There seemed to me to be just a tad more hand-wringing than necessary over the apparent delay in the Pittsburgh Steelers getting their entire seven-player draft class under contract, but following third-round nose tackle Javon Hargrave’s agreeing to terms yesterday, the front office has now completed that task, in early-mid June, no less, ahead of mandatory minicamp.
It may even be somewhat fitting for Hargrave to be the last to sign, because he is one of the more interesting prospects that the Steelers are bringing with them into camp from their draft class, especially in light of the fact that they lost their starting nose tackle, Steve McLendon, to the Jets in free agency, after they, too, lost their nose tackle in free agency.
The Steelers broke the chain of free agent replacements by drafting theirs—though to be clear, the man currently running with the first-team defense in the base 3-4 is third-year veteran Daniel McCullers, upon whom Pittsburgh and his teammates are counting to take a significant step forward after offering little in the way of contributions in his first two seasons.
Not that it’s easy, of course, for a nose tackle to offer many contributions as a backup on a defense that spends more than seventy percent of its time without a nose tackle on the field, and McCullers in particular seems to be a player unlikely to log many meaningful snaps as a pass-rushing defensive tackle in the nickel defense.
That is where Hargrave would figure to come in most, a player whom the scouting department, including Steelers great Joe Greene, because of his explosive ability to get off the ball and to penetrate. Though he competed against relative nobodies as a small-school player, he lit up the stats sheet from the nose tackle position, and the team believes that the skill set that he shows on tape will translate naturally to any level of the sport.
Hargrave was quoted on the team’s website after signing, saying that “nobody is coming here just to sit around”, indicating his eagerness to play and contribute immediately as a rookie. “Of course I am coming here to learn quickly and be out there with those guys and contribute. All my life that is all I did”.
With the team eager to find some more bodies who can fill in as nickel pass rushers to spell their defensive tackles, who logged upwards of 90 percent of the team’s snaps in the games in which they were healthy, they are obviously looking for somebody who not only offers the skill set, but the endurance, to do that, and Hargrave thinks he does.
“In high school I played both ways [offense and defense]. I played all the snaps”, he said. “Coming from South Carolina State, they didn’t take me off the field. I was an every-down player”. Of course, Hargrave won’t have to be an every-down player on a roster that boasts the likes of Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, but there’s still a lot of football left between now and the start of the season for him to show that he deserves to get into that rotation from day one.