Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Watch: 2017 Pass Rusher Preview

Let’s take a look at the best prospects available in the 2017 NFL Draft that could help rejuvenate the Steelers pass rush.

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While the defense performed admirably last week against the Ravens, it is obvious that the Steelers are still in dire need of additional defensive help. Specifically, the Steelers pass rush has been less than stellar and nonexistent at moments this season. With James Harrison set to retire, who will step up as the next great Pittsburgh pass rusher?

Luckily for Pittsburgh, the 2017 NFL Draft is loaded with premier EDGE rushers. The upcoming draft class is filled with both elite talent at the top and admirable depth throughout for EDGE rushers.

I decided it would be a good idea to preview a few pass rushers who could potentially catch the eye of Kevin Colbert and the front office come next April.

Now, this list is not necessarily the 3 top pass rushers in the upcoming draft class, but rather several early-round prospects who I think would fit the Steelers defense. Obviously a player like Myles Garrett would be an excellent addition for the black and gold. However, I decided to exclude him from the list because he will be long gone by the time the Steelers make their first selection, and, unfortunately for him, will probably be on a plane heading to Cleveland after he is presumably selected #1 overall.

With that being said, let’s take a look at 3 EDGE prospects who could potentially be the Steeler’s next James Harrison.

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Derek Barnett EDGE, Tennessee

Strengths
  • Elite Speed Rusher, compliments excellent snap anticipation with an explosive get-off
  • Fantastic Bend/Flexibility Off the Edge, can turn the corner and flatten his path to the QB
  • Low Leverage and Balance, keeps a low center of gravity to dip under OTs and close on QB
  • Quickness to split blocks
Weaknesses
  • Little Pass Rush creativity, relies on Speed Rush
  • Little upper body strength, struggles to work down LOS in run game
  • Trouble setting the edge in run defense
Highlight

Fit

While Barnett certainly has his struggles in the run game, he could certainly help rejuvenate the Steelers pass rush. Barnett is arguably the best speed rusher in the nation, and has racked up 9 sacks on the season. In fact, Barnett has dominated SEC competition throughout his entire career, compiling 47.5 tackles for loss and 28 sacks.

Barnett primarily plays with his hand in the dirt from a wide 9-technique for Tennessee. However, Barnett also has experience as a stand-up OLB, which would most likely be his position for the Steelers.

Unfortunately, most mock drafts have Barnett off the board within the first 15 selections. However, some prospects seem to fall every draft, and Steeler Nation will certainly be hoping that this is the case with Derek Barnett.

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Ryan Anderson EDGE, Alabama

Strengths
  • Impressive Speed-to-Power rusher, violent player in nature
  • Effective hand usage, power to deliver violent blows and quickness to shed blocks
  • Athleticism to make plays in space
  • Holds ground in run game and can shed blocks at point of attack
Weaknesses
  • Less than ideal length for an EDGE rusher
  • Average flexibility while turning the corner, needs to work on flattening path to QB and turning pressures into sacks
Highlight

Fit

Often overshadowed by the rest of Alabama’s ferocious defense, Ryan Anderson is no joke. The Redshirt Senior is one of the best pass rushers in the nation, with 33.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks so far in his career.

Luckily for Pittsburgh, Anderson is almost surely to be available at the time of their first, and possibly even second selection. Anderson would immediately step in as an OLB who could rush the passer and provide solid run defense.

Alabama’s defensive front is so talented, and the Steelers would benefit greatly from drafting as many of their defenders as possible.

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Carl Lawson EDGE, Auburn

Strengths
  • Explosive, Violent Playing Style, has a knack for delivering jarring, highlight reel hits
  • High Level of Pass Rush Creativity, variety of “go-to” moves to keep blockers off balance
  • Violent hand usage
  • High motor and relentless pass rusher
  • + Bull Rush and Speed-to-Power conversion
  • Solid run defender, shows the ability to stack and shed in the run game and set the EDGE
  • Plays with fantastic leverage, partially due to his shorter stature, similar height/weight/build to James Harrison
Weaknesses
  • Vast injury history/durability concerns
  • Needs to learn to finish plays, misses a lot of tackles on potential sacks
Highlight

Fit

Carl Lawson is a player I am extremely high on. In fact, I sent him to Pittsburgh in my most recent Steelers Mock Draft.

After missing significant chunks of time due to recurring injuries, Lawson has seemed to find his groove in 2016. At this point in the season, Lawson has managed to accumulate 8.5 sacks, and has regained his reputation as one of the nation’s most prolific pass rushers.

Lawson is such a violent and explosive player, and his playing style is one that would quickly earn the love of Steeler Nation. As I briefly noted above, my first impression of Lawson was that his playing style is similar to James Harrison.

Both posses strong builds that would make body builders jealous, and have less than ideal height and weight for the position.

However, similar to Harrison, Lawson uses his shorter height to his advantage, as he maintains low leverage while rushing the passer.

At this point, Lawson would be my ideal selection for Pittsburgh, as he would certainly help rejuvenate the Steelers pass rush and help bring back the days of watching dominant Steelers defenses.

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