No Wall Can Stop Steelers’ Rookie Starters

There is an old saying among coaches and people around the game that, generally speaking, you can chalk up your end-of-season win-loss record in part to how many rookies you have in your starting lineup. For every rookie you have starting under you, you can expect to lose one game as a result.

The Pittsburgh Steelers this year have had three rookies playing for them in the starting lineup for more than half the season now, all three representing their top picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, and all of them coming on the defensive side of the ball.

They have not lost a game since all three have been established together in the starting lineup, which officially began in the Week 11 game against the Browns—the first game of their winning streak, which including the postseason, has now gone up to eight games, their longest winning streak in over a decade.

And none of them appear to be all that worried about hitting the proverbial ‘rookie wall’, nor is there an indication of that in their play to date. First-round cornerback Artie Burns, who entered the starting lineup in Week 9, second-round safety Sean Davis, who officially took over at that spot in Week 11, and third-round nose tackle Javon Hargrave, who has been starting all along but has had an increased role since Week 11, has all been playing beyond their level of experience.

That is especially impressive considering that Hargrave was a small-school product who was almost entirely unfamiliar with a quality level of competition, and that Burns was an underclassman who did not play every snap while he was in Miami.

The trio of rookies debuted in the postseason on Sunday for the Steelers, and while none of them blew up the game statistically, they didn’t have to. They all played within the defense and played well. Burns and Davis each registered four tackles, while Hargrave chipped in just one assisted tackle. Much of the heavy lifting had been done by the linebackers, in truth.

The success of this rookie class, and the sustained level of play, I believe, is a notable one, because the Steelers have not had great recent success merging rookies into the starting lineup. Just last season, first-round outside linebacker Bud Dupree talked openly about hitting the rookie wall late in the season after serving as a rotational player all year, and then entering the starting lineup in the final several games.

Perhaps they are feeding off of each other’s energy and momentum to hold one another together, but the continued ‘above the line’ play of the rookies this year has certainly been one of the most notable storylines of the 2016 season.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Steelers12

    with these 3 playing so well is this the year to trade up for a dynamic pass rusher or playmaker on defense. Im against trading up but what do you guys think?

  • NinjaMountie

    Depends on what it would take. I wouldn’t want to give up much. I think I’d be more comfortable drafting 2 edge rushers. We still have wholes to fill. Probably should draft more DBs, an ILB, DL, WR.

  • WreckIess

    The last three drafts have been something else. Shazier, Tuitt, Martavis, McCullers, Bud, Coates, Chickillo, Walton, James, then those 3, Ayers and even Eli of you want to include him as a pickup from 2015. I’m willing to bet that no other team has as many serious contributors on the roster as we do over the past few draft.

  • Steel Tippin

    To the front office, all is forgiven.

  • Steelers12

    i would not mind drafting G/T either

  • Ni mo

    Why would they draft a wr and they like6

  • Ni mo

    You realize jones will be gone and no OLB toy have on the list , 2 OLB , ILB , DE , CB , OG

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Next year will only get better, I think!

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I would, because I feel we are maybe a piece or two away from truly great defense! I also think we could start stockpiling players like San Fran did during the Harbaugh era! I love the idea of trading up tho!

  • Steelers12

    i feel you but our scouting department is so good i hate trading picks

  • srdan

    Not htis year. By all accounts this is the deepest pass rushing class to enter the NFL in a long time. This is a good year to need one.

    Rather than trade up, i’d ratehr double dip. The stats show that teh draft usually comes down to volume of picks.

  • NinjaMountie

    I listed 2 edge rushers.

  • NinjaMountie

    It would be late if at all…why I listed them last. However, they almost always draft one.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yes, OL is something you always have to look at. We have Harris and Hawkins coming back next season and Finney is doing well at G. So, I’d imagine it will not be a priority.

  • Gizmosteel

    Edge rushers, another dynamic tight end, and OL for more depth.

  • alevin16

    I think Jarvis Jones is hitting the wall for all three of them.

  • RickM

    It’s been a great effort by the rookies, and their starting contributions were so unexpected. That said, Javon is looking pretty worn down late in games. How could he not be with the snap count he accumulated after the Heyward and Tuitt injuries? He really has shown a lot of guts handling this D-line workload in his first year.

