By now everyone knows the University of Georgia's top two linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. If not for a diagnosis of Spinal Stenosis Jarvis Jones would be almost guaranteed to be a top 5 pick in the upcoming 2013 NFL draft. He's a tenacious team leader with a high motor that Steelers fans should drool over as a replacement for James Harrison. His teammate Alec Ogletree would have a similar guarantee of being a top 15 pick if not for a series of failed drug tests and a recent DUI. Ogletree is perhaps the most athletic linebacker in this draft class, is also the highest rated inside linebacker, and his talent level is on par with current ILB Lawrence Timmons when he was coming out of college. But what many of you may not know, at least until he shined at the combine, is that UGA has a third linebacking prospect that the Steelers should consider in the upcoming NFL draft and his name is Cornelius Washington.
Washington absolutely blew up the combine and put himself on the radar of every team looking for an outside linebacker for their 3-4 defense. Weighing in at the combine as a rock-solid 6-foot-4 and 265-pounds, Washington smoked the other linebackers in the bench press with 36 reps of 225-pounds. And he's not just a hulking plodder as Washington went on to run a 4.55 in the 40 yard dash with an impressive 10 yard split of 1.60. Washington offers some positional flexibility having played defensive end in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 as well as outside linebacker in a 3-4. Outside of a DUI during his junior year Washington has been a model player for Georgia, never complaining about the constant position switches and being a vocal leader and mentor to the underclassmen.
The biggest negatives to Washington are that the potential never matched the production while at UGA. Part of that is because of Georgia's scheme change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. Georgia never quite found a place for him, constantly changing him from a defensive end to an outside linebacker and vice versa after their conversion to the 3-4, and as a result Cornelius never got a chance to be comfortable at one position. He was constantly forced to fluctuate his weight to accommodate the position changes. At this point it could simply be that he has untapped potential or that he's a poor fit as an outside linebacker. His 40 time might be a little deceptive because while he does have good straight line speed and a quick first step, his change of direction and overall agility are questionable at best. He'll have trouble covering running backs out of the backfield and will have to spend the early part of his career as a situational pass-rusher.
Washington had a solid week at the Senior Bowl which first put him on the radar of many teams and now with his showing at the combine it's possible that he could go somewhere in the mid-to-late third round. With his lack of production at the college level it's more likely that he'll come off the board some time in the fourth round, with the fifth round being his floor.
For the Steelers possibly looking to replace James Harrison it's likely they'll target an OLB at some point. Some think they'll try for Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah, or Washington's teammate Jarvis Jones in the first round. Considering they invested a second round pick only a few years ago for Jason Worilds it's also likely that the Steelers will want to give him one full season to start before wanting to move on and try someone else in which case using a later round pick on a developmental player like Washington might make more sense. Regardless of where you think the Steelers should draft an outside linebacker Cornelius Washington would be a solid value pick for the Steelers in the fourth round.