In a recent insider article for ESPN.com, Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders listed two young Pittsburgh Steelers as potential breakout ‘prospects’ for 2017. While one of the two Steelers players probably isn’t a surprising selection in the list of 25, the other one might just catch you off guard.
Ranked 3rd overall in McCown’s list of 25 players is second year defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who the Steelers drafted in the third round in 2016. McCown writes of the South Carolina State product:
Hargrave combines impressive burst inside with advanced hand technique, and the only reason he was still around this late in the draft was that he played at South Carolina State. He ranked third in sacks at the FCS level, with 16, while playing defensive tackle.
For the Steelers, who are usually pretty conservative bringing rookies along, Hargrave earned a lion’s share of the snaps at nose tackle last season. Much as Grady Jarrett has been for Atlanta, we expect Hargrave to eventually be a run-down dominator with a chance to play a little on passing downs as well. Although Pittsburgh’s run defense was a bit up-and-down in 2016, that was more about injuries to Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward than Hargrave’s play.
McCown is on point when it comes to Hargrave as the young defensive tackle seemingly improved throughout his rookie season. While he might only wind up playing roughly 50% of the total defensive snaps in 2017 barring injuries, he still should have quite an impact just the same not only against the run, but as a pass rusher as well.
Listed 20th overall on McCown’s list is Steelers backup interior offensive lineman B.J. Finney and here is what he wrote about the third-year Kansas State product.
Finney was a reserve lineman for the Steelers in 2016, after spending most of 2015 on the practice squad. The Kansas State lineman was heavily decorated for Bill Snyder’s Wildcats, a Remington Trophy finalist in 2014 and a first-team All-Big 12 center. He has the wrestling background that has come to define inside maulers such as former Patriot Stephen Neal. Scouts were worried about his quickness in college, and his short arms didn’t do him any favors with front offices.
But when put on the spot in relief of Ramon Foster, Finney quietly did an excellent job last year. He helped key the Steelers in their dominant win over the Chiefs and wasn’t anywhere near as overmatched against the Eagles as the right side of the offensive line. Maybe he isn’t the next Andrew Norwell — the Panthers guard who went from undrafted free agent to star — but he has all the tools to be a good drive blocker.
McCown is once again point. When it comes to Finney playing well in the few games he was asked to start last season at left guard in place of an injured Ramon Foster, he not only excelled as a run blocker and especially on the move and out in space, but as a pass protector as well. It’s worth noting, however, that Finney’s limited play at center last season was far less impressive and it will be interesting to see how he improves at that particular position this year during the preseason games.
While Finney certainly appears to have a nice upside to him, the only playing time he’ll see in 2017 will come because of injuries and thus we all hope he stays safely tucked on the sideline as much as possible throughout the 2017.
In case you’re curious, below was criteria players had to meet in order to make McCown’s list:
– Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as an undrafted free agent
– Entered the NFL between 2014 and 2016
– Fewer than 500 career offensive or defensive snaps
– Have not signed a contract extension (players who have bounced around the league looking for the right spot, however, still qualify for the list)
– Age 26 or younger in 2017