Steelers Rookies Close Out Season Of Rare Opportunity

A lot of discussion, understandably, has been had in recent years about the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have seen not one, or even two, but three legitimate starters emerge for the team in their rookie season this year. A large part of that discussion pertains to the fact that they have all come on the defensive side of the ball.

The Steelers are indeed fortunate to see their rookie draft class find so much success this year, which is more than they can say about—well, most of them in their history, or at least their recent history. All three of them emerged not by necessity, but by being the best player at their position.

That’s not to say that they didn’t have some semblance of a loose plan in the works. The selections of cornerback Artie Burns in the first round, safety Sean Davis in the second, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the third, were hardly coincidental in hitting three areas of need on the side of the ball that most needed improvement.

And it can probably be said that they helped coax along their young rookies into the starting lineup, at least a little bit. In Davis’ case, he ended up starting in the slot in large part due to injury, but Burns eventually took over that role, and then, gradually, the starting spot. That wasn’t a major transition because he was already playing outside in the nickel anyway, which is their base defense.

Overall, however, it should not be ignored that, while the talent of this rookie class is obviously a major component in their emergence into the starting lineup, the fact that the defense simply is no longer stocked with talent is perhaps the biggest catalyst for their rapid ascendance.

In fact, we have seen young rookies with pedigree ready enter the starting lineup relatively early. Bud Dupree was active in his playing time immediately and took over the starting job by the end of the year in 2015. Ryan Shazier opened the 2014 season as a starter, and Stephon Tuitt finished the year starting. In 2013, Jarvis Jones was  given the reigns to start for a long stretch of the season.

Only Tuitt’s role could be argued to have been influenced by injury, but he did not replace an injured starter; rather, he leapfrogged the current starter when the rotational player who was seeing more time anyway went down.

It was much harder for, say, Jason Worilds in 2010 to fight for a starting spot than it was for Jones or Dupree, as he was playing behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Lawrence Timmons didn’t crack the starting lineup until his third season because they had veterans James Farrior and Larry Foote.

Cameron Heyward, even, waited until the fifth game of his third year to start, because they still had talent in the pipeline in front of him.

Hargrave filled the void left by Steve McLendon. Davis replaced Robert Golden, who never established himself as a full-time starter. And Burns entered a cornerback room that was, shall we say, severely depleted. They are starting because they are the best players on the team to start. But unlike other rookies in the past with high pedigree, they also had the opportunity laid out in front of them.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Craig M

    Interesting perspective.

  • Steve

    Under Tomlin players have been drafted because of need, before then it was best Athlete available. Cohwer had stockpiled LB and DL, and it took 2 or three years before players started. Not blaming that so much on the coach but the system. When the Bargaining agreement changed how much a player can practice and wear pads, that was a change to the system as a whole. Reducing the quality of the player and diluting the play of he game.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    if we are going to have better d line success. gravewobble and big dan are going to have to step up next year. not having heyward has hurt but still. need more center pressure consistently.

  • afrazier9

    You have to get the push up the middle on Brady that has been our problem no pressure on him then we let him always kill us with his legs

  • Big White

    I am much happier with guys getting thrown into the mix. In my opinion, anyone drafted in the first round should start day 1 unless it’s a quarterback. To see the Steelers find three starters if phenomenal.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    If we can add 3 more guys to this D next year, it will be on it’s way to dominate. An OLB, an ILB and another safety in the first 3 rounds. If Golson can also start to play and we add some more DL depth… yeah baby.

  • ryan72384

    Lol I keep forgetting about Golson. If he plays like he did in college we could have a real ballhawking secondary

  • ryan72384

    I am starting to see future DPOY potential in Sean Davis. Makes plays in the secondary and looks like such a natural passrusher (for a safety) and attacks the LOS like a linebacker on running plays. Has really cut down on missed tackles too. That sack yesterday was nice. Speed to get the corner and dipped under and closed and made the tackle


    This could end up as our greatest draft year ever, especially if you include the fact that not only are we getting meaningful contributions from 5 of our 7 draft picks in their ROOKIE Season (I still find that amazing to say, or type), but also 3 of our original other PS players as well!

    Davis, Burns, Hargreave, Ayers, Dirty Red, Hamilton, Maxey, and Shabazz….

    ..if they all stick around and continue improving to all make the 53 to join us for our repeat run for #8, they will begin making their claim early on in their careers for taking over for the Class of ’74 (albeit mostly on the Defensive side of the ball vs. that Class’ offensive lean).

    Also, i would like to point out how much more success our 2nd Rd talented DB’s Coach is performing right now with comparable round talent to finally work with versus the mostly dregs left late each draft for him to try and work miracles with. Great job Coach Lake – just keep em improving each week and we could begin our new dynasty run.

    Steelers going to the Super Bowl!

  • pittsburghjoe

    Firstly, they drafted well. Secondly, you have to question the logic behind sitting rookies and letting them mature. Sticking 3 in at in time seems high, but it can be done. You need a good player and a very good coach to make it happen early… and a good veteran supporting cast.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    In the old days these guys wouldve sat for 3 years but let’s not start sculpting their busts for Canton just yet.