I suppose it’s no secret to say that teams don’t always necessarily know everything there is to know about a player at the time that they are drafted. That is why the post-draft press conferences—and more specifically the questions being asked by the media that look for specificity as to what sort of role a particular player might fill—are to be taken with a grain of salt.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s first draft pick ever was Lawrence Timmons in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Tomlin talked about him as an outside linebacker, and re-emphasized that point, that he will start out there. But he also described him as a player with mack linebacker capabilities, and that is of course where he has played most of his career.
Similarly, in 2012, when the team added Kelvin Beachum in the seventh round of the draft, they talked about most likely kicking him inside to guard due to his size even though he had always played left tackle throughout his football life. In spite of their intentions, the spot he eventually settled in during his career was, of course, at left tackle, all 6’3” of him.
The Steelers just drafted another outside linebacker with arguably an inside linebacker frame with Travis Feeney in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. At least, that is what outside linebackers coach Joey Porter said in his post-selection press conference to discuss the player, who was later described as someone they might have taken earlier if they had an earlier pick.
But he also made an interesting concession that I can’t help but wonder might have been largely glossed over. When asked if he viewed Feeney as a standup edge player or something else, Porter talking about how he will be asked to do “the same thing that everyone at the same position is asked to do”.
Then he added, “if we found out that he does something special, we’ll find a special position to put him in”, before going back to “right now, we like him as an outside linebacker”. “Right now” is a phrase that gets a lot of mileage in these press conferences when the situations of players just drafted are really in flux.
“Right now”, Feeney is going to get his looks as an outside linebacker. He is going to work with the outside linebacker group under Porter, and is going to do all of the outside linebacker drills and attend all of the outside linebacker meetings. He is going to play at the weight that the coaching staff recommends, while not sacrificing his speed, or his “wheels”, as Porter put it.
But if he is a player that actually ends up having some sort of future with the Steelers beyond special teams—and we are obviously talking very hypothetically here—it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find him later on down the line being used creatively as a sub-package player who assumes a variety of roles.
A former safety moved to the edge in his final collegiate season who offers some rush capabilities and has elite spite for a linebacker, who “played everywhere” in his own words, his frame may not give him one clearly defined position, and he may not ultimately have one. But he might not need one in order to succeed. Only time will tell.