With the NFL Draft now just a day away, I honestly cannot tell you who the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to draft. With so many needs and so much depth to fill, there are at least five positions I can seen being taken in the first round at pick number 17.
I looked at dozens of mock drafts and have come to the conclusion that should the Steelers go defense with that first pick then it likely comes down to Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and Texas free safety Kenny Vaccaro.
I looked at a considerable amount of video on these guys last evening and while both are deserving of their first round grades, I couldn’t help but come away more impressed with Vaccaro than Jones.
Jones: He really does have a tremendous first step that will create any number of problems for tight ends and tackles who are even the slightest bit slow of foot. The way he gets his 240lb body around the edge is very reminiscent of former Steeler James Harrison.
I also like the fact that when he zeroes in on his target he isn’t just going for the tackle, he looks to make a big play by stripping the ball. Creating turnovers has been a major issue for the Steelers in recent years and it’s good to see Jones thrives on that.
Vaccaro: He was extremely active in the Texas’ secondary often lining up within five yards or less of the line of scrimmage. Against spread teams, I was very impressed with his ability to come up and take on blockers in an effort to blow up the blocking schemes designed to spring the receiver.
I loved how Vaccaro never gave up on plays and frequently made tackles after being caught out of position (more on that later) or was on the other side of the field. I really liked his intelligence in diagnosing plays especially on the move and against the run.
Jones: In the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-4 defense, Jones will be required at times to drop into coverage and I saw little of this in the video I looked at. At 6’2″ and 240lbs, can he do this? I would guess ‘yes’ but the lack of experience there concerns me.
I was also very concerned about Jones using the wrong shoulder many times to take on blockers at the point of attack against the run. Although many players struggled against Alabama in 2012, Jones looked very pedestrian against them in running game and when a long-armed tight end or tackle was blocking him in pass protection I found him to be neutralized.
The other thing that really shocked me was his lack of effort in closing on plays down-field. In several games, he would close in when a teammate was making a tackle and rather than attack he often pulled up. I like my linebackers aggressive, not passive.
Vaccaro: One of the things Vaccaro will need to work on immediately is open-field tackling. Several times on video he could have had himself in much better position to make plays but wasn’t and the runner was buy him with one move.
Vaccaro also found himself out of position at times against the pass. While there were a few times he reacted as though he should have had help over the top, he was still not in the best spot to take away certain routes. He also gets caught looking in the back-field a little too often as well.
The Verdict: Because Jones is already 24 years old, can the Steelers really afford to follow their usual plan which is to keep rookie defenders on the pine for a year? Jones worries me against the run for more than just poor technique. He also gets beat to the outside more than he should as well. The biggest difference between these two players in my opinion is effort.
I routinely saw Jones quitting on plays that were right in front of him while Vaccaro was constantly on the move and finishing plays. Both seem to be quality individuals in the interviews I watched but I was more impressed with Vaccaro who is an admitted ‘football junkie.’
If the Steelers go the defensive route, I like Kenny Vaccaro of Texas.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.