Although they have used two first round draft picks in the last three years to refortify depth at outside linebacker, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still in an eventual predicament at the position.
James Harrison is set to return for his thirteen season in a Steelers’ uniform after contemplating a second retirement. Although his presence on the field and in the locker room will be tremendously welcomed, his prolonged exit from the game is a stopgap for the team’s need to continue the rebuilding of its linebacker corps.
The organization has until the beginning of May to decide if they will pick up Jarvis Jones‘ fifth-year option in his rookie contract. While he has progressively improved in his three years in the league, it has not been at the speed which the Steelers, nor Steelers’ Nation, have desired. His strong performance during Pittsburgh’s playoff run gives hope for the future, but can the Steelers bank on him performing at a level that has eluded him his entire career?
Arthur Moats has proven the organization made an intelligent free agent investment in him when he was signed before the start of the 2014 season. He started ten games in 2015 and posted a second straight year in which he recorded four sacks, but eventually gave way to Bud Dupree as a starter. If he keeps up his consistent play he could be enticed by another team when his contract is up after the 2017 season.
Speaking of Dupree, the Steelers’ 2015 first round draft pick had a decent rookie season. With Pittsburgh’s healthy linebacker rotation, he only recorded 26 total tackles and four sacks, but made exceptional strides in his pass rushing technique towards the end of the year. Make no mistake, Dupree is the future figurehead of the Steelers’ outside linebacker position, but the organization must find an equally talented individual to pair him with.
Bolstering their secondary and protecting Ben Roethlisberger are the Steelers’ top priorities heading into the 2016 draft, but the organization knows there are multiple areas that need to be addressed in the near future. If the Steelers use their first two selections on a cornerback/safety and an offensive lineman, it is possible they could draft a linebacker in round three.
One young prospect shows immense talent that can be molded into a Pro Bowl caliber starter on their defense. While many would argue that the 89th overall selection should be used to add more secondary help or to draft a tight end, this monstrous pass rushing threat could be the Steelers’ best option on the board if available.
Kyler Fackrell, linebacker, Utah State.
With an official NFL Combine height and weight of 6’5″/245 lbs, Fackrell is the embodiment of what defensive coordinators crave in an outside linebacker. The size to go toe-to-toe with the most powerful of offensive linemen, the technique to beat them quickly, and the pursuit speed to bring the ball carrier down before they know what hits them.
In his time with the Utah State Aggies, Fackrell amassed a total of 253 tackles (104 unassisted), thirteen sacks, four interceptions, and four forced fumbles. Where he excels the most is creating chaos in his opponent’s backfield. His 36 tackles for loss show his knack for getting in the face of targets and forcing negative yardage. The Steelers know very well that athletes like this are what Super Bowl defenses are made of.
One of the most intriguing things about Fackrell is his initial first step to beat his opposing lineman. Against Colorado State, he made offensive lineman Nick Callender look foolish in more than one instance. With relentless pursuit, Fackrell bounces off another offensive lineman and closes in on quarterback Nick Stevens and slings him to the turf.
Fackrell once again brought his pass rushing ability in full force against La’Raven Clark in this year’s Senior Bowl. Showing great use of his hands, he gets the best of Clark and ferociously drives forward towards quarterback Jake Coker. Contact with Coker forced the pass to go incomplete and displayed to a host of talent scouts what he can bring to the table in pass defense situations.
According to Walterfootball.com’s draft prospect visits tracker, Fackrell has not met with any of the NFL’s 32 teams at this point in time. While this could be perceived as a positive or negative thing, Fackrell could fly under the radar and fall deep enough in the draft to where the Steelers would have a chance to select him.
Many will argue that this year is not the time to make upgrades to the linebacker corps, but if he is available in the third round, the Steelers will be hard pressed to pass him up. With the exception of Dri Archer, the Steelers have made great selections in the third round of the draft in recent years…even with they did not necessarily need them. Sammie Coates is a prime example of this.
Adding Kyler Fackrell to the Steelers’ linebacker corps would go a long way in revitalizing the fearsome pass rushing defense the team once possessed. Taking a chance that his excellent collegiate play will translate well at the professional level is one that will benefit the organization for years to come and usher in a new era of defensive domination.