By this time next week all 32 NFL teams should be very close to starting their respective training camps and ahead of that, ESPN.com asked each of their NFL Nation reporters to project the starting lineups of the teams that they cover for the 2016 season.
In his projection for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jeremy Fowler really only had one prediction that many will consider being against the grain as he has rookie second-round draft pick Sean Davis winning the starting safety spot opposite veteran Mike Mitchell.
A second-round pick, Davis will have competition with Shamarko Thomas and subpackage favorite Robert Golden, but Davis looks the part and plans to jump on this job early in camp.
Davis’ main competition during training camp should be Robert Golden, who the team re-signed during the offseason to a three year, $4.95 million contract just prior to the start of free agency. While Golden only played 390 total defensive snaps in 2015, he did represent himself well enough when given the opportunity to warrant him opening up this year’s training camp as a starter opposite Mitchell.
While the Steelers drafted Davis with the hopes that he will quickly become the team’s starting strong safety, it might ultimately take him half a season or more to bypass Golden for that job. That, however, doesn’t mean that Davis won’t at least see some early-season playing time on defense as a rookie as the Steelers could very well wind up using him sparingly as a third safety in their dime defense or as a slot cornerback in their nickel package in 2016. That, of course, assumes the Maryland product has a strong showing during training camp and the preseason.
The Steelers haven’t started a regular season with a rookie at safety since 1989 when Carnell Lake pulled off the feat. Lake, as all of you know, is currently the Steelers defensive backs coach and during the offseason practices he didn’t rule out the possibility of Davis winning a starting job this year during training camp.