With a desperate need at a position that has been a jewel of their defense for decades, the Steelers on Thursday night drafted outside linebacker Jarvis Jones of Georgia with the 17th pick in the first round.

And they say they got lucky because he ran so poorly.

Jones is the first linebacker the Steelers have selected in the first round since Lawrence Timmons in 2007, Mike Tomlin's first year as their coach. He's the first projected pro outside linebacker they have picked in the first round since Huey Richardson, one of their biggest draft busts, in 1991.

It had been 26 years since the Steelers drafted an outside linebacker in the first round who became a success with them. That was Robin Cole in 1977. Cole initially played on the outside but eventually moved inside when they switched to the 3-4.

They believe Jones will change that history dramatically.

"He definitely is one of the guys I talked about the other day as being a special player in this draft," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "He's a solid kid, a great player. He was dominant at a major college. He plays the run, chases the ball and, most important, he gets after the passer.

"It's really just a great honor to have this kid join our team."

The New Orleans Saints at No. 15 were seen as the strongest possibility to ruin the Steelers' plans and take Jones, but they selected safety Kenny Vaccaro of Texas. That opened the door for the Steelers because Buffalo wanted a quarterback and chose EJ Manuel of Florida State with the 16th pick.

Vaccaro also was in a group of players the Steelers identified as possible first-round picks. Others included Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

Jones (6-2 1/2, 245) might have been a top-10 pick except that he ran a 4.9 40 at Georgia's pro day, slow for an outside linebacker. NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt said that would be the difference between getting to the quarterback and just missing him in the pros.

The Steelers, obviously, did not believe that and put more stock in the games they saw him play. He led the nation last season in sacks with 14 1/2 and had 28 over the past two seasons. Unlike many of the Steelers outside linebackers, Jones did not play end in college, but ... outside linebacker.

"It was a fun and easy evaluation," coach Mike Tomlin said. "You look at the outside linebackers in the 3-4 defenses, usually there's a projection involved. This was an easy projection ... very little guesswork.

"He excelled in what they asked him to do and he'll be asked to do similar things here."