson’s new nickname: T-Rex. lol jk. I can’t put my finger on it, but my gut says NO to Lawson.

  • Lambert58

    He’s not saying that’s their criteria. He’s showing patterns that give us an idea of what they value at the position.

  • capehouse

    Joe Mathis didn’t workout at either the combine or his Pro Day. Not sure where you got a 3 cone number from but he’s only done the bench.

  • capehouse

    Yeah pretty much. Tendencies are great to follow until they’re wrong. Steelers broke at least two last year by drafting a CB in rd 1, and drafting 3 straight defenders, which was a real big tendency breaker.

  • Jim Foles

    So Obi #1 and then Rivers #2…

  • Jim Foles

    they need to add Football IQ and Wonderlic.

  • Lambert58

    I like Obi but I’d prefer CB if a good one is still there.

  • RickM

    I realize that Alex knows there is not set formula. But he is suggesting that these stats give you some idea of whom they will target. I think the ‘5 of 8 fill at least 7 of 10’ measurements tells you that there is no prototype. I think that demonstrates pretty clearly that they don’t value any one criteria.

    The arms comment was because he has been very big on Lawson, but he just falls short ln the arms category. I just find it tough to believe, that with Barnett’s moves, they would say well his arms are an inch too short, pass. But I respect that Alex views arm length as a ‘tell’. I just hope tape prevails I guess. No disrespect to Alex and he may be completely right.

  • KiJana Haney

    I think this study showed why the steelers would go with either a corner back or safety in the first round. I know I say this a bunch but the only first round player the steelers would select at edge is TJ watt who is inexperienced. Rivers is by far the best option at linebacker for us. Let’s hope he falls to us in the second round.

  • KiJana Haney

    thanks alex for the list could you do safety next?

  • Lambert58

    I’m sure they use many factors when considering a guy. Arm length is just one consideration. Most likely they want good tape/intangibles backed by good measureables. Obviously.

  • Michael James

    I’m sure Jarvis had a 4.90 40-yard dash at his pro day. Overall these numbers show just how bad of an athlete he is.

  • Applebite

    Lawson overcomes his lack of arm length with the way he hand fights. Just something to remember when looking at his tape.

  • Sam Clonch

    Keep hoping. Steelers haven’t failed to make a first round pick since before Chuck Knoll. They’re more likely to move up than out. (And no, I have no idea who’d they target if they moved up, lol.)

  • Sam Clonch

    Really like Rivers/Bowser/Watt. Watt probably the least due to injuries, but still a lot of potential upside.

  • Alex Kozora

    How do you want me to measure “Football IQ?”

  • Alex Kozora

    Where did you find that number at?

  • Alex Kozora

    It is difficult because he checks every box besides arm length and three cone. But length is something they definitely value and makes it harder to justify because they have never deviated from it…and especially to that degree. Take a guy with 32 3/8 arms? You can justify it. 31 1/2? Eh…

  • Wil Masisak

    Um, Jordan Willis? He checks every box.

  • Alex Kozora

    None taken Rick. Obviously, this one is messier. That’s why I like to show my work so you can all see what’s going through my head. I don’t believe they follow this system. It’s for us to understand, not them to follow.

    But thresholds do exist. And when you have 10 years of evidence that says “here is the arm length they look for” you perk your ears up. It’s rare to be batting 1.000 in any category at a position the team drafts so much.

  • Alex Kozora

    Ah, you’re right. Keeping me on my toes. And whaddyaknow, he checked every box, lol. Post has been updated.

  • Alex Kozora

    Refresh your page!

  • Wil Masisak

    Also, Bowser ran a 4.34 SS at his pro day, so he would check all the boxes, as well.

  • Wil Masisak

    I think Rivers will be available when the Steelers comp pick slot is up.

  • Wil Masisak

    Mathis will supposedly work out before the draft.

  • Wil Masisak

    That’s what I said– checks every box. The poster child of players the Steelers usually target. I know they’ve shown him little to no attention in the process… but, c’mon.

  • Alex Kozora

    I’ll have to check if the sample size is big enough.

  • Alex Kozora

    Understood but I don’t use Pro Day times because we really don’t know where they come from and they’re going to be all over the map. I know teams hand time at the Combine (dumb) but I just stick with the “official” times.

