How the Release of James Harrison Affects the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Draft

By Curt Popejoy
Damontre Moore
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Pittsburgh Steelers fans got the news that longtime star and veteran linebacker James Harrison was released as a cost-cutting measure for a Steelers team that is needing to pinch every penny to be viable for the 2013 NFL season. I respect the fact that Harrison didn’t want to be part of the cutbacks in terms of contract, and he is off to greener pastures on another team for the upcoming season.

But at this point, the attention of the Steelers front office isn’t thinking about Harrison and more about his replacement. With the NFL draft coming up in just over a month, decisions have to be made. Regardless of who the Steelers already have on the roster as a potential replacement for Harrison, I think they must look early — as in the first 2 rounds for a long-term replacement.

The incumbent to replace Harrison will be linebacker Jason Worilds. Worilds is entering his fourth season with the Steelers after being a second round pick in 2010. Up until this point, Worilds has been little more than a spot player, He has 10 career starts in three seasons and has 10 career sacks.

If I were to use a work to describe his game, it would be “workman-like”. He’s not an explosive or dynamic player, but he works hard and seems to fit the mold of what defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wants out of his rush linebackers.

This year’s draft crop of rush outside linebackers is very good. There could be as many as seven players taken in the first round who specialize in rushing the passer either as a defensive end or outside linebacker, but the well doesn’t run dry there, as five or six more could come off the board in the second round also.

In the first round, the Steelers should have their choice of edge rush players if they should want to draft one. There will be three or four off the board quickly, more than likely in the top ten, so unless the Steelers wanted to trade up, those players are out of the mix. But there are plenty of excellent players in that second tier of rushers.

The guy that it seems the Steelers are interested in and could target at 17 is defensive end/linebacker Damontre Moore from Texas A&M. Honestly, when I scouted him, I thought about him much more as a traditional pass rush 4-3 defensive end, where he can work in a 3-point stance and his coverage responsibilities. However, the Steelers have made no secret they like Moore.

And it makes sense. He’s certainly a Steelers kind of player. He doesn’t have great measureables, and doesn’t wow you with overwhelming athleticism, but he is very productive, hard-working, and shows tremendous effort. His lack of explosion and athletic edge is why he’s sliding out of the top ten, but that could be a boon for the Steelers.

Lots can change between now and the draft, but right now Moore has to be the top target for the Steelers if replacing Harrison is their top priority.

Curt covers the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL draft, and college football for Rant Sports. Connect with Curt on Twitter @nfldraftboard.

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