This offseason has been all about change for the Pittsburgh Steelers, seeing the team say goodbye to some longtime stalwarts such as DE Aaron Smith, WR Hines Ward and LB James Farrior. It is that last player that has been at the center of many draft day rumors and projections. However, fans should temper the expectations of the Steelers going linebacker at the earliest point of the draft to find a replacement.
First off, while he was a leader of the defense, in reality, Farrior played limited snaps as the year went on and saw both Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester take a larger role on defense. Secondly, even with the reduced contracts to rookies, it would be hard for the Steelers to tie up almost a quarter of their salary cap on their four starting linebackers, especially when they have holes on their roster all over the offensive side of the ball.
That being said, it would not surprise anyone if the Steelers took at least one linebacker with one of their 10 selections in the draft. In fact it is likely, the Steelers will take a linebacker somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft, possibly as early as round two. To this point in the process, the Steelers have brought in or scheduled visits with two inside linebacker prospects (and been linked to a third in Alabama ILB Dont’a Hightower).
The first one of those visiting linebackers we will look at is Mychal Kendricks. While many do not see Kendricks as the top inside linebacker prospect, he is clearly making a last minute push up draft boards. He may not be the biggest (5-11, 239 pounds) prospect out there, but his solid combination of athleticism, instincts and production are extremely intriguing. In fact, his reported 4.47 40-yard dash would place him close to the fastest inside linebackers in the NFL. A three-year starter at Cal, he was an aggressive pass rusher, stout against the run and made plays sideline-to-side; he truly excelled in pass coverage where he could use his read and reaction skills and fluidity to mirror receivers.
Unfortunately, while athletic, his less than optimum height may play against him in the NFL, where he can be engulfed by larger linemen in the run game and may cause mismatch problems against the larger tight ends that are becoming all the rage in the league. In the end, Kendricks should fall somewhere in the first two rounds of the draft, with his lack of prototypical size the only attribute keeping him from being a solid top 20 selection. If the Steelers are interested, he could a target if the decide to trade down a bit in the first round, a scenario that seems more likely with every visitor.
As always, Steelers 101 is keeping track and profiling the pre-draft visitors. To this point, the Steelers have brought in or scheduled visits with these players:
Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams(Steelers101 profile 3/30)
Miami (Ohio) offensive guard Brandon Brooks(Steelers101 profile 4/1)
Regina defensive tackle Akiem Hicks
Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton(Steelers101 profile 3/31)
Virginia defensive end Cam Johnson
Stanford long snapper Zach Nolan
Cincinnati defensive end Derek Wolfe
Colorado wide receiver Toney Clemons (Steelers101 profile 4/4)
West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy (Steelers 101 profile 4/8)
Alabama linebacker Jerrell Harris
Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead (Steelers101 profile 4/4)
Ole Miss offensive tackle Bobbie Massie (Steelers 101 profile 4/9)
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