  • LucasY59

    he has good strength, but part of his bench #s are due to his shorter arms, *which can be a fairly inaccurate way to measure strength due to things like arm length affecting it as well as the movement not exactly being used while playing very often (pushing off from a OL maybe, but still the tape shows if they can get off blocks better than the # of reps, using leverage and technique can be much more important)

  • Wil Masisak

    “And wouldn’t you know it, Willis was the only guy to check every box.” He’s also underaged, a team captain and off the field leader, very smart, extremely high character– the only reason I can think of that they have basically ignored him in the process is that they see him and Dupree as LOLB only.

  • Alex Kozora

    He’s like Kevin King. Makes a lot of sense on paper. But getting ignored by the Steelers.

  • Alex Kozora

    Also edited it and threw Tim Williams name into the table. He checks 7 of 10 categories.

  • Wil Masisak

    Pita Taumoepenu hits 8/10… missed broad jump at combine by 1″

  • Alex Kozora

    Removed him due to arm length, as stated in the article. Same reason you don’t see Lawson up there (he also hit 8 of 10).

  • Wil Masisak

    doh I looked at 32 3/8 and thought “that’s more than 32 1/2!” #maths

  • Alan Tman

    Bowser would be my #2 ILB prospect behind Reddick, because of his coverage skills and athletic abilities.

  • Wil Masisak

    and Vince Biegel hits 9/10 as well… his 10 yard split reported as 1.64… I’ll send the link to you via DM.

  • Lambert58

    Agree. It’s an imperfect measurement in how it correlates to game strength/leverage but it gives you an idea of the strength component.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    As I stated earlier, the Steelers haven’t drafted a starting caliber
    ROLB since 1999 (Joey Porter). I think you’re going to find a lot of these players fit the criteria of a LOLB only. Especially when you consider they have successfully drafted that position 3 times in the Kevin Colbert/Mike Tonkin era.

  • Alan Tman

    I still think they switched to sparq scores, tape, and interviews after Jarvis.

  • Brian Tollini

    Pythagorean theory.

  • LucasY59

    haha, I was thinking if there was a test, it could be a prereq to commenting on here, but that could also be a bad thing

  • Wil Masisak

    Thing is: I don’t believe Dupree nor Willis is LOLB only. Willis looked pretty good at RDE with two days practice in Mobile. Dupree’s got the ROLB skillset– we just have a guy playing there who can’t be moved without knocking him off the mountain top.

  • Wil Masisak

    Despite his freelancing concerns, Jamie Collins would have made so much more sense than Jarvis.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    I would think Rivers, Bowser, Willis, one of those guys would hopefully be available in the 2nd round.

  • Brian Tollini

    Seahawks draft blog site that was updated live during the combine, writer was Rob Staton if that means anything to you.

  • CP72

    Or production over ability….

  • LucasY59

    The guys that match the criteria are the guys I like best for the Steelers (and the reasons for why some of the other big name guys didnt are the same reasons I dont like them as much, kinda nice to see the list sorta confirms my thoughts) *Im not really excited with Phillips, but if they double with him late I would be ok with it, prefer guys like Mathis or Price, but they dont match up as well

    that being said I dont think these measurables are sine qua non (late latin noun 1.an indispensable condition, element, or factor; something essential) *no I didnt know what sine qua non is, but was checking the thesaurus for requisite and thought it fit well, might even continue to use it if I remember

    Rivers, Bowser, Willis, Basham, and McKinley are guys I would be happy with for the 2nd rd pick, and I think at least one of them would still be available

  • CP72

    Top notch work Mr. Kozora!!

    I think TJ Watt is really in play for round 1. Guy is certainly a box checker.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    Could Dupree play on the right? Yes. But I don’t think he would experience the same success as he will staying in the left. As far as Willis goes: If he is going to succeed on the right side I think it will be in a 4 man front like the one Phili runs (rushing from a wide 9 technique). I just don’t see him as a natural bender. He woukd benefit from the angle of attack the wide 9 creates so much more.
    Great football player. Just not what I think we need in a ROLB.

  • CP72

    He might be my least favorite edge guy. I am soooo hoping someone takes him before 30 to remove the temptation.

  • JT

    Great info Alex. This really reinforces my point of view that they best DB/best OLB for 1/2. That being King/White/Tankersly/Obi/Baker and Willis/Watt/Rivers/Bowser. I could definitely live with that.

