Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Artie Burns, CB, Miami – Round 1
Burns was one of the surprise picks of the first round in the 2016 NFL Draft, and there were many complaints from Steelers fans. It was clear that Pittsburgh was reaching for a need. Other teams had second-round grades on Burns, but the Steelers took him with the 25th-overall pick. It isn’t as big of a reach as one would think as there weren’t 32 players with first-round grades. Most teams had that number around 20 or in the low 20s, so some players with second-day grades were bound to go in the first round.

The Hurricanes haven’t been as good as they used to be, and I think that played a part in Burns going under the radar. Burns turned in an impressive 2015 season with six interceptions, 36 tackles and five passes broken up. Athletically, Burns (5-11, 193) has a good skill set with speed and natural coverage skills. He is a bit raw, but he has plenty of potential to develop.

The Steelers’ secondary has been a problem area the past few seasons and needs some young replacements for Ike Taylor and Williams Gay. Burns has the talent to turn into a quality starter for Pittsburgh, and I think he will be that kind of player in a year or two.

Most Likely To Bust

Sean Davis, CB/S, Maryland – Round 2
Davis was a surprise pick and a reach in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Sources from other teams told WalterFootball.com that they had Davis in the mid-rounds, and a few teams had him graded on Day 3 of the draft. The reason for that was bad tape from his senior year, and while they liked his skill set, his tape did not equate to him being a top-64 selection.

The 6-foot-1, 201-pounder has experience playing both safety and corner. Davis was superb at the combine and in pre-draft workouts. Sources said those workouts caused a lot of teams to forget about the bad tape that he produced in 2015. In multiple games, Davis was getting picked on and gave up plays downfield. While he has the body of a cornerback, he may not have the feet. If Davis moves back to safety in the NFL, he is going to need to gain weight to tackle.

A lot of people criticized the selection of Burns, but I think the Davis pick was far worse. Davis could be a “looks like Tarzan plays like Jane”-type player. Of Pittsburgh’s early rounders, it wouldn’t surprise me if Davis ends up being a bust.

Potential Boom Pick

Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State – Round 3
The strength of the 2016 NFL Draft was the defensive tackle position, and Hargrave was one of the great values who went lower than where his talent level was appropriate. The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder was a phenomenal interior pass-rusher in college, and he showed that those skills were for real at the East-West Shrine. In the passing-driven NFL, I think Hargrave is going to be a dangerous interior pass-rusher for the Steelers.

Mike Tomlin can go back to his Tampa 2 routes with Hargrave rushing the passer from the three-technique spot. Hargrave is fast at the point of attack with natural pad level. He is stoutly built with the strength to fight off blocks. His production in college was off the charts and shows his skill at getting to the quarterback. Hargrave totaled 59 tackles with 22 for a loss, two forced fumbles and 13.5 sacks in 2015. In 2014, he had 55 tackles, 24 for a loss, 16 sacks and three forced fumbles. He totaled 37 sacks during his collegiate career.

The Steelers have other young talent at linebacker, plus Cameron Heyward at defensive end. I think those defenders will draw the attention, allowing Hargrave to take advantage of some single-block opportunities. He will probably be a situational pass-rusher to start out his NFL career, but I think he could be a boom pick for Pittsburgh.

Future Depth Player

Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple – Round 7
The Steelers are set at inside linebacker with Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons, but in the seventh-round, Matakevich was a nice value. For the NFL, Matakevich looks a little short on speed and athleticism to be a three-down starter in the NFL. He might be a two-down inside linebacker in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. That was clear at the Senior Bowl and the combine as well. A lot of teams gave Matakevich a late-round grade. He was extremely productive in college with over 100 tackles in four straight seasons. I think he will be a quality backup and special teams contributor for the Steelers, but probably will never be a starter because he lacks an NFL skill set.

Walt’s 2016 NFL Draft Grades:

25. Artie Burns, CB, Miami C- Grade
The Steelers typically take highly ranked players who fall to them. Think Alvin Dupree, David DeCastro and Jarvis Jones. I figured they’d be all over Myles Jack, but they went with a different strategy this year – reaching for a second-round prospect. Artie Burns is certainly a second-round player. He has great athleticism and size, but he’s pretty raw for a player. That’s pretty much the definition of a second-round prospect; not someone worth grabbing at No. 25 overall. There were better players available for the Steelers, such as Kendall Fuller, Jarran Reed or Andrew Billings. I don’t like this pick at all.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

58. Sean Davis, S/CB, Maryland B Grade
This is a lot better than the first-round pick. Sean Davis is a versatile player who might be able to play both cornerback and safety. He’s a big prospect who has tons of athleticism and upside. Davis needs to work on becoming a better football player, as he’s very raw, but he could fill a big need in the secondary.

89. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State C Grade
Javon Hargrave makes sense as a third-round prospect. He was productive at a lower level, and he had the athleticism measured at the Combine to push him into Day 2. I just don’t know how he fits into Pittsburgh’s defense. I don’t think he’s a good fit in the 3-4, so he may have issues transitioning into Pittsburgh’s scheme.

123. Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU B Grade
I had Jerald Hawkins mocked much earlier than the fourth round, but that’s where I ultimately settled on him. Hawkins has a solid skill set, but he struggled this past season. He made the mistake of declaring early, and then he further hurt himself by testing poorly at the Combine. It’s possible, however, that the Steelers could develop him to eventually become a capable starter.

220. Travis Feeney, LB, Washington B+ Grade
It seems like the Steelers envision Travis Feeney as their special-teams ace, which is fine for the penultimate pick in the sixth round. Feeney played outstanding special teams at Washington and also was solid at linebacker, so perhaps he has some sort of future on defense. His superb athleticism should help in those matters.

229. DeMarcus Ayers, WR, Houston B Grade
DeMarcus Ayers was extremely productive in Houston’s offense, but butchered his draft stock by running a 4.69 40. That scared plenty of teams off, but he’s absolutely worth taking in the final round. Other receivers have recovered from a slow 40 time, after all.

246. Tyler Matakevich, ILB, Temple A+ Grade
This is my favorite pick in the seventh round. It would not surprise me at all if Tyler Matakevich not only starts, but becomes a stellar player for the Steelers or some other team in this league. There are few linebackers in this class who have better instincts than he does, as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He enjoyed a prolific career at Temple, but dropped because he tested poorly at the Combine. However, there have been plenty of defensive players who struggled in Indianapolis and then went on to have great careers. Matakevich could be the next, and the Steelers are getting outstanding value as a result. Some team could’ve taken him in the third round, and it wouldn’t have been embarrassing.

2016 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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