Hall of Famer
Mingo or Jones?
The last two linebackers to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year came from AFC North. James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers received the honor in 2008, and Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens followed him in 2011.
Who's the next great pass-rusher in the division? Look no further than the first round of this year's NFL draft. The Cleveland Browns selected LSU's Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick, and the Steelers chose Georgia's Jarvis Jones at No. 17.
If you're asking which one is the better pass-rusher, you'll need to be more specific. Jones is the better pass-rusher right now. Mingo has the potential to be the better one in four years.
Jones led the nation with 14.5 sacks in 2012 despite missing two games. He can step into Harrison's spot immediately. Mingo is freakishly athletic with an explosive first step and exceptional closing speed. He could be the next Jevon Kearse.
Comparing Mingo and Jones will continue throughout their careers. They both played in the Southeastern Conference. They both have major questions to answer about whether they can last in the NFL. And they both ended up on AFC North rivals who are within a 2.5-hour drive of each other.
"The difference is Jones may have already maxed out his ability to get to the quarterback while Mingo is just scratching the surface," said Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.
Whatever your thoughts about where Mingo and Jones stand in their development, they were the perfect picks for their teams. Every move the Browns make is with an eye to the future. That became clear when Cleveland traded two of this year's seven draft picks for ones in 2014. Mingo is that unpolished playmaker who can grow with the Browns defense.
The Browns are making the transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme, which is exactly what Mingo will be doing. He'll be switching from a college defensive end to an NFL outside linebacker. He'll need time to add the upper-body strength needed to get off blocks. At 237 pounds, he looks more like a cross between a wide receiver and tight end than a linebacker.
Cleveland doesn't have to rush Mingo because it has Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves. The hope is Mingo will develop into a dominant pass-rusher by the time more pieces are in place. He has the height (6-foot-4), wingspan, agility and competitive attitude to become a special player.
The biggest knocks on Mingo are he’s a workout wonder and his college production didn't warrant a top-10 pick. Mingo had only 4.5 sacks last season at LSU and just 12.5 over his past two seasons. But he did record 28 total pressures in 2012 (hurries and knockdowns), which tied him for second in the SEC.
"One of the things you look at is not just sack totals, but disrupting, affecting and putting pressure on the quarterback," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. "As you watch games and you study him, he had a lot of snaps where he did that, and it wasn’t necessarily equating to sacks but the pressures on the quarterback, the batted balls, just making quarterbacks step up, slide and have to throw on the move. He had a number of those."
When it came to choosing between Mingo and Jones, Cleveland didn't think there was a decision. In hindsight, the Browns could have had Jones and two additional picks (in the second and seventh rounds) if they traded down to No. 16 with the St. Louis Rams. Cleveland refused because Mingo was one of four blue-chippers that team officials had identified.
After the Browns selected Mingo at No. 6, the next pass-rusher drafted was Jones, 11 spots later. Mingo acknowledged he was surprised that Jones fell so far in the first round.
"But the coaches here obviously knew what they wanted in a player and as a person," Mingo said. "I think they made the right decision, obviously, and I’m just thrilled to be here.”
The Steelers were equally thrilled to see Jones at their spot. Pittsburgh needed a pass-rusher who can provide instant results because its defense is built to win now. Three of the four starting defensive backs are 32 years old or older: cornerback Ike Taylor and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Two of the three starting defensive linemen are entering the final years of their contracts: defensive ends Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood.
Unlike Mingo, there's less of a learning curve with Jones. He played outside linebacker in a pro-style 3-4 scheme at Georgia, and he talked about recognizing familiar concepts while flipping through the Steelers' playbook last weekend. Jones led the SEC with 31 quarterback pressures and had 15 hurries (defined as a play where the quarterback was flushed out of the pocket or hurried his throw due to pressure), the most of any draft-eligible prospect.
"He is a violent hand fighter who can beat offensive linemen one-on-one," Muench said. "He is relentless, and even though he didn’t run well at his pro day, he closes well on tape. He’ll make an impact at the next level if he can stay healthy."
That's the key -- staying healthy. Jones transferred from Southern California after the 2009 season because doctors wouldn't clear him to play. They diagnosed him with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. It's a condition that has shortened the careers of top players, including offensive tackle Marcus McNeill, who retired after six seasons.
"We're very comfortable with his medical status or we wouldn't have made that pick," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said.
So who will be the better pass-rusher? It depends on your point of view. Jones will be delivering more hits on Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton this season, but Mingo may end up with more career hits. In the end, the Steelers and Browns got the players they wanted. It's up to Jones and Mingo to prove their teams were right.