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The Optimist’s Take: Small School, Big Impact

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Will the Steelers’ rare foray into the world of small-school players pan out with a big impact?

Yesterday, during the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers did something that they rarely do, particularly under the current regime, when they selected defensive tackle Javon Hargrave out of South Carolina State, a Division I-AA school. The team is hoping that they can get a big-time impact from their small-school product.

Hargrave certainly had a big impact as the big fish in the small pond, amassing 37 sacks over his collegiate career, including 13.5 in 2015 and 16 in 2014. He also had a wealth of tackles for loss and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the MEAC.

While he may not have had an impressive level of competition to go up against him throughout his college playing days, he got a taste of that during the draft process, and he continued to perform well against draftable players from higher levels of competition in the process. It was just a brief glimpse, but perhaps a taste of his sustainable success at any level of football.

At 6’2”, 305 pounds, Hargrave has the size, and certainly the athleticism, for what the Steelers are looking to get out of him, and they figure to put him in positions that will help him succeed, even if he is asked to play early, which is a very realistic scenario given the dearth of talent available along the defensive line.

Hargrave’s quickness off the ball especially will be a transferable skill that does not require a projection from one talent level to the next. It simply exists within himself, and is not relative to the player that he is going up against. His workout numbers attest to the fact that he has impressive athletic ability for a man his size.

That all figures to translate into somebody that is capable of competing at a high level at any level of competition, even if he doesn’t tie James Harrison’s franchise record with 16 sacks going up against the offensive lines of the AFC North, rather than Bethune-Cookman.

Most important, however, is the fact that the Steelers will not put him in a position to fail, as John Mitchell is notorious for keeping his studies in the workshop until they are ready to go. No matter who he may have faced previously, Hargave might not need much of a lesson plan to be able to play.

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