  • Steelers12

    good call, i forgot about Hawkins

  • steelburg

    Initially I was thinking a trade up to. But I think there are just so many good options at pass rusher in this class that we will get a good one without giving away picks.

  • Sam Scalleat

    I think we would have to move too far forward. As we all know, there is usually a drop off in the NFL-readiness/immediate impact of pass rushers outside the top 15 picks no matter what. I still think OLB is the top priority, but we can find one later as long as we don’t need him to contribute immediately.

    I think the other needs for depth/future are S, CB, DL, ILB, C, RB, QB, andpossibly TE. Those are in no particular order as it depends how free agency shakes out.

  • Ni mo

    They don’t need one they set at that positing

  • Ni mo

    Where ?

  • NinjaMountie

    “I’d be more comfortable drafting 2 edge rushers” You have to read the whole statement, not just he end, lol.

  • e. smith

    Me thinks Hargrave has the biggest butt in the NFL. Glad we drafted him

  • Ni mo

    The only way they draft a wr if Coates operation on his fingers is unsuccessful

  • WreckIess

    Hopefully. As of now I’d be comfortable if they hit on one good edge rusher, another developmental one, a back-up QB to groom, and a decent slot corner next draft.

  • NinjaMountie

    I didn’t say that we have no WRs. I do think we have a possible hole at wr if MB doesn’t make it back. I fully expect he will.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yes, there are a lot this year. Though, hopefully, we are picking dead last.

  • Nolrog

    Agree. We need a starting OLB, probably another MILB, depth on the DL, depth on the OL, and perhaps another TE.

  • Lil Smitty

    I think one of the things that has helped them avoid the wall, is that they were not put in the starting lineup full time. Davis was sat for a few weeks. Javon and Artie didn’t become every down starters until week 11.

  • steelburg

    Any OLB you are high on?

  • Alleghenys

    It may be naive and optimistic, but I hope we can add Senquez Golson to this list a year from now.

  • Alleghenys

    If only we had drafted Andrew Billings …

  • Steelers12

    I would take qb off the list unless an outstanding one falls to us in later rounds

  • srdan

    Myles Garrett is out of our range. I think Tim Williams is as good but the only thing that puts him in our range is his gun charge. Takarriss McKinley has some of that bend Alex talks about.

  • steelburg

    I agree we are missing a top notch slot defender. Although Gay has been consistent and a good player I’m still hoping that Golson can get and stay healthy. I think Golson can provide very similar play as Tavon Young of the Ravens I think Golson has a little better ball skills though.

  • Dorian James

    The linebackers may have done the heavy lifting but the offensive line sure paid a lot of attention to Hargrave

  • Dorian James

    I’m all for trading up for a great Edge rusher. 3-4 defense works so much better when you have two of them

  • thomas hmmmm

    Last season I was saying we needed to draft two OL guys and we only got Hawkins who has been on IR all season. With the progression of the backups like Finney I dont think we draft any this draft.
    Before Hawkins was on IR he was gaining a pretty good reputation so we might be solid at tackle with him as the primary back up.

  • Kevin artis

    I don’t remember the Steelers having to his much success from 3 rookies. Kudos to Tomlin and Colbert

  • Steelgator

    Bud Dupree isn’t a rookie, but he was still as raw as many rookies coming into this season. His development has been instrumental also.

  • steelburg

    I agree on your view for both Williams and Garrett. I like McKinley but the only thing that worries me with him is that he is a little undersized. I am a huge fan of Dawuane Smoot and I love the fact that Lovie Smith just coached him this past year. He is projected as a late first rounder so he should be right in our range.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    It’s an interesting debate. Assuming we are drafting in the 30’s, I would be inclined to trade up (into the early 20’s) for an elite day one starter at OLB/EDGE.

    Again it has to the “right” player, because you’re right, it is a deep class. You can get a decent talent in the 3rd or 4th round. But from what I’ve seen on tape there are some really strong/explosive edge guys in the mid 1st range, and we need someone special.

    Some of these guys like Harris, Solomon, Walker are like 260-270 and can flat out bring it (off the edge). They have grown man strength to both hold the point and fight through pass pro. Very similar to our Harrison + Woodley days.

    If you give me a front of: Dupree + Tuitt + Hargrave + Heyward + (void)

    I would rather have one elite stud than two solid player, because if you get the right guy, it’s a cumulative effect. You can create mismatches amongst the other 4, and you take away the opponent’s ability to double.

