At one of the Steelers biggest need areas and they are always a team that drafts for need, the outside linebacker group is looked at by Steeler coaches, decision makers as one of the best in over a decade.
“The outside linebackers, it’s an unusual year,” Kevin Colbert said Monday. “Some guys will look at them as 4-3 ends, we’ll look at them as linebackers. There are real impact players. This is probably as good at that position as I’ve seen in probably 10 or 15 years. It’s really an exceptional group. A lot of impact type guys.”
Colbert believes there are 10-15 impact players at the position which means the Steelers likely believe one of those 15 players would still be there in round 2, if the Steelers go in another direction in round 1, namely cornerback, though, this is organization that will always prioritize an edge rusher over a cornerback.
It’s a group where the top tier talent, though, could be off the board by the time the Steelers draft at No. 22 but uncertainty surrounds how the dominoes will fall.
INSIDE PITTSBURGH SPORTS TOP-6 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER RANKINGS
1. Dante Fowler Jr. (6-3, 261), Florida
2. Alvin Dupree (6-4, 270), Kentucky
3. Shane Ray (6-3, 245), Missouri
4. Randy Gregory (6-5, 235), Nebraska
5. Vic Beasley (6-3, 246), Clemson
6. Eli Harold (6-3, 247), Virginia
Dante Fowler, Jr, out of Florida will be long gone and a likely top-5 pick, but there is not a consensus on where the rest of the pack will fall, mainly because of off-field problems and the inability for some to stop smoking weed.
Missouri’s Shane Ray, a projected top-10 pick, was busted today for possession of marijuana, three days before the NFL draft. He had a previous failed drug test early in his collegiate career that teams have been made aware of and today’s incident to go with a foot injury that has some teams not considering him, makes Ray suddenly a wildcard on where he’ll fall.
Ray is an elite athlete with great quickness, clocked at 4.44 in the forty, and is regarded as a Bruce Irvin type with his straight line speed.
Nebraska’s Randy Gregory is another huge wildcard going into Thursday night. He failed a drug test at the combine and also admitted to testing positive for marijuana twice at Nebraska in January 2014 and April 2014.
Gregory had 17.5 sacks in two seasons at Nebraska and is regarded as one of the best pass rushers in the draft. He’s a top-10 talent but comes with serious bust potential due to the failed drug tests and the fact he only weighs 235 pounds.
Ray and Gregory are similar in that they lack ideal size/strength, but their explosiveness made them special players at the collegiate level.
Gregory when meeting with the Steelers, a visit that is believed to have gone really well, was very straight forward with them and informed the Steelers he has anxiety and stress issues that he’s working to resolve which has led to him using marijuana at inappropriate times like at the combine.
Gregory is a top-10 talent but poses a huge risk for a team selecting in the top-10. When you’re picking in the 20’s like the Steelers, it’s a bit easier to take that type of risk on a talent like Gregory. The strength concern is alarming as it’s a problem the Steelers have ran into with Jarvis Jones but Gregory possesses 4.5 speed, compared to 4.9 speed that Jones does.
Clemson’s Vic Beasley is another thin-framed edge rusher but like Ray and Gregory has an outstanding burst. He’s been all over the map, looked at by some as a top-10 pick and others in the 10-20 range as he’s not viewed as a three-down player right now due to his lack of strength.
Aside from Fowler, one of the safest picks in round 1 is Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree. Not an elite pass rusher like Gregory and Ray, but doesn’t come with the baggage and has excellent size at (6-4, 270) and moves well, clocked at 4.56 forty. He had 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Regarded as being coachable and having huge upside once he gets stronger. When you start hearing about players rising in the draft over the last month or so, it’s because coaches are now involved in the draft process and Dupree’s name has been rising where some believe he could go in the top-10.
Dupree falling into the 20’s would be a perfect scenario for the Steelers.
After those five, the group is looked at as falling off when it comes to being in the top tier of the class, but a name to watch that could go higher than many expect is Virginia’s Eli Harold, a likely top target of the Steelers at No. 22 who has a good chance of being there.
Harold, who is listed at 6-3, 247, earns high marks for being a complete linebacker in his ability to rush the passer and play the run. He is regarded as an ideal 3-4 linebacker in the Steelers system from the left side. He had 14.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks in 2014.
NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein see’s high potential in Harold.
“Explosive, leggy outside linebacker who has surprising strength at the point of attack, and the hands and length to become an outstanding edge-setter,” Zierlein says. “Harold’s burst upfield to threaten the edge is pro caliber and his ability to bend the corner at a 45-degree angle creates potential for him to become a quality pass rusher from either outside linebacker spot in a 3-4.”