Reynolds’ Steelers Spin: 2016 NFL Draft

There is no better hangover remedy for the 31 teams that fall short of a Super Bowl victory than the NFL Draft. In a flash, painful disappointments fade away and all teams cups’ overfloweth with bright hopes as they ride in on rainbow striped unicorns.

In what has become as great of an NFL tradition as booing Commissioner Roger Goodell, the draft is that glorious time when gaping roster potholes can be repaired, bums can be replaced and stopwatch gawking scouts and ravenous fans can revel in the ultimate smorgasbord of football geekdom.

The draft was certainly the perfect hair of the dog for the Pittsburgh Steelers who filed away 2015 as a season of rampant inconsistency, baffling personnel obstinacy blended with seductive glimmers of future greatness.

In truth, the 2015 season might have allowed the team’s seventh big trophy to get away as they lost to the Denver Broncos, a team they had already beat and who were led by a quarterback who was well, well, well beyond his prime. The stinger for the Steelers might have been a squandering of a season when Ben Roethlisberger was at the zenith of his career.

But out with the old, and in with the new as the 2016 chase is afoot. After an offseason of pumping heavy iron and sending tweets from the desert and the Spin Room is officially open.

A few observations from this year’s Steelers draft:

Starting In The Ditch
As they say in your Racing Form the Steelers started off “fractious at the gate” in this year’s draft as some regrettable front office moves last season left them without a fifth round draft pick and an end-of-the-round sixth round selection that was practically the value of a seventh. Think fifth rounders aren’t worth much? Then you must not value players like Mike Webster, Barry Foster, Clark Haggans and Hardy Nickerson. Or sixth rounders like Greg Lloyd, Tunch Ilkin, Dwayne Woodruff and some guy named…Antonio Brown.

Coaching Bravado
If you look at the Steelers 2016 draft from 30,000 feet you can see an interesting theme. This is truly a developmental draft. For a team that is so close to being Super Bowl grade it’s a bit odd they didn’t choose more “plug and play” selections. Their first round pick has been described as clay that needs molding, their second will be playing at a position he hasn’t played in over a year and their third round pick played in the minor leagues of college. Their fourth rounder is also described as a “work in progress”. There is no question that line coaches Mike Munchak and John Mitchell have proven themselves adept at putting their large hands in clay but the jury is still out for Joey Porter, Carnell Lake, Jerry Olsavsky and even Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler in his new role. Their ability to develop these players quickly will be the key to Super Bowl glory.

Here’s a player-by-player analysis:

1 . Artie Burns, CB, Miami

Complaints about the Artie Burns pick? Heck, Steelers fans should be partying like it’s 1999. First of all, fireworks should go off just on the news the front office finally drafted a cornerback in the first round. But more importantly, Artie can bang at the line. For all of us Steelers fans who were tormented by former Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau’s insistence on having the corners play twelve yards off receivers even on 3rd and 2 situations this is the best news in a decade. Who cares if Burns doesn’t have the perfect hip swivel? Or gets a little lost in the zone? We’re going to start slapping around opponents’ skinny, mouthy receivers so we can stop making journeymen quarterbacks look like All Pros. Was William Jackson III a great option as well? Absolutely, but it’s moot because he wasn’t available. And you don’t have to be a JFK and UFO conspiracist to know the Cincinnati Bengals got extra joy taking Jackson one pick prior to the Steelers. OF COURSE they are cognizant of their arch-rival’s needs and if they can pick a player high on their board while sticking it to the Steelers, they surely will. The same was the case when they chose Andrew Billings who very nearly could have been the Steelers fourth consecutive defensive player selected. But enough about Jackson. Burns is the Steelers man and should be warmly welcomed. The last time the Steelers took a cornerback in the draft who was also a star track hurdler was a gentleman by the name of Rod Woodson. If the Steelers can get half the value of that pick they’ll be set at one corner for years.

