It’s not very typical that you find a player with some level of college productivity in the late rounds of the draft who also boast some elite measurements or athleticism, but that was the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they drafted linebacker Travis Feeney in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
In 2015, during his senior season when Feeney was moved out to the edge, he produced 40 tackles, including 17.5 for loss, and eight sacks for Washington while also forcing three fumbles and recovering one. He also had four career interceptions during his first three seasons.
At 6’4” and roughly 230 pounds, with a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical, it’s not very typical that you are able to find a player with Feeney’s measurements and flashes of productivity in the dwindling hours of the draft.
That is why the Steelers were happy he was there for them, and said that they would have drafted him sooner if they had a higher pick to do so. They had a layover of nearly 100 selections between the fourth and sixth rounds.
Of course, there are usually some pretty good reasons for a player of that nature to slide, and they often involve issues off the field or with his health. In Feeney’s case, it is an already extensive injury history, having already undergone multiple surgeries on a shoulder that called for a medical recheck this spring, followed by a hernia surgery. The numbers that he posted during the Combine came while he was battling a sports hernia.
But he’s not bitter about falling, after all the chips landed where they did. More specifically, his chip landed him in Pittsburgh, where he is happy to be, telling Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, “I’m glad I did [fall]. I’m in the right place”.
Especially when it comes to late-round selections, the difference between whether they make it in the league or fail often comes down to their surroundings and how they are set up in a position to make the most of their situation. For Feeney, landing in Pittsburgh might be as good a position as he could have hoped for.
According to Fowler’s article, teams began calling his camp as early as the fourth round, expressing intrigue, but skepticism surrounding the state of his shoulder. While it is not clear, it is evident that the Steelers must have been one of the teams more comfortable with his long-term prognosis.
It goes without saying that staying healthy is just one task set before him as he begins his NFL career. If he hopes indeed to make an impact as a 3-4 outside linebacker, which is where the Steelers will be starting him out, he will inevitably need to put on some mass, as he is reportedly even down from his Combine weight of around 230 pounds.
He is also fairly inexperienced as an edge rusher, having played a variety of roles in Washington’s defense, from a more traditional inside linebacker position to safety. While that gives him a greater learning curve to set himself up as an edge player, however, he also believes it gives him an advantage from a global football understanding.
As is almost always the case when discussing late-round draft picks, of course, what we are talking about right now is potential. Feeney has at his disposal some elite traits, but it’s not always easy to get the most out of said traits. His first assignment is to make the roster by making himself indispensable on special teams, where he recorded a couple dozen tackles in college.