Pittsburgh Steelers: 9 Linebacker Prospects Who Could Replace James Harrison

Joe TordyAnalyst IFebruary 14, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers: 9 Linebacker Prospects Who Could Replace James Harrison

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    With recent reports surfacing that James Harrison is unwilling to take a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh, it’s likely that the Steelers will be searching for a replacement for their longtime pass-rushing specialist.

    Luckily for Pittsburgh, there are plenty of options at the outside linebacker position in this year’s draft.  Let’s take a look at nine ways the Steelers could go if they want to shore up their pass rush via the draft.

Jarvis Jones, Georgia

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    Projected Round: 1

    Jones was the most productive defensive player in college football last year and is a top-5 talent in this year’s draft. He’s a fearsome pass rusher, but he’s also sterling against the run.  Jones’ coverage skills might be his most underrated quality. The Georgia product is the total package at outside linebacker.

    I’ve raved about Jones before and received some criticism from some members of Steeler Nation, who feel that the medical concerns surrounding Jones should scare the Steelers away. Jones may not be available at 17, considering recent reports that doctors have medically cleared him to play.

    All I know is this: if Jones slides even a little bit, the Steelers will try to move up and get him.  If he slides down to No. 17 where the Steelers sit in the first round, he won't drop any farther.  It’s a stone-cold lock. 

    Jones and the Steelers are a natural match and he would have fans forgetting about Harrison very quickly.

Dion Jordan, Oregon

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    Projected Round: 1

    Jordan is a natural fit at outside linebacker, but he has great pass-rushing instincts, regardless of where he lines up.  It’s possible that he works out so well at the combine that he rises out of the Steelers’ reach.

    Jordan has great burst and explosiveness, but his technique could use some refinement.  Specifically, he doesn’t always use his hands effectively when trying to disengage from blockers. 

    His long arms and fluidity allow him to be a factor in pass coverage. At Oregon, he routinely defended slot receivers when he was not pressuring the passer.

    An issue with Jordan is that he may be better suited to play LaMarr Woodley's position than Harrison’s blind side spot. The Oregon Duck is athletic enough to seamlessly make the transition, though.

Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

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    Projected Round: 1-2

    Ansah is another instinctive quarterback-seeking missile who could benefit from some NFL coaching. The raw Ansah reminds several analysts of Jason Pierre-Paul, both because of his athletic frame and relative inexperience with the game of football.

    For a prospect with elite speed, I was disappointed in Ansah’s first step off the snap.  I expected him to show a bit more quickness and he doesn’t always persist if his initial burst doesn’t get him through the line. 

    If he finds a ball-carrier, he will latch on and not let go, which is a difficult characteristic to coach. This bodes well for him as a next-level prospect.

    I’m not sure that the Steelers will take on a project player in the first round, in spite of Ansah’s high long-term upside. If he makes it to the Steelers in the second round, though, I think that the team will give him a good long look.

Sam Montgomery, LSU

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    Projected Round: 2-3

    Unlike Texas’ Alex Okafor, Sam Montgomery’s game translates well to an outside linebacker position, even though he played defensive end at LSU. 

    He’s not a fast-twitch athlete, but he is fast and unpredictable in his pass-rushing efforts. Just when linemen think that they have accounted for his speed and his bull rush, he lays the spin move on them and heads straight for the quarterback.

    Highly-hyped teammate Barkevious Mingo has grabbed a lot of headlines, but Montgomery has flown under the radar. As a result, the Steelers may be able snag the overshadowed Montgomery in the middle rounds.

    He was LSU’s most productive pass rusher this year and would look great in Black and Gold next year.

Margus Hunt, SMU

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    Projected Round: 2-3

    Hunt is a latecomer to the game of football, picking up the game in 2009. Before that, he was a gold medal winner in track and field, competing in both the shot put and discus.

    Hunt has an uncanny propensity for blocking kicks.  He swatted seven attempts in his first year playing collegiate football.  Hunt does not excel as much when it comes to batting down passes, but perhaps it is a skill that he could pick up in the pros.

    The issue with Hunt is that he is not a very natural football player, struggling with consistency on a regular basis. He disappears regularly and doesn’t get in on enough plays.

    Hunt’s regarded as a boom-or-bust prospect and I would be surprised to see Pittsburgh take a chance on him.

John Simon, Ohio State

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    Projected Round: 3-4

    This prospect is a workout warrior with a great motor and work ethic. Simon will give his team everything he has on every snap without taking plays off. 

    He’s learning the outside linebacker position, but he has shown good skills in pursuing the passer. An issue with Simon is that he is so musclebound that he does not have the natural fluidity to keep up with more agile players in coverage. 

    He’s a Steelers-type prospect and would be a worthy replacement for Harrison if Pittsburgh selects him. After all, Harrison himself forced his way onto the team with his incredible work ethic and Simon is a candidate to come in and do the same.

Chase Thomas, Stanford

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    Projected Round: 2-3

    Relying on strength rather than speed, Thomas specializes in collapsing the pocket. He shows great technique when engaging blockers and doesn’t have to get sacks to make his presence felt.

    He is a liability in pass coverage, though, and doesn’t show elite burst at the time of the snap.

    Thomas has been a tough prospect to figure out, but he could be a contributor in the right situation. I’m just not positive that that situation will come in Pittsburgh.

Cornelius Washington, Georgia

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    Projected Round: 6-7

    Washington is a late-round sleeper, who will be in a great position to succeed at the next level. He has an excellent first step and explosive burst to penetrate into the backfield.

    Washington is versatile enough to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up as a linebacker.  He would be a great find for the Steelers late and I’d rather see the team give him a shot than many of the other guys on this list.

    Washington served admirably alongside Jones as the “other” Georgia pass-rusher and would likely be a solid complementary player in the Steel City.

Sean Porter, Texas A&M

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    Projected Round: 3-4

    Porter has drawn comparisons to fellow Aggie Von Miller, high praise for an outside linebacker prospect. He is a difference-maker, both in run defense and pursuit of the passer. The ballhawk's athleticism allows him to constantly find himself around the ball.

    A knock on him is that he is a bit undersized at 6'2" and 230 pounds, but that’s not always a terrible thing for rush linebackers like James Harrison or Elvis Dumervil. At a time when offensive tackles are getting bigger and bigger, sometimes the smaller defenders can get more leverage and prove much more difficult to block legally.

    I consider Porter to be a high-priority target for Pittsburgh if Jarvis Jones doesn’t land in the Steel City.