2. Sean Davis, S, Maryland

Sean Davis is being touted as the next Ryan Clark, yet there are worries he’ll struggle in coverage and there are concerns with the angles he takes on his tackling. Some question his value as a second round selection. Regardless, he was another excellent selection for the Steelers in an area of huge need. The fact that he can play both corner and safety will give him the flexibility to get on the field as Coach Mike Tomlin has a history of not playing young safeties. He’s got size, speed and a taste for on-the-field violence and if he and Burns both find success the Steelers secondary could quickly transform from goat to hero.

3. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State

No player will draw more attention in the summer when the Steelers finally put on pads. The coaches will know in a matter of hours, if not minutes, whether they have the next Geno Atkins…or if they’ve got a player who got rich at South Carolina State by stealing lunch money from kindergartners. Here’s one vote that the Steelers may have done the stealing in getting one of the best value picks in this year’s draft in Javon Hargrave.

4. Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU

C’mon, admit it. Your heart leapt when you realized the Steelers had picked an offensive tackle with their fourth round pick. There is nothing sexy about getting Jerald Hawkins, but he should be able to add the last critical layer of depth to one of the strongest offensive lines in the NFL. He’s raw, but the good news is he’ll have plenty of time to develop.

6. Travis Feeney, OLB, Washington

It seemed like the Steelers had to wait FOREVER to get to pick again, and that whooshing sound you heard while waiting was much of the remaining 2016 draft talent slipping away from Black and Gold fingers. Hopefully it provided ample time for the Steelers top brass to write on a chalkboard over and over again…I will not waste draft picks…I will not waste draft picks. When the Steelers finally did get to choose, it was Travis Feeney, a player who will most likely spend the bulk of his NFL career terrorizing kick and punt returners. He’ll have only a short time to prove he can be an impact player for the Steelers on defense before they chose a first round outside linebacker next year.

7. DeMarcus Ayers, WR, Houston

A half a second. That’s what separates the Steelers new prospective rookie returner in the forty yard dash (4.71) with the one they let go of unceremoniously last season: Dri Archer (4.28). Although there is no truth to the report he was outrun by Rich Eisen at the NFL Combine, Ayers’s speed and lack of size are going to be two huge weights on his shoulders he’ll have to overcome. Fortunately, there is compelling evidence that he can produce on the football field and let’s all hope the rumors his agents are spreading that he is more accurately timed in the 4.4’s are true. Getting a punt returner who could extend Antonio Brown’s Dancing With The Stars career would be a big win.

7. Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple

Matakevich is already a fan favorite despite his mediocre measurables in shorts and a t-shirt. The kid is a FOOTBALL player and those will always be welcome in Pittsburgh. He’s getting the opportunity to make permanent residence on special teams and has a shot at becoming a reliable backup as an interior linebacker.

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic and author of the acclaimed Heirs of
Ireland series. MichaelKReynolds.com

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Mickey! Where the heck have you been? I picture you on some tiny Pacific island writing another book, while you forget how much we miss your occasional printed word on the Steelers. It doesn’t even matter if you’re right or wrong, I simply enjoy your writing.

    And, yes, this is that hopeful time of year when we envision rookies miraculously and immediately filling a great need for the Steelers. We pray that they can have a healthy season, or at least free of any major injuries. And we wonder how long it will be before the Steelers lift another Lombardi. Could it be next year?

    As usual, great stuff. Come back soon, you hear!

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Am I the only person who thinks Feeney could potentially be a backup to Ryan Shazier as an ILB? Shazier is 6’2″ and 229. Spence, last year’s backup, is 5’11” 231. Feeney is 6’4″ and 225. His speed and I think his skill set should allow him to slide inside and play somewhat the same role as Shazier. In addition, it allows you to play him in space, much like you are doing with Shazier already.

  • Jacob

    The most colorful and creative sports commentator on the net. Rainbow colored unicorns…lol.

  • falconsaftey43

    I think a lot of us on here see Feeney as a better fit as an ILB and guy that doesn’t play on the line much due to his size.

  • TR IZ A BEAST!!!

    Great breakdown. I think the word I’d use to describe how I feel about the top of this d raft is “intrigued”. I ask myself “why did they pick Sean Davis instead of Sua Cravens? Or TJ Green etc. I think they like the natural athlete. There’s something to banging your head against the wall teaching players technique but no matter how hard they try they just are no athletic enough. Im a manager at my job and I totally get that. Versus working with someone who has all the tools but needs the coaching which we can provide.

