PITTSBURGH -- Five of the Steelers’ eight draft picks last April spent the 2013 season on the 53-man roster and three of them started at least eight games. Seven of those selections are on the roster, including wide receiver Justin Brown (practice squad last season) and defensive end Nick Williams (injured reserve), and the 2013 draft should provide significantly more returns next season.
Here is the first in a series that takes a closer look at each player in the Steelers’ most recent draft class with ESPN Insider and former NFL scout Matt Williamson providing his take on that player.
Position: Outside linebacker
Key stats: Managed just one sack despite playing 612 snaps and starting eight games at right outside linebacker. Jones was credited with 11 quarterback pressures.
His first season: No one expected more out of Jones in 2013 than Jones himself. He became the first rookie to start at outside linebacker since the Steelers switched to a 3-4 defense in 1982, but he struggled rushing the passer against tackles who were bigger and more athletic than the ones he routinely tormented while at the University of Georgia. Thinking instead of reacting also hampered Jones, though that is common, especially with rookies who play extensively while also still learning the Steelers’ complex defense.
Looking ahead: The 6-foot2, 245-pound Jones clearly has to get stronger and linebackers coach Keith Butler has said he needs to transform his physique from that of a basketball player to one that can handle the rigors of rushing the passer and holding up against the run in the NFL. Jones turned in his best game in the Steelers’ regular-season finale when he didn’t appear to be thinking as much and just playing. Even better for the Steelers is Jones wants to be great, and he has vowed to improve his strength as well as his grasp of the defense in the offseason. His development during the period in which coach Mike Tomlin has said players make their biggest jump is crucial. The Steelers are unlikely to bring both LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds back in 2014, and they are going to need a lot more from Jones than what he provided in his rookie season.
Williamson says: “I thought he would at least be a situational pass-rusher that would make more big plays but I’m not ready to throw the towel in on the guy, either. He did flash. He did play well on special teams. How many rookies come into this defense and play well? A couple of things worry me. I think he’s a far cry from Woodley or [James] Harrison against the run as an outside contain guy. I think he needs a lot more strength at the point of attack for that, and he’s not a great athlete so it makes you wonder if he hasn’t gotten by on technique and hustle so far. It’s not like he has these ridiculous Lawrence Taylor tools to fall back on. I would think he’ll get every opportunity next year.”