The 2013 NFL draft was not a great year for edge rushers
April 21, 2017 12:00 AM
Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2013, is emblematic of the trouble teams have finding pass rushers in the draft. Jones signed with Arizona in the offseason.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Four years after the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones as James Harrison’s heir apparent, they find themselves back to square one entering this year’s draft. After registering six sacks in four mostly disappointing seasons, the Steelers allowed Jones to walk away in free agency last month and sign with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Steelers weren’t the only team to take a big swing and miss in the first round of the 2013 draft, a year that has become infamous for its number of busts. It was a particularly brutal year for teams trying to find edge rushers.
Six teams invested first-round picks in edge rushers. Only one of those picks — Detroit’s Ezekiel Ansah — earned a second contract with their original team.
• Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick, lasted two seasons with the Dolphins and did not play in 2015 or 2016 because of a drug suspension. The Seahawks signed him earlier this month despite the fact he only registered three sacks in 26 career games before his drug issues surfaced.
• Barkevious Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick, lasted three seasons with the Browns before they dealt him to New England last year. He owns seven career sacks in 62 NFL games. After an unremarkable season with the Patriots he signed with the Colts last month.
• Bjoern Werner, the No. 24 overall pick, registered 6½ sacks in three seasons with the Colts before being released. He did not play last season and announced his retirement earlier this year.
• Datone Jones, the No. 26 overall pick, had 9½ sacks in 59 career games. He signed as a free agent with the Vikings last month.
The only first-round edge rusher from 2013 that has flourished is Ansah, who has 32 career sacks for the Lions. He was the No. 5 overall pick.
“The challenge with edge rushers, it’s hard to evaluate them in some of these college systems,” said Daniel Jeremiah, an analyst for NFL Network and a former scout with the Ravens. “[Evaluating] an edge rusher in the Big 12, where it is so much bubble screen right and left, you don’t get a chance to see these guys really get a good, hard rush on people at times. That’s a little bit of a challenge there.”
Getting a bead on which players can excel against pro-style offenses can be tricky. The Steelers thought they had a relatively easy evaluation with Jones. In fact, head coach Mike Tomlin was super confident the team had made right choice when he addressed reporters immediately after the Steelers made the selection four years ago.
“It was a fun and easy evaluation,” Tomlin said the day the Steelers selected Jones. “You look at the outside linebackers in the 3-4 defenses, usually there’s a projection involved. This was an easy projection … very little guesswork. He excelled in what they asked him to do and he’ll be asked to do similar things here.”
This also is a problem with edge rushers. Even the so-called easy evaluations aren’t so easy. Jones played in the SEC, widely regarded as the best conference in the country, and he played in a defense at Georgia that was similar to the Steelers.
None of that mattered, of course. Jones, like most other first-round edge rushers of the 2013 draft class, will try their luck with another team this fall.
When talent evaluators have a hard time making a determination after watching a player in games, they have to turn to their measurable qualities. This is where the scouting combine and pro days come into the equation.
Are they fast enough to turn the corner around an NFL left tackle? Are their arms long enough? Are they strong enough?
Looking back, there were some red flags with Jones. He did not work out at the combine because of a neck injury. At his pro day, he ran a 4.92 in the 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds just 20 times. A predraft scouting report on Jones that remains available at NFL.com seems prophetic now. Here is a sample of it:
“Inconsistent using his hands … lacks an ideal frame to get much bigger and doesn’t have the growth potential or the bulk teams want at the position … doesn’t have an elite bend around the corner … could use a spin or other counter move to keep tackles guessing.”
The good news for the Steelers is this draft is considered much better than the 2013 draft. Draft analysts believe a strong group will get drafted in the first round and others in the second and third round will be great value picks.
The Steelers brought Takk McKinley of UCLA, Derek Rivers of Youngstown State and Tim Williams of Alabama in for top 30 visits to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. They also brought in a number of other outside linebackers expected to go in the middle or later rounds.
The Steelers also met with several of the top edge rushers before their pro days, including Carl Lawson of Auburn and Charles Harris of Missouri. Lawson, because he has short arms and might not fit some systems, could be available in the second round, according to some analysts.
“In this draft, I just simply believe there are a number of pass rushers who are fully equipped to be able to be double-digit sack artists at the next level,” said Bucky Brooks, another former NFL scout who works for the NFL Network.
The Steelers would love to get one of those guys. They haven’t had a player reach double digits in sacks since James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley had 10 and 10½ all the way back in 2010.
That’s a long time for a franchise that thrived off pressure from the edge of its defense for years.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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