TribLIVE

| Sports


 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Outside deeper than inside at linebacker in NFL Draft

Getty Images file
Ohio State's Ryan Shazier in action against Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.

Steelers/NFL Videos

Scouting the linebackers

1. Khalil Mack (OLB)

Buffalo, 6-3, 251

Set FBS records for forced fumbles (16) and tackles for loss (75, tie). Didn't play football until his senior year in high school, but went on to set the Buffalo record with 281⁄2 sacks. Never seems to take a game off and finds way to make plays regardless of where he's lining up or the opponent. His college position coach was former Edinboro coach Lou Tepper.

2. Anthony Barr (OLB)

UCLA, 6-5, 255

Signed with UCLA because he wanted to play running back, so he's still not a polished pass rusher despite having 231⁄2 sacks as a rush linebacker the last two seasons. Had 411⁄2 tackles for loss in only two seasons. Best suited to outside pass rusher in a 3-4.

3. Ryan Shazier (OLB)

Ohio State, 6-1, 237

Relentless and hard-working but sometimes draws u nn ecessary penalties. Can play weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 or be an edge rusher in a 3-4. Led Big Ten with 143 tackles last season; 4 4 1 2 tackl es for loss during his career.

4. C.J. Mosley (ILB)

Alabama, 6-2, 234

Chosen as SEC co-defensive player of year and Alabama MVP. Strength and durability could be an issue, as well as the fact Alabama players often don't make a successful leap to the NFL. Looks to be best suited to being a weakside linebacker in a 4-3.

5. Kyle Van Noy (OLB) Brigham Young, 6-3, 243

Big numbers: 62 tackles for loss, 26 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, seven INTS (2 TDs). Knows how to get to the pocket. Instinctive and naturally strong. Needs to upgrade coverage skills. School forced him to sit out a year following a DUI arrest. Dropped to four sacks in '13.

6. Carl Bradford (OLB)

Arizona State, 6-0, 250

Versatile player capable of playing as an edge rusher in a 3-4 or as a strong-side or middle linebacker in a 4-3. Seen as a second- or third-round pick. Had 201⁄2 tackles for loss and 111⁄2 sacks as a junior.

7. Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB)

Georgia Tech, 6-3, 252

All-time school leader with 311⁄2 sacks. Born in Nigeria. Just turned 21. Good work ethic and takes well to coaching. Played a 3-4 for most of college career but produced even after switch to 4-3 defensive end as a senior (16 tackle for loss, 121⁄2 sacks).

8. Chris Borland (ILB)

Wisconsin, 5-11 1 2 , 248

Is always around the ball — 420 career tackles, 50 for loss — but size and durability are a question, along with 4.82 speed. Missed parts of three seasons with injuries. Physical but lacks range.

9. Shane Skov (ILB)

Stanford, 6-2, 245

Strong tackler who knows how to end plays. Four-year starter who played both middle and weakside LB. Grew up in Mexico. Made 109 tackles, 13 for loss, with 51⁄2 sacks last season. Tore knee ligaments in 2011.

10. Marcus Smith (OLB)

Louisville, 6-3, 250

Led FBS in sacks per game (1.12) last season, when he finished with 141⁄2 sacks and 181⁄2 tackles for loss. Played QB in high school. Doesn't have great size or strength but speed (4.68) isn't bad and can pass rush or drop into coverage.

Best fit for Steelers

They'd love to get Ryan Shazier, given his toughness and aggressiveness, but he'd be a reach at No. 15, and the Steelers have more pressing needs (cornerback and wide receiver). They had him in for a visit. There's probably no way he drops to them in second round, but if he does ...

One to watch

Ryan Jones (6-3, 249) of Montana Tech (NAIA) might be a late-round prize given his athleticism; ran a 4.68 40, has a 34-inch vertical jump and did 28 bench-press reps of 225 pounds at pro day.

Homegrown

He's not exactly local, but Howard Jones of Division II Shepherd — about a three-hour drive from Pittsburgh — nearly went to Mercyhurst. He added 50 pounds in college and ended his career with 71 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles, four blocked kicks and 341⁄2 sacks, albeit against lower-level competition.

Monday, April 28, 2014, 10:12 p.m.
 

During a simpler time in baseball, pitchers were starters or relievers. There weren't eight-inning specialists or closers or left-handers called on to retire a single left-handed batter.

It's that way in football now, especially at linebacker. An NFL team doesn't look just for an inside or outside linebacker any longer — it's far more specialized than that. Now, a linebacker might defend the slot receiver, cover a tight end, rush the quarterback or be asked drop a 250-pound running back.

So a team looking for an edge rusher won't take a second look at a linebacker who is effective against the run but lacks the requisite size and speed to match up at the line of scrimmage against tight ends or tackles. Rather, the kind of linebacker every team is looking for is a do-it-all type who is big, fast and strong, capable of pass rushing from the strong side or lining up as a prototypical defensive end.

The player who best fits this description in the 2014 draft class is Khalil Mack, a 6-foot-3, 251-pound outside linebacker from, of all places, Buffalo. Mack might have played in the MAC, but he had some of his best career games against schools such as Ohio State and Baylor.

“It's going to be a transition, but I feel like football-wise I'm ready to step in and make an impact any way I can,” Mack said.

The Steelers need help both inside and outside now that Larry Foote and LaMarr Woodley are gone but, despite the overall depth of this draft class, the inside linebacker group is thin and the outside linebacker talent is crowded at the top.

“The draft is deeper at the corner position than it is at outside linebacker,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “If there's someone big that you want at 'backer, you may want to go ahead and get him now.”

 

 

 
 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Steelers

  1. Steelers defense a long way from ‘greatest of all time’
  2. Steelers remain confident in ground game
  3. Steelers notebook: Former lineman Kemoeatu receives kidney from brother
  4. NFL notebook: Cardinals RB Dwyer arrested on assault charges
  5. Steelers’ Roethlisberger still hurting after hard hit from Ravens’ Upshaw
  6. Panthers defensive end Hardy placed on exempt list
  7. Steelers notebook: RT Gilbert not in danger of losing his job
  8. Mistakes multiply for Steelers in rout by Ravens
  9. Steelers not receiving big returns on their offseason investments
  10. Steelers veteran defenders want young teammates to step up
  11. Steelers notebook: Defense sags in NFL rankings because of struggles against the run
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.