It’s said a draft class can’t be fully graded until at least three years after the picks are made. That’s why after submitting grades for every Pittsburgh Steelers pick made in 2021, I began going back through and grading previous Steeler draft classes beginning with 2018. Today continues the third class in that exercise, with the Steelers’ sixth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft: Travis Feeney, an outside linebacker from Washington.
This exercise follows the six viewpoints (listed below) for examining and re-grading a pick. Each of the first five viewpoints gets examined and assigned a letter grade, before taking that analysis and combining it into a final letter grade. Those five viewpoints comprise much of what goes into the draft grades consumed by so many every year after the draft.
Steelers’ Career: What did the player contribute to the team that drafted him?
NFL Career: Did the player make the pick look better in hindsight after leaving Pittsburgh?
Pick Value: Did the player outperform his draft slot? Did he fail to live up to the pick used on him?
Positional Value: Was the player the best player remaining at his specific position in the draft?
Other Options: Did any players go during the next round that were better selections?
Overall Grade: A final mark to denote whether the selection was an overall positive one, or one better spent elsewhere.
Each factor in a retrospective doesn’t apply evenly to every pick made; consider the grades weighted. For example, to return a high grade in pick value, a first-round pick should have a long and impactful career, while a later-round pick needs only a couple seasons as a back-up or modest contributor to be worth the selection used on him.
Some factors are universal, though. Whether picked first overall or 259th, there will always be other options on the board to compare the player to, and steals and reaches can come from any place in the draft.
Round 6, Pick 45: Travis Feeney, OLB, Washington
STEELERS & NFL CAREER: N/A
Very athletic and with the background of a safety before converting to linebacker at Washington, Feeney was an enticing linebacker prospect for the Steelers, a team that thrives on drafting athletic linebackers and maximizing that athletic ability in how they deploy them on the field. Despite his 4.50 40-yard dash and the skills he brought as a former defensive back, Feeney failed to earn a roster spot with the Steelers. Pittsburgh shifted him to the practice squad as a rookie.
He lasted only a few months on that squad before the New Orleans Saints poached him in the final weeks of the 2016 NFL season. Even after bringing him aboard, New Orleans never sent him out onto the field, and released Feeney during the summer of 2017. That was the last time Feeney was on an NFL roster, though he did work out for teams such as the Oakland Raiders in the following years.
Feeney got his first chance to see a regular season field with the AAF, signing with the San Diego Fleet. In seven games with the team, Feeney had 30 total tackles. He was the team’s leading tackler in its eighth and final game before the league folded. Feeney signed with Montreal and then Toronto of the Canadian Football League after that, but has yet to appear in a game after the league canceled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He remains on Toronto’s roster for this season.
PICK VALUE: F
It doesn’t mean much coming as the 220th overall pick in the draft where little value is expected, but Feeney failed to return anything to Pittsburgh from this pick, or provide any to another franchise as a result. By definition, Feeney earns an F, even on a pick so late.
POSITIONAL VALUE: C
The rest of the draft class was almost a complete wash at outside linebacker, keeping this grade right in the middle because none of the other teams drafting at the position later than this got any more than Pittsburgh did. There are just a couple exceptions to that.
The first is Stephen Weatherly, selected 227th by Minnesota. Mostly a backup in his career, he did have three sacks in his two final seasons with the Vikings. With Carolina last season, he started all nine of the games he appeared in, with only 17 tackles and no sacks. The other linebacker to make noise in the seventh round is Tyler Matakevich, drafted by the Steelers 246th. He shifted to an inside linebacker role in the NFL and has had a far more successful career than Feeney. Most of the information on him will arrive in his own retrospective in the coming days. But neither Weatherly or Matakevich have played so well that they make Feeney’s pick look a lot worse by comparison.
OTHER OPTIONS: D+
Pittsburgh didn’t get any value out of Feeney, but most teams league-wide didn’t get any value from their picks this late in the draft. Only a few exceptions exist to that statement among the remaining 33 players drafted.
One of them came on the very next pick, when New England closed out the sixth round with interior lineman Ted Karras, who has started the last two seasons at center for the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. Center paid dividends for another team to end the draft, when the Los Angeles Rams drafted Austin Blythe 248th overall. Blythe just signed a modest, one-year contract with Kansas City after three seasons starting at guard and center for the Rams.
The big winner from the seventh round is Jalen Mills, a defensive back drafted by Philadelphia. Mills started the final 47 games he played for the Eagles over the last four seasons, working as a cornerback and then as a safety. His performance was rewarded by New England this offseason with a four-year, $24 million deal as a free agent. Not nearly the player Mills is, Jayron Kearse has been a backup and spot starter for Minnesota and Detroit at safety, and signed with Dallas this offseason.
OVERALL GRADE: F
As with every pick that fails to ever make the regular season roster or contribute something to the franchise drafting them, it’s a failing grade overall by default, but one with little consequence. Feeney’s selection does look worse than somebody taken at the end of the seventh round, given Pittsburgh used a sixth-round pick to draft him. But it was the penultimate pick of the sixth. And 220 selections in, teams are fortunate to have anyone picked make the roster and contribute more than an occasional play.
Feeney fit the mold for the Steelers: A very athletic linebacker with excellent range and coverage abilities in his background. He just needed more development than other players brought in with that mold, and wasn’t ready for the main roster. Waiting on a second chance at the NFL, Feeney has his biggest opportunity yet with the CFL, which starts play in August.