We continue our Point/Counterpoint feature here on BTSC with the point of the Steelers looking at a pass rusher in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Monday we featured the debate of whether the Steelers should take a cornerback with the No. 22 overall pick in the upcoming draft. Now on to today's debate.
Point - Mike Frazer
Outside linebackers are the most important position in a 3-4 defense. They are the key pass rushers, and they set the edges on runs. They need to be at once quick and powerful, reactive and instinctive, defender and attacker.
For years, the Steelers had been blessed with excellent options, from the days of Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene to Joey Porter and Clark Haggans to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
Not so much, anymore.
There are a lot of unknowns at the position in 2015: can Harrison be depended on for long stretches at 37 years old? Can Arthur Moats be for a whole season what we saw in stretches in 2014? Will Jarvis Jones be the Jarvis of the first three games of 2014 -- two sacks and improving run defense -- or the Jarvis of the first 15 games of 2013, who looked slow and lost in both phases of the defense? Can Howard Jones, Shawn Lemon or another of the gaggle of linebackers step up and make an impact?
What if it was someone from the draft?
It used to be that "rookies don't start" in the Steelers complex 3-4 defense; however, that was under Dick LeBeau, though, and it had already begun to change before he left for Tennessee. See Jones and Ryan Shazier, for example. Under Keith Butler, and with Troy Polamalu gone, it's safe to assume this will be a more straightforward defense, which should flatten the learning curve, and this draft has a lot of tantalizing options. From Shane Ray to Alvin Dupree to Vic Beasley to pick-a-name, there is a wealth of worthy pass-rushing talent to be had this year in the first round.
The best part is that the guy doesn't have to get thrown to the wolves. He can start off strictly as a pass rusher, with Harrison, Moats and Jones rotating the run downs. He can be eased in to the system and allowed to get comfortable. It keeps everyone fresh, makes the pass rush a little less predictable from one down to the next, and with the expected growth of Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier and others, it can be the shot in the arm this front seven so badly needs.
Counterpoint - Jeff Hartman
So fans want the team to look at outside linebacker in the upcoming draft? My question is simple: Why? The team has spent first round picks on pass rushers (i.e. Jarvis Jones) and have been left with mediocrity ever since. In fact, before Jarvis Jones was taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the last time the Steelers used a first round pick on an OLB was Huey Richardson in 1991. Think about all the great pass rushers who have been drafted since, and not in the first round. LaMarr Woodley, Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, James Harrison, Greg Lloyd...just to name a few.
The Steelers have done just fine finding pass rushing talent in the later rounds of drafts, which begs the question: Why are fans so sold on counting out this current crop of pass rushers in 2015? Arthur Moats was by far the best 'bang for your buck' pass rusher on the roster last season, and his 4 sacks in such a limited role left him only 3.5 off the team lead for the 2014 season. Other than Moats, Harrison should be primed for a resurgence in 2015 if the team sticks with his "part-time" role to keep him fresh and healthy for a full season. If the team can get Jarvis Jones' production from the start of 2014 for a full season, the question of who can rush the passer has been solved.
On top of the experienced returning players, Shawn Lemon, Howard Jones and Jordan Zumwalt all tie into the equation of depth, and could turn some heads this Spring and Summer.
The Steelers in 2014 were the equivalent to a boat floating on the ocean without an engine. The team was trying to deploy the same 3-4 scheme built around the elite players of the past, but those starting players were no longer capable of performing. As the defense transitions to a new defensive coordinator, the one thing Keith Butler should understand is his linebacker depth should be just fine without drafting a pass rusher in the first round. Rather, the team should be looking at the secondary (cornerback or safety) with their first overall draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.