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Insider Only Grading Steelers 2016 Draft Class

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Steelers Draft Roundup

The 2016 Steelers’ draft class is complete. A lot of defense. A good amount of potential on special teams. Almost nothing on offense.

Here’s a look at each pick with the obligatory subjective attempt to put an objective grade on a group of players who have never even played an NFL down. (Grading based on how good the pick appears to be relative to where he was drafted, and how he fits the roster)


1st RoundARTIE BURNS (CB/MIAMI, FLA.): The analogy I keep using on Burns is this: It’s like you’ve saved up enough money throughout high school to buy yourself a car for graduation. Then you get it home and realize you don’t like it because you should’ve gotten it in red instead of blue.

I feel that way anyway. And I’ve gotten the impression from many Steelers fans that I’m not alone. After 19 years of waiting for this team to finally draft a first round cornerback, part of Steeler Nation seems excited that it happened. But it also seems depressed that it was a guy who many draft analysts suggested should be a second rounder at best.

Rumors are that Denver offered just about anyone in the bottom third of the draft a chance to trade down so they could select QB Paxton Lynch. If that’s true the Steelers should have accepted the trade. Seattle did. But Kevin Colbert isn’t losing sleep over that prospect. “Even if we were (to have been offered a deal) we weren’t going to do it. Because we were taking Artie Burns right then and there. Trading away from Artie Burns was never going to be an issue.”

Yet no other corners went between 26-&-32. They likely still would have gotten Burns. And they could’ve parlayed that extra pick into a back up QB like Connor Cook in the 3rd round. Or perhaps they could’ve selected a true WR or RB (more on those topics to come).

I like the Burns pick a little just because he is corner. I’d like it more if it was accompanied by an extra pick. I’d like it a lot if his name had been William Jackson III. But he isn’t. So…C+ (78)


2nd roundSean Davis (S/MARYLAND): I like this pick a lot more after seeing him in person Saturday afternoon. He’s huge for a safety. Tall. Well built. His frame is almost that of Ike Taylor, if not already a bit thicker. So you could see how he played corner for a while at Maryland.

At first, I thought the Steelers should’ve gone for a safety with more name recognition, like Vonn Bell of Ohio State. And Davis’ penchant for inconsistency, communication issues, and getting beaten deep are concerning as described here.

But safeties with attributes leaning towards athleticism and coverage over heavy hitting and run stopping are in vogue. And the Steelers needed to get on board…B- (81)


3rd roundJavon Hargrave (DT/SCST): This was my favorite pick by far. Hargrave can play nose tackle at 6’1”/309. He can also get up field on the pass rush. And D-Line coach John Mitchell says he can back up at the ends as well, “He is one of the few big men who you can leave on the field on 3rd down. I want someone who can make sure Cam (Heyward) and (Stephon) Tuitt don’t have to play 65 snaps a game. Guards are gonna have trouble with this guy. I think we got him where he should go. It’s the best bargain for our dollar.”

Mitchell is right. On all points. Great pick….A+ (97)


4th rd….Jerald Hawkins (OT/LSU): As much as I like the third round pick, I hate the fourth round pick. He’s the only purely offensive player in this year’s draft. And the Steelers already addressed the need for a depth swing-tackle by signing Ryan Harris. Plus, Colbert even admitted that Hawkins probably came out a year early.

The Steelers didn’t have the luxury of taking a redshirt project pick here. They should’ve used this spot to get a receiver or a back up QB (Dak Prescott or Cardale Jones). The only element that saves this pick is that Hawkins is said to have good footwork and room to grow…D (65)


5th rdBrandon Boykin (Milk Carton/Giant Eagle State): No, there was no pick in the fifth round because of the mangled Brandon Boykin acquisition. The Steelers traded this pick to Philadelphia to take a corner they hardly played, then allowed to walk in free agency.

Furthermore, the Steelers tried acquire another pick. Likely somewhere in this round. “I think everybody was hesitant to get out of it. We talked to numerous teams and no one wanted to get out of it,” said Colbert. According Adam Crowley of SNR (via the PG’s Gerry Dulac), the hope was to draft West Virginia RB Wendell Smallwood.

Can you give a grade for a pick that never happened?! If so…it’d be an F. But we’ll leave that out of the analysis.


6th rd….Travis Feeney (OLB/WASH): I asked Mark Bruener who the best player from his Husky alma mater was, and he couldn’t say Feeney’s name fast enough. Maybe that’s not the highest of praise since UW was 7-&-6. But Feeney was productive. He totaled 17.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a senior playing both inside and outside linebacker. He was the special teams player of the year as a Husky junior too. He may not play much this year, but could prove handy in 2017 if James Harrison retires by then and Jarvis Jones isn’t retained….B (85)


7th RD ….DeMarcus Ayers (KR/HOUSTON): Ayers earned all conference recognition in the AAC for his receiving and return skills. But he’s been drafted to be a return specialist. Ayers is said to be more quick than fast. He only ran a 4.7. However, word is he had a busted hand at the time which hurt his push off and that he normally runs a 4.4.

At 5-9/182 Ayers is likely limited to a back up role in the slot. It would’ve been nice to get a returner who was more likely to contribute on offense or defense as well. But reducing the risk of injury to Antonio Brown by getting him off punt returns is key this year given the absence of Martavis Bryant. And any option is better than Jacoby Jones. So, mission apparently accomplished…B (84)


7th RDTyler Matakevich (LB/Temple): Something has to be said for getting an All American, Bednarik, and Bronco-freaking-Nagurski Award winner seven picks from the bottom of the draft…. B+ (89)


OVERALL Grade…B- (82 Average): The Steelers addressed needs on defense. It’s debatable that they took the right guys to do it at safety and corner though. And the few depth concerns they have on offense weren’t really touched unless they do well by signing undrafted free agents (which they often do well). And the club seemed to get high quality in the mid-late rounds.

This draft could’ve looked even better if Colbert was able to trade into the fifth round &/or if he was willing to trade down in the first to take Burns.

Furthermore, the “hearts and smarts” Mike Tomlin likes to talk about seem to be home runs in this draft. Many of these players have track records of sacrificing for the team, getting better with age, and versatility. In speaking with many of the picks their energy, personalities, and enthusiasm reach beyond any of the other 15 drafts that I have covered. The “intangibles” Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

Tim Benz

TIOPS Columnist

Tim Benz can be heard on the Pittsburgh Steelers Radio Network post game show and M-F 10-1 on TribLive Radio

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