There's been a lot of pre-draft speculation centering around Parcells desire to find "the next LT" and whether or not we should take an OLB with one of our first 2 picks. I've seen Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Larry English, Connor Barwin, and Clint Sintin all projected to us at either 25 or 44. I even took Cushing as my "Draft Pick Bracket" choice. But the more I think about it, the more I seem to question whether we are really in need of a 1st-round OLB. Many people on this site have recognized that CB is probably our greatest need, and a playmaking WR would do wonders for our offense, but the mock draft world still seems to want to give us LB's at the first 2 picks. So I wanted to take a closer look and see if we really do need an OLB in Round 1...
First, let's take a look at what we have. I'll start at the Weakside OLB, or Rush LB position, since that's the position everybody seems to be projecting to us in the draft.
Starter - Joey Porter
Vitals - 6'3, 255lbs, 32 years old, 10 year pro.
Contract Info - 5yr, $32mil ($12mil bonus) signed in 2007. 3 years left.
- Porter had a terrific 2008 season, but really seemed to hit a wall during the stretch run. Whether that's due to age, or the back issues that he was fighting in the preseason flaring back up, the reality remains that Porter is on the backside of his career. He struggled all year against the run, but showed that he's still the dynamic pass rusher he was in Pittsburgh. He may be able to recapture some vintage Joey Porter after another offseason of Sparano-style conditioning.
Outlook - Porter will be the starter in 2009, so drafting a guy to step in immediately as a Rush Backer isn't the top priority.
Backups - Cameron Wake, Erik Walden
Vitals - Wake (6'3, 241lbs, 27 years old, 0 year pro.) Walden (6'2, 237lbs, 23 years old, 1 year pro).
Contract Info - Wake (4yr, $4.9mil, $1mil bonus. signed this year.) Walden (4yr, $1.7mil, ?? bonus. 3 years left)
- Wake is a promising young player who simply dominated the CFL for the last 2 seasons. Wake tacked up 39 sacks in 2 seasons in Canada, and added a ROY award and DPOY award to his resume. He'll be a situational pass-rusher right off the bat, and he should be able to adjust nicely to the 3-4 defense. There was reports of something like 22 teams trying to sign him out of the CFL, so I feel like we may have gotten a very good young player. Imagine if he came out of college with that kind of production? Top 5 pick. I think that with his work ethic, and his incredible athletic ability, he could be the future Rush LB once Porter moves on.
- Walden, a waiver-wire pickup from last season, is entering his second NFL season after being a special teams standout for the Dolphins in 2008. I'm sure everybody's heard the cool tidbit about him being drafted with the 6th rounder we gave to Dallas in exchange for Ferguson, but it's always fun to talk about it again. We know Walden is a special teams demon, and his presence instantly improved our coverage units last year. He's got good speed, and is a sure tackler; plus, Brandon London thinks he's going to have a breakout season for us in 09, and really, can you get a more glowing endorsement than that?
Outlook - We have 2 very promising players behind Porter right now, and either of them could wind up being a solid starter. There isn't a DeMarcus Ware/Shawn Merriman type on the roster right now, but many people have high hopes for Wake, and I think we should give Wake/Walden a chance before we go out and spend first round money on a Rush LB.
So, in my not-so-expert opinion, we don't need a Rush LB in the first round of this draft. We have a seasoned-vet to start this season, and two guys that are developing into the role. Whether Wake or Walden can take over the role remains to be seen, but I don't see Rush LB as our top priority, and I'm not sure we can get "the next LT" in this year's draft.
But what about the Strongside LB? It's a completely different position, requiring a completely different skill set. SSLB's are usually closer to the 4-3 DE type, and need to be stout against the run. I think the run defense is more important for a SSLB than pass rushing skills. Let's take a look at what we have here.
Starter - Matt Roth
Vitals - 6'4, 275lbs, 26 years old, 4 year pro.
Contract Info - 1 year remaining, at $550k. However, I believe he'll be a restricted FA instead of an Unrestricted FA, due to the rule about needing 6 accrued seasons instead of 4 with 2010 being an uncapped year.
- Roth had a pretty solid season last year, considering he was pretty much learning how to play LB on the fly. He should be able to take another huge step after having a full season in the 3-4 behind him, and his intensity and high motor are quality attributes that can't be coached. Roth was very good against the run last year, but his pass rush left alot to be desired, and while he may never be a true sack artist, I believe he'll improve in that area this season.
Outlook - Roth is solid, but I think we could use some competition, and it's definitley not a bad idea to have a backup plan should Roth leave in Free Agency, or falter in his development as a 3-4 LB. Is that competition/backup plan already on the roster?
Backups - Charlie Anderson, Quentin Moses
Vitals - Anderson (6'4, 250lbs, 27 years old, 5 year pro.) Moses (6'5, 260lbs, 25 years old, 2 year pro.)
Contract Info - Anderson (3yr, $7.35mil, $2.5mil bonus, 2 years left) Moses (1yr, $460k, restricted FA in 2010.)
- Charlie Anderson tallied 34 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season, and was really only a situational player for us. I don't think he can be a starter at this spot, and I'm not sure he can really press Roth for the job, so he doesn't exactly fit the competition/plan B need. He is, however, a decent depth player, and a good enough special teamer to keep a roster spot. But, as of right now, he's still just a backup.
- Quentin Moses certainly has the measureables, at 6'5 250, to be a good Strongside LB, but he was cut twice, and he hasn't been able to get on the field in his 2 seasons here. But, there's the possibility that 2 years in a row learning the same position in the same system could do wonders for the kid, and I think the fact that he was tendered a one-year deal instead of just being cut outright says that he at least has some potential. I wouldn't be counting on Moses to be "the guy" if Roth leaves, or even to push for some playing time over Roth.
Outlook - Not a whole lot to expect out of this group, but I think Roth has earned another season to prove he can be the man at the SSLB spot. I'm not sure we have to draft a top-tier guy to come in and take over just yet, but we definitely need somebody to compete with Roth and develop into a starting caliber player.
Overall, I think we have some talent, and we are, at the very least, set in the starting lineup for 2009. But, beyond that, there's 2 question marks behind Porter that need to answered this season, and I think we could definitely use a draft pick to get a guy that can potentially take Roth's job. I don't think that guy needs to be found in round 1. I would look towards the end of round 2, or even to the second day of the draft for a guy like Lawrence Sidbury, Paul Kruger, Brandon Long, or David Veikune. What do you guys think?