A Blast from the Past: Second Round Picks

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Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

We’re getting into the area now where suboptimal picks can really hurt you. The question is, did the Steelers have any of those between 2010 and 2013? Certainly you can argue for at least one, and a few question marks.

The 2010 second round draft pick was one which is pretty difficult to characterize. It is fair to say, though, that the franchise did not, in the end, get as much as one would like to see from a mid-second rounder.

Jason Worilds didn’t contribute a lot in his rookie season, although he did play in 14 games. However, few people expected to see a rookie contribute much in a Dick LeBeau-run defense. Oddly, Worilds had the exact same number of sacks for the season (2.0) as tackles, and had one pass defense.

He seemed to make considerable progress in his second year, starting seven games (and playing in 12). He only added one sack, (3.0) but had considerably more tackles (25) and a forced fumble.

Strangely, he took a step backwards the following season, at least as far as the coaches were concerned, apparently, and only started three games that season, although it was one of only two seasons in which he played all 16 games. He had five sacks, but tackles were down. He did have two pass defenses.

So while he made large strides forward in 2013, he had already been labeled a bust in the mind of many an impatient fan. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette begged to differ, in a December 2013 article in which he defended the play of Cameron Heyward and Worilds. Speaking of the latter, he wrote:

He was robbed of valuable practice and training time with his team his second season because of the NFL lockout. Then, in his third season, he had wrist surgery early in 2012 that not only kept him off the field all spring but kept him from replacing Harrison when he missed the first three games because of knee surgery.

The Steelers released Harrison but then drafted outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first round this year. That opened and quickly closed the job for Worilds, who started the first game, then was benched in favor of Jones.

Only when Jones did not perform to the coaches’ liking did they turn back to Worilds in the sixth game. He has started every game since, either on the right or left side, and he has performed like the best outside linebackers in the NFL.

“Jason Worilds is playing lights out,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “I think he finally gets it, I mean being in the NFL as a professional linebacker. It takes a long time to do it consistently.”

Here are his stats from 2013: one pass defense, two forced fumbles, eight sacks, and 43 tackles in 15 games, 11 as a starter. The following season, when the Steelers slapped the transition tag on him, were even better—one interception, returned 30 yards, two pass defenses, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, seven and a half sacks, and 41 tackles.

These stats pale in comparison to those of Justin Houston, who in 2014 was considered by many to be the best 3-4 OLB in the league. However, they look much more similar to Houston’s stats for 2012, 2013, and 2015, although Houston’s are better.

I think the Steelers really wanted to keep Worilds, and his announced retirement was a big surprise to them. But it’s reasonable to ask whether Worilds had hit his ceiling. An analysis of his sacks in 2013 shows that only one of them was against an elite tackle, and most of them were against running backs, or no one at all. On the other hand, maybe Worilds was just coming into his prime, and would have become an elite guy.

I decided to take a quick look at some of the better 3-4 OLBs. For these purposes I looked at five players who played at an elite level in at least one of Worilds’ last two seasons—Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Houston, Ryan Kerrigan, and Tamba Hali. I used the Pro Football Reference’ s AV metric. Here’s what I found:

  1. Unlike Worilds, they were all productive, some immensely so, by their second or third season. Miller was amazing in his first season as well.
  2. If you look at the career stats of any of these guys, they all have years during what would seem to be their peaks when their production dropped dramatically, with the exception of Tamba Hali, who since 2006 has only had a single year of relatively ordinary-looking stats.
  3. Worilds’ peak production in 2014 of an AV of 7 was a baseline for most of these guys. In their good years they were producing at a level which earned them double-digit AVs. In their less productive years they were generally around 6-9.
  4. Draft status: Von Miller, 1/2. Ryan Kerrigan, 1/16. Tamba Hali, 1/20. Justin Houston, 3/70. Elvis Dumervil, 4/126.

Honestly, I don’t think there are any conclusions one can come to here. Jason  Worilds will always be an enigma. Could he have gone on to grow into a top OLB? Would he have continued to never quite reach the potential the Steelers clearly saw for him and shake the “bust” label. We’ll never know.

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