    And remember, we can always do the double trade scenario. Trade a 1st and a 4th to move up then trade our 2nd rounder for a 3rd + 5th.

  • thomas hmmmm

    Interesting question.
    Looking at the roster there are no real holes that need to be filled now. The secondary is set. The DL is set. The OL is set. RB is set. TE is set. WR is set(unless Bryant gets a suspension).
    The only areas that will have any holes are WR, which will mainly need depth. Which should be a later pick. QB, because its getting time to find a replacement for Ben. OLB and ILB also need starter quality players.
    So I would expect in the first few rounds to draft OLB,ILB and QB. In no particular order. Neither of those positions I would want the team to trade up for.

  • Most of next years DBs are already on our roster. Mitchell, Davis, Golden at safety. Cockrell, Burns, Gay, Golson, Gilbert at corner. Maybe draft a safety late?

    If the Steelers bring back Timmons, ILB are set with Shazier, Timmons, Williams, and Matakevich.

    WRs are pretty much set as well with Brown, Coats, DHB, Ayers, Hamilton, and possibly Bryant coming back.

    Even the D line depth has impressed at points this year.

    After edge rusher, there aren’t many holes on this roster. They key, is the young must keep their upward trajectory.

  • StolenUpVotes

    This class has the potential to end up as something really special

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    It’s going to be interesting to see what these guys measure in at. Some sources are listing McKinley at 6’2″ 265 pounds. For me, the eye test begs to differ.

    I personally don’t want another 240 pound edge rusher, I don’t care how explosive he is. I don’t mind the sorter height or length as long as he’s strong and can get low. Guys like Aaron Donald and James Harrison have given us a blue print in that regard.

  • thomas hmmmm

    I think the DL depth that we have this season has shown to be more than capable. Walton has made nice strides this season.
    Same with the OL.
    TE position is pretty decent also if Greene stays healthy.
    OLB, MLB, QB are really the only positions that need to be solidified.

  • thomas hmmmm

    Like the year we got Dupree.. That was a deep draft for OLB’s.. We should have double dipped in that draft 1st and 2nd picks or 1st and 3rd.

  • I have been saying double dip for a while, but I have since changed that to triple dip. If this draft is as deep as people say, get 3 in the first 5 rounds. You can never have enough. Moats’s and Chick’s spots are far from a guaranteed.

    Getting 3 also helps to mitigated the damage if there is a flop in there.

  • dany

    starting to remind me of the 2007 giants draft which brought them over the top in the playoffs. Even Ayers contributing now!

  • StolenUpVotes

    Instead we double dipped in the 1st and 6th and found a guy who is looking like he is starting to figure it out and a guy who provides us quality depth and ST play.

  • thomas hmmmm

    At OLB that all depends if its a DE converting to OLB or not. Either way they all have to learn the NFL pb’s and NFL style of game no matter what position they are picked at.
    You would have a point if its just a classic 4-3 DE who you can just plug and play but OLB is a little more complicated.

  • NinjaMountie

    Well, I don’t think Timmons will be back. That’s why I’ve listed ILB.
    WRs..you forgot about Rogers!!! Still, they were listed last because WR is always something you look at late. DHB is nice but he isn’t the long term answer on the outside…or even a season long answer. If MB comes back we will be good at WR, agreed.
    DL always needs more depth lol.
    William Gay is getting old so CB is something to pay attention to.
    Most importantly we need edge rushers…beyond a doubt.

  • My bad, I did forget Rogers!!!

  • Ed

    forgot Rogers in that list of WRs

  • Been pointed out, thanks.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I personally don’t want that combination, but my gut tells me that’s what the Steelers want.

    We all know they want an edge rusher early. We all know Butler likes elite ILB’s over elite DB’s. And by the way Colbert has been scouting QB’s the past several years, you know he’s thinking about taking a rookie QB early (even though this is a terrible year). I hope hope HOPE we sign a vet FA QB and wait until next year to draft a QB, but I doubt it.

    A really interesting guy to keep your eye on is Haason Reddick (out of Temple). He started out as a CB then moved to DE/OLB as he grew. He only measures in at about 6’1″ 230, but with his skill set and background he would be a perfect ILB in our scheme. He can cover and stunt/blitz/pass rush (exactly what we require) and he can probably be had in the 3rd round.