  • Ike Evans

    Heard a clip of chuck smith talking about grady jarrett of the falcons. He mentions bud dupree and goes on to talk about that no offense to tomlin the steelers dont seem to have a “culture of pass rush” as he put it. That theyve had a string of guys underperform and the dupree (who hes working with now) is their only guy who can provide that at a high level….which is why they keep clinging Harrison. He said he doesnt really matter who u draft sometime if u dont have a culture of pass rush itll never be as good as it should be. The more i think about it. The more i agree. Our defense doesnt have a culture of pass rush…i dont think they have a culture of playmaking. We have a culture of lunch pale, hardworkers, sound play, speed, confidence, and toughness…..but i think hes right. I dont feel like theres a culture of gettin after the qb at a high level even though they seem to prioritize it. I dont think there is culture of playmaking to this point…no matter how many times our coaches mention the need for “splash plays”

  • Darth Blount 47

    Jordan Freakin’ Willis. Man, I hope he starts to get a bit more love around here. Also I see my boy Bowser is high up on the check-mark list. Take time to beat the drum again you say?! Sure, why not?!

    My ideal OLB double-dip, is Jordan Willis and Tyus Bowser. One guy who can rush the passer from every single spot along the front. And one guy who is the best coverage OLB in the entire draft, who reminds me of LawDog, and who can play Inside/Outside. If we can come away with these two specimens, we should be good to go, assuming Dupree properly continues his development. Bowser, year 1, can learn some tricks of the trade from both Deebo and Dupree, and can provide valuable depth and gain incredible experience, playing as the backup to both Vince Williams and Dupree. And Jordan Willis can hone his craft and soak up as much as he can from the master, while also providing us with options along the Defensive front, in a myriad of our packages, all while doing what he does best, get after the QB.

    Hopefully, after keeping his tasks simpler in year 1 (see Qb, get QB) we can then cross our fingers that he learns to drop at least to the previous level of James Harrison. I think this would be ideal. And potentially attainable, since there is a chance either of these guys may last to 62.

    I doubt we actually go OLB – OLB…. but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if we are honest about our needs, and then attack them in the draft. As much as I want Obi or a CB… this draft has a plethora of good Safeties and CB’s, that can be had from 3-6.

  • Alex Kozora

    Of course, the Steelers have shown very little interest in Willis or Bowser. So that’s a bad sign.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I know. It hits me right in the heart. Sometimes I wonder just what those guys in the FO are doing. 🙂
    But seriously, we should be bringing in most of the top OLB’s, CB’s, Safeties, and a few RB’s and TE’s… and ignoring the rest.

  • Darth Blount 47

    It’s because we run a complicated system of a 3-4 fire zone that requires multiple guys to be able to contribute, and puts a premium on guys who can both rush AND drop into those zones, equally as effectively. If we were running a 4-3, where we were draft rush/Edge lineman, we’d have guys who had double-digit sacks every single year. When you aren’t getting sacks from your D-Line, it’s hard to get those numbers to inflate. Now that’s no excuse for our primary OLB’s. It really isn’t. But it is at least somewhat understandable as to why we struggle to have a good set of numbers posted consistently, when the onus is on 2 guys, to primarily get after the ball.

    We need to blitz our Safeties more. We need solid sack production from our Ends, since these two aren’t playing in the base like Keisel and Smith and Von Oelhoffen were always asked to do, at 300 pounds. AND we need ILB’s who can cause their own amount of havoc when twisting inside.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Always trust your gut…

  • Darth Blount 47

    No way… You’re dreaming.

  • Gberg51

    Anyone know James Harrison’s arm length? Obviously Deebo is freakishly strong but he has seemed to perfect his rip move despite relatively short arms.

  • T3xassteelers

    Maybe for the last half of visits they visit with a few more OLBs. Seems like this first half (while had some OLBs), seemed geared towards CBs and QBs and such.. Who knows what they’re thinking lol, this waiting is killing me!

  • Brenton deed

    Yeah but deebo wouldn’t get drafted given these criteria … wait a minute! That’s right … he didn’t!

    This shows that while these criteria are useful it also helps being incredible/elite in someway. In Harrison’s case incredible strength while still maintaining acceptable speed.

    But Deebo’s strength took a while to show out on the field. Was that because he was always that strong but needed time to learn the position or did he develop that elite strength while on the roster? If it’s the latter they’ve got to offer him a job after he retires!