  • Nolrog

    >>> The same was the case when they chose Andrew Billings who very nearly could have been the Steelers fourth consecutive defensive player selected.They already got the DL help they needed in the 3rd. I doubt very highly they would have drafted Billings if he was available (if they wanted him,t hey would have picked him in the 3rd instead of Hargrave.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    Sua Cravens wasn’t available to pick. He was already gone.

  • srdan

    One of hte better pieces I’ve read on this site. Good stuff.

    Agree with most of your assessments. And I get tickled by the notion that we may have the next geno type player. Damn that would help everyone on this team.

  • William Weaver

    In my opinion, the greatness of the Steelers stability is they do things in a long term vision in mind. Other teams get in trouble with a lack of job security causing teams to look for plug n play guys without upside. Try to win now is usually not the best plan of attack in free agency or the draft. To say the Steelers should switch to a win now mentality because of one players age doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. We want to compete for Lombardi’s into the future, not just the next couple of years before falling flat on our face.

  • William Weaver

    Suppose to be his bend and pass rush ability that is his greatest asset, no?

  • Phil Brenneman II

    As always, an interesting read MK and glad to see you give us something in the offseason. I liked the Hargraves pick from the beginning and the more days pass I get really excited about the Burns pick. 2 and 4 on the other hand I just can’t get behind.

    I am not writing Davis off but I still think Bell was the better choice and fits more of a need than Davis. Hawkins just bums me out because I wanted defense in the first 4 and we could have doubled up at CB or gotten an LB there.

  • Steel PAul

    Nice to get a new article of yours to read. I couldn’t agree more about the approach of taking players who will need time vs plug and play players.

    For as much as I can’t believe the Steelers finally drafted much needed CB help in the first round – 3 drafts too late imo – I just don’t see much help from the first two picks in 2016.

    I’ve seen a lot of Burns last year, having a good buddy who watched all U games, and well.. glad they drafted a corner, but it certainly appears they reached for the second straight year with the CB position.

  • Paddy

    there are no plug and play players when you pick 25, maybe even when you pick in the top 5. Ask Cleveland

  • SteelCity

    Great comment sir!

  • John Mazza

    yeah i wonder too, Davis kind of reminds me of eric rowe out of Utah last year (eagles). played CB and Safety. his versatility could get him on the field faster and might not be a liability as a nickel. hopefully lol

  • Jake Marion

    After getting Hargrave in the 3rd, Billings was most probably not going to be the 4th defensive player picked.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    He’s right about Gravedigger. They will know by the end of the first practice whether Javon can hang with NFL guys or not. Ayers should be a fairly quick read as well. The rest could take years to fully know.

  • You have a strong point…however…there is no depth behind our starting two defensive linemen so I think the Steelers would (or at least should) have jumped on a fourth round opportunity for a player that several had going in the first round. They could have picked up another offensive lineman later down the draft or through waiver wires down the road. The extra left tackle wasn’t a pressing need. More a luxury pick. If they had Hargrave and Billings added to the line…Oh Nelly!

  • Fair comment on Top 25. Not so much on Top 5. Last year many of the first rounders had instant impact on their teams. I actually don’t think it was a problem that the Steelers went developmental in the first round…it just was a little surprising strategically since they are so close to being the real deal.

  • Totally agree with the 3 drafts too late. Last year was the worst season of denial yet with the coaches saying they “liked what they had” entering into the draft. Yes…they did draft Golson in the second round, but I hold the scouting squad for not knowing he had a serious shoulder issue.

  • Don’t agree really, when speaking of the Steelers strategy of the past. They were THE best. However; they’ve had to shift with the times. The offseason player-friendly rules means you can’t develop talent like you used to and with free agency causing you to lose players after four or five years there isn’t the time there used to be to “slow roast” players. Having a great long game is good, but in today’s NFL you got to hit your putts as well.

