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How the Pittsburgh Steelers Draft on Defense: The Linebackers.

Bumped. Good stuff here. I hope this series continues. Thanks to all of you for keeping the conversation going all week while I've been largely MIA. Tough week in other aspects of life for me, but despite there not being a lick of news really, you all have kept things fresh. Cheers to y'all. No surprise though really. Anyway, here's a nice compliment to the solid thoughts and conversation-starter published about the Steelers' current situation at linebacker. Nice job here by PhantaSkippy. I'll be back a bit later on Friday late morning/early afternoon.

Happy Friday y'all. Be blessed as always.

-Michael B. -

The first installment of this series discussed some trends in  Drafting Defensive Backs.  The Steelers approach to Linebackers is a little tougher to follow.  The Linebackers we target don't look as similar as the defensive backs, where we consistently seek athletic undeveloped Corners with good size, but there are some trends we can follow to see why we target the players we target.

Let's take a look...

Since 2000 we have drafted 14 Line Backers, averaging greater than one each season.  The breakdown by round selected:

1 - 1

2 - 4

3 - 1

4 - 2

5 - 4

6 - 2

7 - 0

Of the 14 selections 6 were inside linebackers 8 were outside linebackers.  At both positions we frequently drafted players in the lower rounds, but only draft a high round LB when there was a need on the roster.  (Bell when we lost Kirkland, Alonzo Jackson right before Gildon was done).  Perhaps a bigger difference in drafting strategy is the difference between 2000-2006 and 2007-2011, between Cowher and Tomlin.

Tomlin accounts for the first round pick (Timmons), two of the 2nd round picks (Woodley and Worilds), One 3rd (B. Davis) Two 4th round picks (T. Gibson, C. Carter), one 5th (S. Stevenson) and one 6th (M. Humpal).

From 2000-2006 the Steelers drafted 6 LB's, two in the second round, two in the 5th, one in the 6th.  Since Tomlin took over we have drafted eight, and used higher picks than we did under Cowher.  A big part of that can be explained by the 1999 drafting of Joey Porter, the signing of Farrior as a Free Agent, and the development of James Harrison.  Add in the development of later round choices Haggans and Foote and the Steelers didn't need to draft replacement LB's.  In the 2007 draft Tomlin was looking at a LB group that was light on youth and athleticism.  Farrior was 31, Porter was leaving, Harrison and Haggans at 29 weren't any younger, and Larry Foote, the youngest of the contributors wasn't exactly athletic.

The Tomlin Draft era started with the quintessential Tomlin Linebacker:  Lawrence Timmons.  Timmons was young, fast, hard hitting and raw.  His second pick, Lamarr Woodley would be the counter to Timmons, and Tomlin would pick more like him, experienced, and likely ready to contribute immediately.  We all know how that draft worked out.  Timmons took time to develop, but is quite possibly in the running with Harrison for our best LB.  Woodley made his presence known immediately, but while he is a great OLB, he is not as athletic, and not as fast as Timmons or Harrison and it shows in his pass rush.  Unlike Cowher, who drafted new starters high in the draft and projects/reserves later, Tomlin tends to draft raw athletes early and more polished ready to fill a roll right away LB's later.  There isn't a perfect split, but I think you can see the ideology.

Timmons, Worilds, Davis and even this years fourth round pick C. Carter were viewed as quick LB's with high potential but they would need time to adjust to system changes.

Woodley and Gibson played similar roles to our LB's in college and both were expected to be able to help (Gibson as a reserve) early on.  Stevenson was drafted as a ST guy, which if you remember that draft, was kind of a theme.

Like I said it isn't a perfect split, as Worilds was viewed as both a future OLB and a body for ST play, and Sylvester is an athletic ILB project.  However at the time of the draft their biggest value was OLB pass rush project, and ST ace respectively.

Humpal, in my opinion was largely a body for camp, fill out the roster pick.

While looking through scouting reports on our Linbackers from their drafts, I noticed there is some correlation between size and speed and success on our team.  I added in Joey Porter since he was drafted in 1999, just missing the Colbert era, and since this is more about success in our system than draft strategy.

Players, with their weight/40 time.

 

Player Weight 40 time
Joey Porter 241 4.68
Clark Haggans 253 4.97
Roger Knight 245 4.6
Kendrell Bell 234 4.64
Larry Foote 231 4.83
Alonzo Jackson 266 4.86
Rian Wallace 243 4.65
Lawrence Timmons 234 4.66
LaMarr Woodley 266 4.74
Mike Humpal 244 4.82
Bruce Davis 252 4.78
Jason Worilds 254 4.65
Thaddeus Gibson 243 4.78
Stevenson Sylvester 231 4.71
Chris Carter 248 4.58

 

Only two Linebackers weighing over 250 at the draft have had success in our system.  Clark Haggans and LaMarr Woodley.  Of the OLB's they are also the only ones to run a 40 time in 4.7 or higher.  Clark Haggans was in no way an ideal OLB in our system, his years as a starter make up four of our 6 worst sack totals of the time period.  Porter's sacks dropped when Haggans took over opposite him, and Harrison's sacks went up when Woodley replaced him.  Woodley is a clear exception to the under 250, under 4.7 rule.  Inside Linebackers don't need as much speed, but still only Foote has done well for us, and he, like Haggans isn't our ideal fit.  Rian Wallace and Roger Knight both fit the rule, but didn't have success on our team.  As 5th and 6th round picks the odds weren't great in their favor, Wallace would stick around on ST and even return an INT for a TD, he was cut in 2007 with Woodley and Timmons forcing lower rank players down the list.  Knight would not even make it out of camp as a rookie.

Jason Worilds is over 250, but his 40 times are very good, so he will be an interesting one to watch.

I was surprised to find that bigger LB's tend to have less success in our system, while smaller faster ones tend to do better, you would think it would be the reverse, especially with our OLB's taking on tackles most plays.  The ILB's being even smaller than the OLB's was also a bit of a surprise, I guess the days of Kirkland and Holmes really are gone.  

While neither of my observations on the draft are without exceptions, the trends appear to be there.  With Tomlin so far we see trends of trying to fill immediate needs with ready to play prospects, usually in the mid rounds, while taking raw athletes to mold into future contributors.  I like this strategy, as it gives your higher picks more time to develop, with a higher upside when they do work out.  The under 250/4.7 correlation was a surprise to me, and is something I will look forward to analyzing in future drafts.

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