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Better Late Than Never: Why Steelers OLB Jarvis Jones will finally have his breakout season in 2016

One of the most scrutinized first round selections in recent Pittsburgh Steelers history finally has the right opportunity to show the Black & Gold what he is capable of. With his NFL career potentially on the line, Jarvis Jones is out to prove all of his doubters wrong in the 2016 season.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

I remember it vividly: "With the 17th pick in the 2013 draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Jarvis Jones, Linebacker, University of Georgia." I was pumped. Steelers Nation was pumped. We just pulled off a huge steal. Somehow a projected top five pick fell graciously into our laps, and this guy was supposed to be the next big thing.

Did he fall because there was something the other teams knew that the Steelers didn't? Did they know about his future wrist injury? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Now fast forward three years later, and over half of Steelers Nation has given up hope on him—labeling him with the sometimes-too-quick-to-use "bust" tag (See ESPN Article: Most Likely Draft Busts from 2016 Class. Poor Artie Burns hasn't even played a snap yet.) Even stores have given up on Jones. I got his jersey from Dick's Sporting Goods for $65. Partially because I'm a cheap skate and the clearance section is my stomping ground, but more importantly, because I am still a believer in Jarvis Jones.

Totaling five sacks in his three seasons so far, there is no denying that his numbers have been less than stellar. A wrist injury sidelined him for much of the 2014 season, and he still wears a brace on it during games to this day.

While Steelers fans have been busy brushing off Jones, they are quick to forget that he has been the under-study of his mentor, future hall of famer (Yep, I said it), James Harrison for his three-year career. Jones has definitely learned and improved, showing glimpses of his potential late in 2015.

His quality of play in the playoffs gave Steelers' faithful flashbacks reminiscent of his Georgia days. A glimpse of what we thought was our defense's future—and still could be.

The forced fumble caused by Jones against Cincinnati in the postseason was a game changer. Jarvis crept up on the backside of AJ McCarron and forced the ball out, which was returned for a touchdown by William Gay. The turnover caused a full momentum swing in Pittsburgh's favor, and was a huge contribution to the Wild Card round victory.

With the career of James Harrison's coming to an end in the near future, the outlook of the Outside Linebacker position still seems unknown.

Entering his fourth season in the NFL, there are still plenty of years left in the tank for Jarvis. If he continues his rate of growth that we saw in 2015, then the opportunities are endless for the linebacker.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were stuck with a tough situation this offseason: Pick up Jones' fifth-year option, or let it ride out this season and see what type of money he deserves on a new contract? They eventually chose to take the latter route, and see how the 2016 season pans out.

If Jarvis has an average, but effective, season, Pittsburgh will resign him. If he has a subpar season, he will just be released. Here's where the (future) issue lies: if he has a stellar season, exceeding all expectations, the Steelers may not sign him due to asking for too much money. I could easily go more in-depth on this situation, but that's a whole other article in itself.

There's no doubt that the Steelers not picking up his fifth-year option has affected him. It's made him hungry to show what he truly is capable of. Jones tried to play down the situation when asked about it at OTA's, claiming, "it is what it is." Lawrence Timmons was quick to play it back up during his interviews, and hinted at how much motivation this is giving Jones, stating "you know the elephant in the room there, come on. We are competitors here, so you can imagine how he feels."

Jarvis may be playing it down, but it's evident that he's tired of the criticism and ready to take the next step forward. Whatever his true emotions are deep down, he has made it clear that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh—"Hopefully, I am here. I love this place. I love everything about it. I am going to work hard and do what I have to do so I can stay around here. It is what it is. I am a positive person. I know what it is. I just have to work hard and do the things that you have to do as far as football, and things will work out. I am not going to let that hinder me from doing what I love."

Has the Black & Gold's patience paid off?  Better late than never, Mr. Jones.