  • I LOVE preseason football. There will be so much to watch as the young players get a chance to show what they’re made of. Definitely can’t wait to see Hargrave.

  • Answered this one above as you weren’t the only one with that opinion and certainly there is merit in what you’re saying.

  • Thanks Jacob!

  • No, you’re not the only one. I thought right from the start that he seemed like he was in the Shazier mold. I also feel the Steelers’ defense would operate better if they could sub in someone for Shazier who is more similar in build so the defense doesn’t get so altered when he leaves the field…as he has unfortunately been prone to do. We’ll have to see…

  • Well…I am working on the next novel (actually a few of them)…but unfortunately the tiny island is not yet in play. Hopefully soon! Thanks…I always appreciate your thought-provoking comments.

  • Paddy

    There was no CB available better than Burns when they picked. They made up for it in round 2 with Davis.

  • William Weaver

    An argument for balance. I can back up and agree with that!

  • David Paul

    When Ben is gone this team is done for a couple years. The window is closing. There is no Steve Young waiting in the wings.

  • David Paul

    Plenty of guys had Alexander rated higher.

  • William Weaver

    Not so sure. Build the defense to peak and be dominate as he retires. Team that with a good running game and you can win a super bowl. Easier to win with Ben but defense wins championships. 2005 the team won that way. Ben wasn’t Ben yet.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Thank you and don’t be a stranger, if time permits.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I’d like to take credit for writing this magnificent gem, but alas, I cannot. Sad clown.

    You totally red-pilled this. Anyone who was expecting more blue pilled stuff can go on back to sleep.

  • Jim

    I personally love the Davis pick and he is a similar prospect to Rowe, which is a good thing. I can’t say I dislike the Hawkins pick but I wish they had gone with Jatavis Brown who I’m pretty sure they were trying to trade into the 5th to nab.

  • Jim

    As a Clemson and Steelers fan, Alexander was overhyped. He could be solid but he’s not nearly as good as the media made him out to be. Honestly, he might still have been overdrafted as it is and I would have been mad if they took him at #25.

  • Jim

    Pretty sure he held his own at the Senior Bowl, and he stood out at the Shrine Game. For a raw, unrefined FCS player to do that, albeit a small sample size, I think he’ll be just fine with his transition.

  • Jonathan Ferullo

    I’ll add that we just watched a team win the Superbowl with a QB well past his prime and a dominating defense. The Ravens won it with Trent Dilfer, again, meh QB play and a strong defense.

    And one could argue that Seattle won the Superbowl with Russell just not getting in the way, and a dominating defense.

    Yes, you can’t have say Vick as QB and expect to do much, but you can get away with average QB play if your defense is great.

  • Gluebucket

    I think Alexander has a better chance to make an immediate impact but Burns has a higher ceiling. While there is validity to the argument that we need help now (especially with Ben’s career timeline), the Steelers always think long term. That’s why they can go 8-8 during “rebuilding” years.

  • Jonathan Ferullo

    The rankings are subjective. Lots of people had player ranked a head of Tom Brady or Antonio Brown, and we see how that worked out.

    It all depends on how a player fits and “gets” the teams system. All of these guys are great athletes, but now its up to their work ethic, ability, the coaches, and scheme to make it all pop.

    I know fans are worried Ben ( and the team) have like 3 good years left, but we can win a SB with Joe Average at QB and a sweet dominating defense. You are a fan now, and will be 10 years from now. I do understand the get it now attitude, but don’t lose sleep over it.

  • Donald Tillman

    I said he is the perfect player to play the other ILB in the nickel. So he might as well start at ILB. He reminds me of Chad Brown. #94

  • Donald Tillman

    But who blitzes their I LB’S more than us?

  • William Weaver

    True. Second man through job is locked up for a decade I hope with Shazier. First man through usually needs to be a bully that can blast a guard or fullback. We shall see though

  • I admit I had to go to Google to unearth the meaning of the “red-pill” but once I did…what a cool comment…and thank you. Anyone who goes to Steelers Depot without thoroughly reading the conversation of our esteemed readership is missing out on the true poetry and passion of this site. Well done, friend.