Steelers Draft Series: Linebackers

A new chapter in Jim Wexell's draft series on the Pittsburgh Steelers' options will run every other day throughout the three weeks leading up to the draft. Here are his linebackers.

Pass-rushers, pass-rushers, the kingdom for a pass-rusher.

That's what the New York Giants made everyone in football say after their pass rush thrashed Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Now everyone wants a pass-rusher, including the Steelers. They brought in Quentin Groves and Cliff Avril because they 1.) have a lack of depth behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and 2.) need another pass-rusher on third down. And some teams build from third-down back.

"Groves is a freak of nature," said's Tom Marino. "He'll have 11 sacks as a rookie."

Groves (6-3, 259, 4.56) played defensive end at Auburn and had a school-record 26 sacks, but had only three last season when he played half the season with three dislocated toes. He had some heart surgery recently, but medical people say it's not a concern.

There are other concerns with Groves. He's a bit stiff in the hips and there's a question whether he can make the transition to outside linebacker. The other issue is his character.

"He's a bit of a jerk but I don't think he's a criminal," Marino said. "A friend of mine in the league told me more than half of the recognized first-round guys have had a positive test for marijuana. You've got to pick and choose your poison. You could take nice guys and be out of players in the second or third round."

Also …

"Groves doesn't finish all the time and I worry that he doesn't play hard, but he is a freak. He can run your (rear end) down. There's a lot to like about him and a few issues you have to check out."

If not Groves, it's a strong year for 3-4 outside linebacker prospects. High-round possibilities include Avril (6-3, 253, 4.62), Chris Ellis (6-4, 262, 4.76) of Virginia Tech, Shawn Crable (6-5, 241, 4.62) of Michigan and Vince Redd (6-6, 263, 4.71) of Liberty University.

In the mid rounds, 3-4 outside prospects include Darrell Robertson (6-4, 255, 4.7e) of Georgia Tech, Bruce Davis (6-2½, 252, 4.83) of UCLA, Jeremy Thompson (6-4½, 264, 4.7) of Wake Forest, and Bryan Smith (6-3, 239, 4.77) of McNeese State.

"I love the guy from Liberty," Marino said of Redd, a transfer from Virginia. "He could be a third-round steal. He has the longest arms you've ever seen. He's a great athlete, but hasn't been a great football player. He was all-everything coming out of high school, one of the top three, four kids in the country. He got to Virginia, played early, but did not play great. Then he transferred to Liberty and I expected him to dominate but he didn't. He's a tools guy, the kind of guy you want to work with. I think he could become special as an outside rusher."

Marino likes another small defensive end who visited the Steelers, but Marcus Howard (6-0½, 239, 4.51) doesn't have the hips to play linebacker.

"He can't do anything moving away from the football," Marino said. "But when he comes, he's unstoppable. He'll give teams all kinds of trouble. He has that leverage on those 6-6, 6-5 tackles. The only problem is you can't play him on first down. They'll run right at him."

If their preferred first-rounders have been drafted, the Steelers could find value at inside linebacker, even though it's not an urgent need with Lawrence Timmons and Keyaron Fox on the second team. The fact that James Farrior is 33 and playing in the last year of his contract could give them reason to groom Jerod Mayo (6-1, 242, 4.59) of Tennessee, Dan Connor (6-2½, 231, 4.67) of Penn State or Curtis Lofton (6-0, 246, 4.71) of Oklahoma as a future replacement.

The Steelers also like Xavier Adibi (6-2, 232, 4.71) of Virginia Tech, but he's a weak-side 4-3 backer in the mold of Timmons.

Jordon Dizon (6-0, 229, 4.73) of Colorado intrigues them as a future core player on special teams. He led the nation with 120 solo tackles.

Value Board

1st Round – OLB Quentin Groves, Auburn; ILB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee.

2nd Round – OLB Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech; OLB Cliff Avril, Purdue.

3rd Round – OLB Shawn Crable, Michigan; OLB Vince Redd, Liberty; ILB Jordon Dizon, Colorado.

4th Round – Pass-rush specialist Marcus Howard, Georgia; OLB Darrell Robertson, Georgia Tech; OLB Bruce Davis, UCLA.

5th Round – OLB Jeremy Thompson, Wake Forest; Bryan Smith, McNeese State. 6th Round – ILB Wesley Woodyard, Kentucky.

7th Round – OLB Curtis Johnson, Clark-Atlanta.

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