NFL Combine: Mixed bag of edge rushers stand out


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INDIANAPOLIS -- If the Steelers decide to pursue an edge rusher in the first round of the draft, there are any number of models on display at the NFL Scouting Combine -- big ones, small ones, strong ones, fast ones, productive ones and raw ones.

If they are looking for height, there is Oregon's Dion Jordan, who is 6 feet 6 1/2. If they want a smaller-sized outside linebacker who better fits their mold, there is Georgia's Jarvis Jones (6-2, 243). Barkevius Mingo of LSU (6-4, 241) is taller, but lighter.

If raw potential and athleticism intrigue them, Brigham Young defensive end Ezekial "Ziggy" Ansah (6-5, 274), a former soccer and basketball player from Africa, is a possibility. And for brutish power, Alex Okafor of Texas (6-1 1/2, 264) is a LaMarr Woodley-type who collapses the pocket with bull rushes.

Each of those players were defensive ends in college who are projected as outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense. That means the Steelers, with the 17th overall pick, should have a shot at one of them in the April draft.

"You look for guys who sack the quarterback, who get there and get close a lot of the time," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said, describing what he looks for in an edge rusher. "So we're going to look for someone who has a pass-rusher's mentality and a pass-rusher's production."

The most productive of the candidates is Jones, who led Division I-A in sacks (14 1/2) and tackles for losses (11) last season and had 28 1/2 sacks in two seasons at Georgia.

Jones, though, is considered something of a medical risk because he was diagnosed with stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, when he was a freshman at Southern California. When doctors there wouldn't clear him to play, he transferred to Georgia.

Jones is not working out at the combine, but he came here so he could be examined by NFL teams' medical personnel. He said he was told by the doctors he is OK.

"I only had one incident -- a stinger at USC in '09," Jones said. "I never had any symptoms after that. I played two years of [Southeastern Conference] football, practiced every day, never had any symptoms. So I feel that I'm healthy. The doctors felt that I was healthy. So I'm excited."

Jones isn't the only edge rusher with a medical question. Jordan will have surgery on his right shoulder immediately after the combine to repair a torn labrum. But he expects to be ready by the start of training camp.

Jordan would not appear to fit the mold of an outside linebacker for the Steelers, not at his height. But he is so athletic that appears to be the position in a 3-4 defense for which he is best suited.

"A 6-7 outside linebacker is kind of unique," said Jordan, who weighed in at 248 pounds.

Jordan began his career at Oregon as a wide receiver, which explains his athleticism. But he switched to defense when he didn't pan out as a receiver and finished his career with 141/2 sacks, 29 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles in 45 games.

Jordan, though, may not make it past the No. 4 pick in the draft. That spot belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles, who hired Jordan's college coach, Chip Kelly, as their head coach and are switching to a 3-4 defense..

Asked what he does best, Jordan said, "Pass rush. I feel like me lining up all over the field on defense shows my athleticism, shows that I understand the game and that I did a lot [at Oregon]. But my whole thing is getting after the quarterback, so pass rush would be my No. 1."

Jordan and Ansah are similar prospects. They each have size -- Ansah is 22 pounds heavier -- and each are considered possibilities to play defensive end in a 4-3. They also share another common thread: Both are considered raw and unpolished because they are neophytes at their position.

"In comparison to other people that are out there and I have been playing only a few years, I still have a lot to do just to catch up to them," Ansah said.

Ansah grew up playing soccer in Ghana, where his mother and dad, two sisters and two brothers still live. He went to BYU because he is Mormon and initially played basketball and ran track. But he switched to football three years ago and is still trying to learn the game and explain it to his family.

"I try to stay up late and watch NFL Network," Ansah said. "I see some things. I have no idea who they are. This is going to be my life so I just try to suck it all in."

Ansah has drawn comparisons to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul because of his rangy frame and athleticism. But NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock doesn't think Ansah is as developed as Pierre-Paul at a similar stage.

"I don't think there is anybody in the NFL that doesn't think he's going to be a good player," Mayock said. "But the question is when? Is it this year, next year or three years from now?

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Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; Twitter: @gerrydulac.


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