    I hope we draft Jake Butt even if we have to use our 2nd rounder. He’s as close to Heath Miller as we’ve seen in recent years.

  • WreckIess

    It would be nice, but we can’t hold our breath for that. Huge uphill battle there.

  • SilverSteel

    And who would have thought that the LBs would be the strong point on our team right now. They looked like our weakest unit just 8 weeks ago.. What a turnaround… Dupree is starting to impress more and more each game. He may be the real deal!

  • SilverSteel

    Oh yes, I am already excited about how good our D has the potential to be next year. I hope Harrison stays on for one more SB run. He can help groom one of the OLB draft picks.

  • SilverSteel

    How are we not set for Safety? Davis, Mitchell, Dangerfield, Golden…. That is a solid squad for sure – with depth.

  • SilverSteel

    Yeah, no need to trade up. There is tons of talent this draft for pass rusher. The D is going to be crazy good next year – can’t wait.

  • SilverSteel

    Yeah, groom another CB just in case of injury. Luckily, injuries did not bite Cockrell or Burns this year or we would have been in a pickle.

  • SilverSteel

    Yeah, but can we depend on Golson to endure through a year of bumps and bruises? We need another developmental DB waiting in the wings – or maybe Gilbert pans out and sticks around which would be great.

  • cencalsteeler

    I’d love to see a gem of a rb plucked out around the middle rounds.

  • StolenUpVotes

    Really small sample size, but Joe Mathis could end up being a steal.

  • Steelers12

    I could see us going pass rushers the first 2 rounds and then another one in round 6 or 7

  • Steelers12

    Yeah last time we had two was Harrison n Woodley

  • Sam Scalleat

    Well if Landry leaves for another team and no FA’s interest them they may be forced into the move

  • Sam Scalleat

    Well, like I said, this could change depending on the off-season. Mitchell is nearing the end of his deal, and Dangerfield is what he is, a solid depth player who can fill in when needed, but i wouldn’t call him a starter. Also keep in mind the Steelers usually carry 5 safety’s and Shamarko is probably gone.

  • They usually go with 5 CBs and assuming Golson is healthy that’s five. I know he hasn’t been and plenty of people are ready to take him and Green out to pasture and put them out of their misery, I am not ready to give up on them yet.

  • budabar

    The one I worry about the most is burns on an island by himself thow he has played real well all season he still seems septable to biteing on and jumping routs if we can stop that he’s a home run

  • Michael James

    I’ve watched several of them now, and I really like Takk McKinley and Taco Charlton. McKinley is a lot like Dupree, he’s a physical freak with all the tools, just has to learn how to be an efficient pass-rusher. His upside is immense. I know some people will say that Charlton won’t work in a 3-4, but he just screams LaMarr Woodley (without the laziness and injury concerns) to me. I’m really high on him.

  • srdan

    Nobody has an idea of how the draft will shape up, but I don’t tend to give the combine numbers a lot of weight. So to me the tape settles it. And in my opinion the tape(term used loosely, i watch a tiny bit of college ball and youtube some highlights on guys) shows that there is Garrett and Tim Williams and then the rest of the guys. I think Tim Williams will be available to us much the same way that Randy Gregory was. Beyond that I don’t see a guy worth trading for. Granted I’ve really zeroed in on Smoot, Mckinnley and Harris. And I’d take any one of them. But I wouldn’t give a fifth to have a choice among the three. Keep in mind I’m youtube scouting so take it with a grain of salt.

  • srdan

    I’ll never forget the one time we smashed Tom Brady. Woodleys best game. I also think it was his last effective game.

  • steelburg

    I agree for the most part. McKinley has more of a slender build to his body and that worries me. I don’t want a undersized guy drafted early meaning rounds 1-4. I don’t mind drafting and trying to develop a undersized guy on the practice squad like we did with Feeney but it would have to be late round like pick 6 or 7. But I’m a Dawuane Smoot fan I would love that pick and I think he can play day 1 if need be.

  • steelburg

    I’m high on him also. If we double dip at the position I want Dawuane Smoot in the first round and Joe Mathis is the guy I want in the later rounds.

