Steelers Draft '15: Linebackers

Will a rich crop of pass-rushers meet a team with dire need in the first round?

The general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday rated the outside linebackers in this draft "as good a group at that position as I have seen in probably 10-15 years," said Kevin Colbert. "It's really an exceptional group with a lot of impact-type guys."

Good thing, because after recording only 33 sacks last season -- their lowest total in 26 years -- the Steelers need an "impact-type guy."

Five of this year's prospects are regarded as upper first-round material: Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree, Shane Ray and Randy Gregory, probably in that order.

Ray and Gregory have slipped due to injury and/or marijuana use (Ray was cited Monday morning), and if either falls as far as pick 22 the Steelers will have a decision to make.

The next tier, 1B, includes Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Eli Harold. Both players sat down with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin at the combine, and Harold was invited to the South Side for a visit.

At the Combine, Harold was excited that the Steelers brought "that whole organization" in to meet him. He's 6-3, 247 pounds with 4.59 speed and a 35-inch vertical jump. He also has the frame to add weight, but might need a year to become strong enough to stop the run in the Steelers' 4-3 nickel alignment.

Two years older than Harold, Odighizuwa (6-3 1/2, 267, 4.59) is no doubt strong enough to step into that open defensive end spot early in the season. The concern about "Diggy" is whether he can "bend" the corner as a pass-rusher.

More of a power player, Odighizuwa missed the 2013 season after surgery on both hips. He tore a labrum in one hip and believes overcompensation caused the problem in the other. But he returned healthy last season to play end in both UCLA's 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. He moved inside on pass downs and rarely stood up, which he would have to do for the Steelers as a LaMarr Woodley type of power player.

If the Steelers don't find their needed pass-rusher in the first round, Nate Orchard (6-3 1/4, 250, 4.84) is an ultra-productive end out of Utah who could slip to pick 56.

Orchard had 18.5 sacks last season and performed well during Senior Bowl week, but posted pedestrian numbers at the Combine and thus is considered by most as a second-rounder.

If one of the premier "impact-type guys" doesn't fall to the Steelers, and they pass on Odighizuwa, Harold and Orchard through two rounds, the Steelers could get lucky later on that 20-year-old Danielle Hunter (6-5, 252, 4.56) realizes his potential, or Hau'oli Kikaha (6-2 1/2, 253, 4.93) overcomes knee issues to live up to the scouting tag "better football player than athlete," or they strike gold in the middle rounds with a small-school standout such as Davis Tull (6-2 1/2, 246, 4.57) or Kyle Emanuel (6-3 1/4, 255, 4.76).

Jarvis Jones hasn't shown much in two years, James Harrison probably has only one year left, and Arthur Moats, while steady, hasn't flashed the kind of pass-rush ability that's at the core of championship defenses. So it's become a necessity. And the right year for it.

TOP FIVE

1. Dante Fowler, 6-3, 261, Florida.

2. Vic Beasley, 6-3, 246, Clemson.

3. Bud Dupree, 6-4, 269, Kentucky.

4. Shane Ray, 6-3, 245, Missouri.

5. Randy Gregory, 6-5, 235, Nebraska.

STEELERS VALUE BOARD

First Round -- Shane Ray, Missouri; Randy Gregory, Nebraska; Owa Odighizuwa, UCLA; Eli Harold, Virginia.

Second Round -- Nate Orchard, Utah.

Third Round -- Danielle Hunter, LSU; Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington; Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville.

Fourth Round -- Davis Tull, Chattanooga.

Fifth Round -- Markus Golden, Missouri; Kyle Emanuel, North Dakota State.

Sixth Round -- Max Valles, Virginia; Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma.


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