Explaining the Thaddeus Gibson Pick...Why the Steelers are excited and why you should be too
Article by TB
Perhaps no other Steelers draft choice over the now three-day NFL draft weekend surprised and confused fans more than the drafting of former Buckeye defensive end Thaddeus Gibson in the fourth round on Saturday. Having already drafted OLB prospect Jason Worilds from Virginia Tech in the second round, and given the more obvious pressing needs facing the Steelers that have been discussed ad nauseam leading towards the draft, adding a second outside linebacker for depth behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley was difficult for many diehards and draftniks to rationalize.
However, there likely wasn’t the same kind of debate inside the Steelers war room on whether or not to draft Gibson at that spot, and given his overall potential compared to who was left on the board, it was an easy choice for them to get excited about – and a choice you should get excited about too.
During his junior season at Ohio State, most of the talk surrounding Gibson was that he was a first or second round talent at the next level. In January, after his season had ended, Mel Kiper Jr. gave him a second round grade. Many of the newspaper articles written around that time said he had first round potential. When he went to the NFL Advisory Committee to be reviewed for a possible early entry into the draft, they projected him as a second rounder. This, along with his own reasoning of wanting to help his family pay their bills (his mother had battled health problems), goes to explain why he chose to forego his senior season and enter the draft early.
At the NFL combine, former Redskins and Texans GM Charlie Casserly said that no defensive end prospect hoping to transfer to linebacker looked as impressive as Gibson. He led all defensive linemen in the very revealing three-cone drill with a time of 6.84 seconds (even besting fellow draft mate Jason Worilds, who finished third). The 6’2” 243lbs. Gibson also put up 32 reps on the bench (the same number as Ndamukong Suh and 10 more than Terrence Cody put up at his pro day), and looked outstanding in the linebacker drills he was put through. Gibson would also come back at the Ohio State pro day to improve his 40 time into the low 4.6’s. To put it simply, these numbers clearly back up the belief that Gibson is a true athletic freak for his position.
The question then arises: why did he last all the way to the fourth round? Firstly, from a pure production standpoint, his numbers on the field didn’t stand out with the Buckeyes. He finished his career with 82 tackles and only 10 sacks. To be fair though, for most of his career in Columbus, he was shuffled around and never had time to get settled in one position. He only started 23 of his possible 35 games while at Ohio State; 10 of those on the right side of the line, and 13 on the left side. He was asked to bulk up, was forced into the lineup early in his career due to injuries, was a rotational guy, and only this past year was he then settled at left defensive end, his first year of playing the position. It was obvious to most that watched him this past season that even though he clearly had a lot of potential to become a great player, he was still very raw and didn’t really know what he was doing out there.
Secondly, and make no mistake about this, there is a resounding stigma surrounding hybrid Buckeye lineman entering the NFL made even worse given the disastrous selection and career up to this point of the Jets’ Vernon Gholston. This holds especially true for Gibson since he was largely seen as the heir apparent to Vernon at Ohio State. While it’s difficult to quantify how much of a factor that played into Gibson dropping, the facts are that this was a young man projected by most shortly before the draft to be a second round talent, at worst an early third, and he lasted until the 16th pick of the 4th round. Furthermore, he and Gholston are considerably different prospects, so the comparisons are even less applicable. Gholston was a 265lbs. explosive defensive end that they seemingly shot out of cannon at the line of scrimmage every play. Gibson was much more versatile, was more quick and agile than he was fast, and was often asked to drop into coverage because of that versatility. He compares much more favorably to becoming a 3-4 outside linebacker than Gholston ever did, and the Gholston comparisons are just as lazy as the Alonzo Jackson and Bruce Davis comparisons – again, being significantly different looking talents and prospects in general.
When the Steelers made the trip to Columbus for the Ohio State pro day, they came in full force and made no secret of who it was they were there to look at. Much like the combine, reports say he looked quite outstanding in the various drills the Steelers staff, namely Dick Lebeau and Keith Butler along with GM Kevin Colbert, were witness to. And while the Steelers were arguably forced to take a wide out early on in the draft weekend as a result of the Santonio Holmes trade just a couple of weeks prior, when the Steelers turn at the podium came up for the first time on Saturday with Gibson still on the board, at that point it became not a question of need and more of taking the best talent available, which is how I feel they viewed his selection.
Obviously, taking another OLB was probably not in the plans after the selection of Worilds, but by the time the fourth round rolled around with Gibson still available to be drafted, he was simply too good of a talent with too high a ceiling to pass on. And while this move might not make as much sense in terms of there now being a numbers game at linebacker with questionable depth in other areas, it’s hard to argue with the Steelers trying to take the best talent available with someone who has a greater chance of sticking long term as opposed to trying to fill need areas in the fourth round. The fact is, if you haven’t filled a need area in the first three rounds, there’s a good chance you’re not going to adequately fill it from there on out in the draft anyways. By taking what they felt to be a high caliber talent that they couldn’t pass on anymore, they’re giving themselves a greater chance of getting a player who will end up making a lasting impact on down the road (as opposed to merely filling out the depth chart).
So for Steelers fans who still openly question Gibson’s selection, or the route the first few picks went in general for the Steelers, look at it like this: had Pouncey, Worilds, and Gibson all used their last year of eligibility and returned to school for their senior seasons in 2011, it’s not crazy to assume that all three could very well have turned out being first round draft choices. Obviously Pouncey would have been, but both Worilds and Gibson were seen as first or second round talent who likely would have benefitted and improved their stock by returning to school for another year. As such, the Steelers ended up getting three possible first round talents in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th rounds. Is the risk factor increased? Sure, but I’d argue there’s not a team in the NFL that walked away with more high caliber and high ceiling talent than what the Steelers came away with in the first four rounds this past draft weekend.
Unlike most other organizations, the Steelers under Kevin Colbert use the draft to plan for the future instead of looking for instant results and instant gratification, and it’s a plan that has served them quite well to say the least. So while the talking heads for example will gush over the Bengals drafting Jordan Shipley because he’s a familiar name that they’re used to seeing on TV, give me a guy like Emmanuel Sanders who has twice as much potential of becoming a real impact player at some point at the next level. While others will pound the beat of a familiar drum for whatever prospects they’re used to hearing about the most, give me an under the radar prospect in Jason Worilds who is just beginning to scratch the surface of what his potential may hold.
Gibson is of the same vein, and I can’t remember the last time the Steelers took this many great athletes with ultimately such a high ceiling. Thaddeus may not have addressed a direct need, but the Steelers have got to be excited with the level of pure talent he brings to this team, especially given that they were able to grab him all the way down into the fourth round. You should be excited too.