The Pittsburgh Steelers knew they had something in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft when they plucked Javon Hargrave out of small-school obscurity. After all, they sent among others Joe Greene down to South Carolina State to get a first-hand look at him during the pre-draft process.
Even though he would not see a starter’s level of snaps, Hargrave would provide an impact during his playing time as a rookie and in the following season as well, but he has been contributing at a higher level so far in 2018, and especially in recent weeks.
He posted the first multi-sack game of his career on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, netting two takedowns of Blake Bortles, and he had a good shot at three. That gave him five on the season overall, which more than doubled his career total to nine.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about his young nose tackle yesterday during his pre-game press conference in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos, during which he emphasized that they knew quite well when they drafted him that he would be doing things for them beyond what the ‘nose tackle’ has been traditionally expected to do.
“This guy, his job description is nose, or whatever, but it’s just not a lot of opportunities for nose in today’s NFL”, he said of Hargrave’s playing time. “We spend the vast majority of our snaps in sub and so I’ve been really open about challenging him in terms of being a sub-package contributor”.
By our charting, Hargrave has logged 254 snaps through the first 10 weeks of the season, averaging roughly 25 snaps per game. Only 54 of those snaps have come in the Steelers’ primary nickel defense, but 13 of those 54 took place on Sunday, which was easily the most he has seen in a game. The second-most was the first Baltimore game with 10; he hasn’t had more than eight in any other game.
“You don’t want to be pigeon holed in this game. The more that you can do”, Tomlin reminded. “And he’s a guy that came with a resume. He’s a nose, but boy, his college resume is impressive in terms of his ability to get after the passer. I think he’s got 35, 36 or whatever sacks at South Carolina State. And so I’m wanted to give him an opportunity to show that versatility”.
He added that “one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity”, referring to the absence of Stephon Tuitt, who missed the game with an elbow injury. That “provided a big time opportunity for Hargrave, and he took advantage of it”.
By our charting, the Jaguars averaged two yards per play on the nickel snaps Hargrave saw, which included one of his two sacks, as well as another by Vince Williams. He provided pressure on two of those plays, only eight of which were passes.