Like the shelves at your local grocery store, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 draft class is empty. Every player from that group is no longer wearing black and gold, none receiving a second contract from the team. For posterity, here’s the class.
1. Artie Burns
2. Sean Davis
3. Javon Hargrave
4. Jerald Hawkins
5. Travis Feeney
6. Demarcus Ayers
7. Tyler Matakevich
A synopsis of each player:
Artie Burns: Oh, Artie. Watching the Steelers draft Burns was like watching your best friend get a tattoo of his girlfriend’s name. You root for them, cross your fingers it ends well, but in a quiet moment, know it’s a mistake. Burns felt like a reach because he was one. A front office hellbent on drafting a corner, losing out on William Jackson III by one pick, and taking a raw corner who didn’t fit their scheme. His struggles were apparent early and often and by the end of his career, looked like a dude who lost all confidence before spending the latter half of 2019 as a weekly inactive.
He’ll receive a shot in someone’s camp. But his career in Pittsburgh is over.
Sean Davis: A competent player who could’ve been better had the team not misused him early in his career. A corner/safety out of Maryland, the Steelers’ intention was to play him at safety. That plan lasted roughly after four seconds. Senquez Golson went down with injury early in camp, (*drink*) forcing Davis to play the slot. He would bounce back between there and strong safety the rest of his rookie year, move to SS in 2017, and then kick over to FS in 2018.
A torn labrum two weeks into 2019 ended his season and effectively, his Steelers’ career.
Javon Hargrave: Not all the Steelers’ picks were bad. In fact, Hargrave was so good he was simply out of the team’s price range given the position he played. A gem of a find out of South Carolina State, really the last player groomed by John Mitchell, his play took off the last two seasons. In 2019, he dulled the loss of Stephon Tuitt before earning his mega payday in Philadelphia.
Jerald Hawkins: Injuries have always hindered him. In college, in the NFL, he was on IR more often than he played, and simply didn’t look healthy returning from a 2018 torn quad. Pittsburgh dumped him on Tampa’s doorstep last summer.
Travis Feeney: Like Hawkins, he never eluded the injury bug. An impressive athlete, he failed to make the 53, was signed by the Saints’ off Pittsburgh’s practice squad late in his rookie year, and ultimately never appeared in an NFL game. He played in the AAF and spent literally a day in the CFL. A low-risk flier of a draft pick but clearly one that made no impact in the NFL.
Demarcus Ayers: He had minor NFL production, catching his one and only touchdown in a Week 17 finale against the Cleveland Browns. In Pittsburgh, he caught six passes for 53 yards and that score. Ayers would later turn down an opportunity on the Steelers’ practice squad, bouncing around with New England and Chicago, though he never saw game action. He’s currently a member of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Tyler Matakevich: You could argue Dirty Red was the second best selection from this class. Certainly no lower than third behind Hargrave and Davis. One of the NFL’s best special teamers, no one had more than his 37 tackles since coming into the league. He used that to take a solid, two-year deal to Buffalo.
Oh, and if you’re wondering if they found a UDFA gem to make up for it? They did not. Only one undrafted player from that year ever played a regular season snap – Johnny Maxey, who grabbed a cup of coffee before fading out of the league.
Is this the worst draft class in franchise history? No. Far from it. It’s probably not even the worst of the Kevin Colbert era. 2008 was a mess: Mendenhall, Sweed, Davis, Hills, Dixon, Humpal, and Mundy. For my money, that’s still the worst. But 2016 might be the first draft class in a long time where no player signed a second contract and that’s certainly a black mark on Colbert’s draft history.