  • Steelers12

    yeah he got paid, lazy and fat

  • steelburg

    I like McKinley but his size worries me a little I’m interested to see his height and what he weighs in at. I’m also a fan of Taco but in the 2nd, I think Smoot is way more polished and ready to play day 1 and it doesn’t hurt that he just spent a year with Hardy Nicholson and Lovie Smith as his coaches.

  • steelburg

    I might get a little heat for this but I would take a flier on Joe Mixon. He has the same skill set as Bell IMO and he is faster. If not him Marlon Mack from USF is another good option IMO. I love his over all ability he just needs to improve his blocking.

  • Dorian James

    Now it’s Harrison and Bud LOL. Deebo is absolutely incredible, is he the future strength and conditioning coach?

  • Steel City Slim

    They also have Canaan Severin at WR who is currently on IR. Nice size target at 6’2″ 205. I think they like him or else they would have released him instead of putting him on IR.

  • Steel City Slim

    I’d like to see them get Conner from Pitt. I seen where he has a 4th-6th round draft grade, for what it’s worth at this point.

  • Michael James

    Smoot would be a good choice, too, I agree. It’s just that Takk and Charlton have somehow turned out to be my guys this draft season and you know, when you have your draft crushes, it’s hard to get away from them 😉

  • Steelers12

    i was wondering if he wanted to be some kinda coach one day

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I was shocked by the pick and am equally shocked with his progress. Though I have always said that everyone needs a little playing time before being thrown in the fire.

    At this point we should all be ecstatic and accepting when he gives up an occasional long TD like he did in the Dallas game. We will have to take that without panic as he has been making enough plays, even getting a few INTs. On the job training.

  • Steel City Slim

    I think Ejuan Price from Pitt is worth a look in the later rounds if they decide to “double” or “triple” dip. His build reminds me of Harrison and he had a productive career at Pitt.

  • Steel City Slim

    I also like Carl Lawson from Auburn, and Charles Harris from Missouri in the first round, and maybe Tyquan Lewis from Ohio State in the 2nd.

  • Ni mo

    For what ?

  • Ni mo

    For what

  • Alleghenys

    It was sarcasm based on the fact that everyone on Steelers Depot (myself included) wanted to select Billings.

  • steelburg

    I feel the same way about Smoot and I really like Joe Mathis from Washington also.

  • Mark

    Draft OLB, ILB, DL, DL, OL, WR (has to be 6th round, we kill in 6th round), CB. BTW, terminate Ladarius Green contract and use that money to reward Tuitt, I think Grimble, James, and Johnson are giving us the same amount of production that a healthy LG would.

  • Matthew Marczi

    They do almost always draft a wide receiver no matter what, even if it’s an Ayers type. And don’t forget Wheaton is unlikely to be back and Bryant’s future is uncertain. Hamilton is a dime-a-dozen guy and DHB is inconsistent. Coates has the potential to be a number two, but he has a 5-game body of work.

  • Matthew Marczi

    There’s a reason he’s called J Wobble.

  • Nicholas Danaluk

    And Mexico is going to pay for it! Make the Defense Great Again!

  • MC

    I think Dupree coming back has helped a bit lately as well.

  • SouthernSteel

    OT OLB RB DE QB seems to be the order most draft experts think the steelers biggest needs are b4 free agency…OT kinda surprised me but can see it…

  • Steeler808

    I think you have to look at QB and RB as well. Of course it depends if Landry and Williams get signed back as they are both FA at the end of the year. Personally unless they both take home team discounts I don’t see it happening as a good chunk of money will have to put aside to sign AB and LB.

  • NinjaMountie

    Why with Hawkins and Harris coming back? I mean, you always look for OL upgrades and depth but anyone that has OT over OLB hasn’t paid any attention to the Steelers the last few years.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yeah….I’ve pretty much written him off. It’s hard to count on someone that can’t even make it through camp.

  • SouthernSteel

    Agreed…plus how much can u invest in the OL? “Experts” seem to be experts at getting it wrong.

  • SouthernSteel

    Ignoring combine #’s got us Jarvis Jones and a bunch of other bums…glad the past 2 years we went back to using combine and pro day #’s

  • SouthernSteel

    A top WR or RB will probably fall to end of 1st round…would u pull the trigger on it?

  • SouthernSteel

    If a stud WR is available in 1st round and is best player on their board ..they will take them

  • No, edge rushers in the first 2 rounds!!!