There is no better hangover remedy for the 31 teams that fall short of a Super Bowl victory than the NFL Draft. In a flash, painful disappointments fade away and all teams cups’ overfloweth with bright hopes as they ride in on rainbow striped unicorns.
In what has become as great of an NFL tradition as booing Commissioner Roger Goodell, the draft is that glorious time when gaping roster potholes can be repaired, bums can be replaced and stopwatch gawking scouts and ravenous fans can revel in the ultimate smorgasbord of football geekdom.
The draft was certainly the perfect hair of the dog for the Pittsburgh Steelers who filed away 2015 as a season of rampant inconsistency, baffling personnel obstinacy blended with seductive glimmers of future greatness.
In truth, the 2015 season might have allowed the team’s seventh big trophy to get away as they lost to the Denver Broncos, a team they had already beat and who were led by a quarterback who was well, well, well beyond his prime. The stinger for the Steelers might have been a squandering of a season when Ben Roethlisberger was at the zenith of his career.
But out with the old, and in with the new as the 2016 chase is afoot. After an offseason of pumping heavy iron and sending tweets from the desert and the Spin Room is officially open.
A few observations from this year’s Steelers draft:
Starting In The Ditch
As they say in your Racing Form the Steelers started off “fractious at the gate” in this year’s draft as some regrettable front office moves last season left them without a fifth round draft pick and an end-of-the-round sixth round selection that was practically the value of a seventh. Think fifth rounders aren’t worth much? Then you must not value players like Mike Webster, Barry Foster, Clark Haggans and Hardy Nickerson. Or sixth rounders like Greg Lloyd, Tunch Ilkin, Dwayne Woodruff and some guy named…Antonio Brown.
If you look at the Steelers 2016 draft from 30,000 feet you can see an interesting theme. This is truly a developmental draft. For a team that is so close to being Super Bowl grade it’s a bit odd they didn’t choose more “plug and play” selections. Their first round pick has been described as clay that needs molding, their second will be playing at a position he hasn’t played in over a year and their third round pick played in the minor leagues of college. Their fourth rounder is also described as a “work in progress”. There is no question that line coaches Mike Munchak and John Mitchell have proven themselves adept at putting their large hands in clay but the jury is still out for Joey Porter, Carnell Lake, Jerry Olsavsky and even Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler in his new role. Their ability to develop these players quickly will be the key to Super Bowl glory.
Here’s a player-by-player analysis:
1 . Artie Burns, CB, Miami
Complaints about the Artie Burns pick? Heck, Steelers fans should be partying like it’s 1999. First of all, fireworks should go off just on the news the front office finally drafted a cornerback in the first round. But more importantly, Artie can bang at the line. For all of us Steelers fans who were tormented by former Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau’s insistence on having the corners play twelve yards off receivers even on 3rd and 2 situations this is the best news in a decade. Who cares if Burns doesn’t have the perfect hip swivel? Or gets a little lost in the zone? We’re going to start slapping around opponents’ skinny, mouthy receivers so we can stop making journeymen quarterbacks look like All Pros. Was William Jackson III a great option as well? Absolutely, but it’s moot because he wasn’t available. And you don’t have to be a JFK and UFO conspiracist to know the Cincinnati Bengals got extra joy taking Jackson one pick prior to the Steelers. OF COURSE they are cognizant of their arch-rival’s needs and if they can pick a player high on their board while sticking it to the Steelers, they surely will. The same was the case when they chose Andrew Billings who very nearly could have been the Steelers fourth consecutive defensive player selected. But enough about Jackson. Burns is the Steelers man and should be warmly welcomed. The last time the Steelers took a cornerback in the draft who was also a star track hurdler was a gentleman by the name of Rod Woodson. If the Steelers can get half the value of that pick they’ll be set at one corner for years.
2. Sean Davis, S, Maryland
Sean Davis is being touted as the next Ryan Clark, yet there are worries he’ll struggle in coverage and there are concerns with the angles he takes on his tackling. Some question his value as a second round selection. Regardless, he was another excellent selection for the Steelers in an area of huge need. The fact that he can play both corner and safety will give him the flexibility to get on the field as Coach Mike Tomlin has a history of not playing young safeties. He’s got size, speed and a taste for on-the-field violence and if he and Burns both find success the Steelers secondary could quickly transform from goat to hero.
3. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
No player will draw more attention in the summer when the Steelers finally put on pads. The coaches will know in a matter of hours, if not minutes, whether they have the next Geno Atkins…or if they’ve got a player who got rich at South Carolina State by stealing lunch money from kindergartners. Here’s one vote that the Steelers may have done the stealing in getting one of the best value picks in this year’s draft in Javon Hargrave.
4. Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU
C’mon, admit it. Your heart leapt when you realized the Steelers had picked an offensive tackle with their fourth round pick. There is nothing sexy about getting Jerald Hawkins, but he should be able to add the last critical layer of depth to one of the strongest offensive lines in the NFL. He’s raw, but the good news is he’ll have plenty of time to develop.
6. Travis Feeney, OLB, Washington
It seemed like the Steelers had to wait FOREVER to get to pick again, and that whooshing sound you heard while waiting was much of the remaining 2016 draft talent slipping away from Black and Gold fingers. Hopefully it provided ample time for the Steelers top brass to write on a chalkboard over and over again…I will not waste draft picks…I will not waste draft picks. When the Steelers finally did get to choose, it was Travis Feeney, a player who will most likely spend the bulk of his NFL career terrorizing kick and punt returners. He’ll have only a short time to prove he can be an impact player for the Steelers on defense before they chose a first round outside linebacker next year.
7. DeMarcus Ayers, WR, Houston
A half a second. That’s what separates the Steelers new prospective rookie returner in the forty yard dash (4.71) with the one they let go of unceremoniously last season: Dri Archer (4.28). Although there is no truth to the report he was outrun by Rich Eisen at the NFL Combine, Ayers’s speed and lack of size are going to be two huge weights on his shoulders he’ll have to overcome. Fortunately, there is compelling evidence that he can produce on the football field and let’s all hope the rumors his agents are spreading that he is more accurately timed in the 4.4’s are true. Getting a punt returner who could extend Antonio Brown’s Dancing With The Stars career would be a big win.
7. Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple
Matakevich is already a fan favorite despite his mediocre measurables in shorts and a t-shirt. The kid is a FOOTBALL player and those will always be welcome in Pittsburgh. He’s getting the opportunity to make permanent residence on special teams and has a shot at becoming a reliable backup as an interior linebacker.