by Behind the Steel Curtain
With the 53rd overall selection in the 2008 SB Nation NFL Mock Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers have selected Purdue linebacker Cliff Avril. Blitzburgh, head of the Steelers community Behind the Steel Curtain, made the pick and explains himself below:
Ever since Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh from Minnesota, fans have been wondering if/when the Steelers would switch from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3, the system Tomlin learned under the tutelage of legendary 4-3 mastermind Tony Dungy. It's hard to imagine the Steelers scrapping the 3-4 while Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau is still on the sidelines, but at the age of 70, it's not far-fetched to believe LeBeau may be in the final stretch of his 50+ year career in the league as either a player or coach.
So, with the Steelers 2nd round selection in this year's draft, it might make sense to select a hybrid LB/DE type player who could possibly excel in either the 3-4 or 4-3. One player that might fit that bill is Cliff Avril, DE, Purdue. Avril's a bit undersized (6'2", 250 lbs) to play in the trenches in a traditional 3-4, especially against the run, but he could rotate in as a pass-rushing LB as he got a bit stronger. Also, James Harrison, who emerged as a star for the Steelers defense, might not be around after one or two more years, as if he's able to maintain his high level of play in '08 and '09, it's not impossible to believe he'll be in line for a big payday that the Steelers won't be willing to offer. That would free up space for Avril to play alongside 2007 rookie LB/DE LaMarr Woodley and 2007 rookie ILB Lawrence Timmons. The team says they want to get younger and faster. Well, they certainly would be in good shape if they went down this route.
Avril had a long illustrious career at Purdue at both the OLB and DE position. He's battle tested, savy, and more athletic than scouts originally anticipated. At the Combine, his 4.51 40 was one of the better times amongst front 7 defenders, and his 36.5 inch vertical leap turned a few heads as well. His performace on the bench press left something to be desired, but it's easier to add reps to the bench than it is to lower your 40 time or increase your vertical leap. He'll get stronger in the League and should be able to maximize his closing out speed and sure-tackling abilities once he's able to take on and then shed off would-be blockers more effectively.
Matt Miller, host of this site as well as owner of New Era Scouting, provides his analysis below:
I feel like we saw this same pick last year in the second round with Lamarr Woodley. I hope Pittsburgh does continue in the 3-4 with this pick, and it sounds like Mike Tomlin is going to do so. Avril and Woodley will team to give Pittsburgh one hell of a pass rush.
:: Cliff Avril Scouting Report - New Era Scouting :: Matt Miller's Top Five Prospects Remaining: 1. LB Shawn Crable, 2. RB Jamaal Charles, 3. WR Earl Bennett, 4. TE Fred Davis, 5. QB Chad Henne
The Tennessee Titans, once again represented by the fine folks at Music City Miracles, are on the clock. Their pick will be posted later today at 6PM eastern. Stay tuned!