Steelers to pull off Draft Day Surprise?
Word out of Steelers circles with the NFL draft one week away: All positions on the defensive side of the ball are in play with the No. 31 selection.
Whispers out of Steelers headquarters is that the surprise position in play with the Steelers is linebacker in the first round.
The team has significant interest in UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers (6-3, 254) and indications are will strongly consider Ayers with the No. 31 selection if he falls to No. 31.
Rated as the No. 2 linebacker in the draft, Ayers has excellent athleticism and size and has that Lawrence Timmons ability to play inside and outside that is said to be drawing Ayers to the Steelers.
Ayers doesn’t have the explosive speed that Timmons has but scouts believe he has the ability to flash as a pass rusher and drop into coverage and be a disruptive force at the next level.
If the Steelers were to go into this direction, they will surely look to first develop Ayers as an inside linebacker for the short-term. One evaluator I spoke with yesterday when I was looking into whether the Steelers interest was real, raved about Ayers physicality as a potential inside linebacker in a 3-4 system.
Another area that could draw the Steelers to Ayers: He is only 21 years old and the Steelers like to draft juniors and younger players in the first round; Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall.
The Steelers did not bring Ayers to Pittsburgh for a visit but Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and linebackers coach Keith Butler met with Ayers at the combine and Butler attended Ayers pro-day, according to a league source.
Ayers who played outside linebacker at UCLA, has a lot of big play ability and flashed it most notably as a sophomore in 2009, collecting six sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.
As a junior in 2010, he collected a career-high 68 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Unlike last year where it was clear the Steelers were zeroing in on Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Iupati to a lesser extent, this year I’m being told that several different options are in play.