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Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 draft report card

The 2016 NFL draft provided the Pittsburgh Steelers an opportunity to add missing pieces to a team that was two wins away from Super Bowl 50.

For the second straight year, the Steelers drafted according to specific needs rather than the “best player available” policy. How did they do?

These are their grades for each pick followed by a grade for the entire draft. NFL.com, NFL Draft Scout and Pro Football Focus were used for scouting reports.

FIRST ROUND

No. 25: Artie Burns, CB, Miami

Jr., 6’0″, 193 pounds

The Steelers drafted a cornerback in the first round for the first time in 19 years and took someone who they probably could have had in the second or third round.

Artie Burns led the SEC with six interceptions in 2015, but the Steelers play a lot of zone and he’s more of a press corner. He’s not the best tackler, and Steelers corners often have to “tackle the catch.” The Steelers probably would have taken William Jackson III if the Bengals hadn’t drafted him at No. 24 out of spite. The dropoff from Jackson to Burns is much more than the difference in value between the 24th and 25th pick. The Steelers should have tried to trade out of the 25th pick or addressed another need.

Burns has been forced to grow up fast. His mother died during the 2015 football season, and he’s taking care of his younger brother and sister. With that in mind, it’s difficult to see Burns getting into any kind of trouble. Strictly between the white lines, however, this was a disappointing first-round pick.

Grade: C-minus

SECOND ROUND

No. 58: Sean Davis, DB, Maryland

Sr., 6’1″, 201 pounds

This is another player the Steelers probably could have taken in the third round, but Sean Davis looks like a tackling machine on tape.

Davis is listed as a cornerback but he’s really more of a safety. He’ll help the Steelers more getting into the thick of things and making tackles than he will in coverage. Davis led the Big Ten with 80 tackles in 2014 and was third with 70 last season. He had three interceptions in 2015 and forced five fumbles, so there’s some splash-play potential.

According to NFL.com Davis can speak English, Chinese and French. Perhaps that’s a sign that he can quickly learn the Steelers’ defense. He fills a gaping need because Mike Mitchell is the only proven safety on the Steelers’ roster, and while he’s probably not a long-term solution at corner his versatility can’t hurt.

Grade: B-plus

THIRD ROUND

No. 89: Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State

Sr., 6’1″, 309 pounds

Javon Hargrave was a big fish in a small pond in college, so there’s some risk here. But he’s shown signs that he can succeed in the NFL, and he’ll have to unless Daniel McCullers can make a big third-year leap. Someone has to start in place of Steve McLendon.

Hargrave had 16 sacks in 2014, including six against Bethune-Cookman, and was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. He added 13.5 sacks in 2015 and totaled 45.5 tackles for losses over the last two seasons. He overwhelmed the competition at the FCS level and he more than held his own against FBS talent at the East West Shrine Game. He’s ready for the next challenge.

This is a good point in the draft for the Steelers to address their need at defensive tackle. The first round is too early to take a player who will come off the field on third down, and the Steelers haven’t been able to unearth hidden gems in the late rounds. The Steelers also decided to eschew the Jabba the Hut types they’ve drafted in recent years and instead took someone who can get after the quarterback.

The Steelers must see something in Hargrave because they took him with Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings still on the board. Hall of Famer Harry Carson also came from South Carolina State, so the sky is the limit.

Grade: B

FOURTH ROUND

No. 123: Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU

Jr., 6’6″, 305 pounds

You never want to count out Alejandro Villanueva. He could beat out not-so-special former Bronco Ryan Harris for the starting left tackle job, but the Steelers at the very least need some depth at tackle.

Jerald Hawkins doesn’t seem ready to contribute right away, but he shows left tackle potential. He started in all 36 of his games at LSU, playing right tackle for the first two years and then getting “promoted” to left tackle in his third year.

With Mike Munchak running the position group, any offensive lineman drafted by the Steelers has a chance to succeed.

Grade: B

SIXTH ROUND

No. 220: Travis Feeney, OLB, Washington

Sr., 6’4″, 230 pounds

A converted safety, Travis Feeney was a monster at the NFL Scouting Combine. His 40-inch vertical leap topped all linebackers, and he was second only to 20th overall pick Darron Lee among linebackers in the 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds) and broad jump (130 inches).

Feeney had eight sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and forced three fumbles in 2015. He might not have the size to succeed as a pass rusher in the NFL, however, and he’s had four shoulder surgeries. He gets high marks for his special teams play, and if he makes an impact in that department then this is a good use of a sixth-round pick.

Grade: B-minus

SEVENTH ROUND

No. 229: DeMarcus Ayers, WR, Houston

Jr., 5’9″, 182 pounds

DeMarcus Ayers caught 97 passes in 2015. He’s not a home run threat, averaging 12.6 yards per reception and catching six touchdown passes, but he did average 5.7 yards per rush on 26 carries. He also scored one kick-return touchdown and one punt-return touchdown in college. One scout told NFL.com that Ayers should have stayed in school, but if Ayers can relieve Antonio Brown of his punt-return duties, this would be a good pick for the Steelers.

Grade: C-plus

SEVENTH ROUND

No. 246: Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple

Sr., 6’0″, 238 pounds

The 2015 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Tyler Matakevich is the NCAA career leader since 2005 with 338 solo tackles. Luke Kuechly is third on that list.

The intangibles and college numbers are there, but not necessarily the physical traits. Anything more than the practice squad would be a bonus.

Grade: B-minus

OVERALL GRADE: B-minus

The Steelers addressed their four biggest needs in the first four rounds of the draft. They had to do that because they had no fifth-round pick, and banking on sixth- and seventh-round picks is like throwing darts at a board.

Sean Davis is their best pick. Even though the Steelers’ defense has allowed a lot of yardage over the last couple of years, they’ve regained their tenacity with sacks and takeaways. Davis can help keep that trend going. It would be nice if Davis, Burns and Hargrave could start right away.

The Steelers get points for drafting at the right positions, but that first-round pick drags down their draft grade.

Since Kevin Colbert took over as general manager in 2000, the Steelers haven’t had a flat-out first-round bust. So perhaps they deserve the benefit of the doubt on Artie Burns. They better be right, however, because time is running out for them to win another championship during Ben Roethlisberger’s career and they need this draft to instantly improve the roster.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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3 comments

  1. Mike Batista

    Good point. Greatest undrafted Steeler of all-time.

  2. Vince Sansotta

    Kevin Colbert is not a good GM.
    The Steelers weakness secondary. Did Colbert sign any FA DBs before the draft….No
    The Steelers knew the top 2,CBs would be drafted 15 slots before 25. Actually it was 3 Eli Apple went at 10. That left William Jackson a stud CB who is NFL ready. The Steelers should have traded up to insure they would draft him. They did not the Bengals drafted him. Instead of Jackson making big plays for the Steelers he will make big plays defending Steeler WRs. The Steelers settled for Artie Burns who will be a project. The Steelers need to coach him reduce number of penalties. The same thing happened last year they watched other teams draft the best CB before their selection.
    Since the season ended 24 NFL teams have either traded, drafted or signed a UDFA QB. Five teams have expressed interest in QB Nick Foles not the Steelers. Landry Jones is the Steeler back up to Ben. He is not the answer. After 3 years he has shown he can move the Steelers down the field. His passes are consistently short result interceptions. Kevin Colbert has not done anything to improve this situation. If Ben is injured & Landry Jones starts the Steelers lose. Is Kevin Colbert waiting for the Rams to call him about Foles? Kevin Colbert gets a F. He should be fired

  3. Rick

    Donnie Shell was from South Carolina State, You might not want to forget to mention that on a Steeler Fan Site.

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