NFL Draft Retrospective, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 NFL Draft Retrospective

Don’t look at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 draft class as a glowing endorsement, but don’t look at it as a failure either.

One thing the Pittsburgh Steelers have been trying to do over the last handful of years is slowly to swap out old parts for new ones in the draft. It’s not so much a rebuild as a constant transition into a new era.

Things haven’t gone totally according to plan, as for every Bud Dupree or Ryan Shazier, the Steelers get an Artie Burns — who was part of the 2016 class. Things like Shazier’s unfortunate spinal injury have derailed the Steelers slow turnover on defense but Artie Burns represents what it’s like to totally fail on trying to find the right guys to carry the torch.

Still, the Steelers managed to draft starters with their first three picks and could have had a fourth if not for injuries throwing things off.

Original Grade

Sports Illustrated: B

FanSided: B

Draft Class

Round 1 (Pick 25)

Artie Burns

CB, Miami (FL)

Current Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s been a love-hate relationship between Steelers fans and Artie Burns over his stint with the Steelers. He’s struggled for most of his time in Pittsburgh, failing to continue carrying the torch on defense the way virtually every defensive prospect selected is expected to.

Burns still has time to turn things around, but the Steelers have already declined the fifth year option on his contract and it looks like his days in the Steel City are numbered. That’s a massive letdown for a guy taken this high and ahead of a handful of other defensive stars that would have carried that aforementioned torch. Just to twist the knife a little, the Steelers passed on Myles Jack, Xavien Howard, and Chris Jones to take Burns — oh, and a guy named Michael Thomas who could have been playing alongside Antonio Brown, eventually succeeding him.

Round 2 (Pick 58)

Sean Davies

S, Maryland

Current Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Davies remains the Steelers starting free safety for the Steelers, despite some hiccups along the way. He fits nicely into the Steelers clear plan to rebuild its defense through the draft over the last few years but he also fits the trend of those guys not totally living up to expectations.

Much like Burns, Davies has flashed in certain moments but has overall been less than what you’d expect out of a second-round safety. Two years running he’s been ranked as the 39th best safety by Pro Football Focus, which means he’s not even a top starter (unless you double the number for two starting safety positions).

He’s still the starter, though, and there’s time to prove he can be the stud Pittsburgh needs him to be.

Round 3 (Pick 89)

Javon Hargrave

DT, South Carolina State

Current Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

It could be argued that Hargrave is the best of the Steelers first three picks in this draft class. He’s consistently been graded as one of the better defensive linemen in the game over the last few seasons, and has been developing into a workhorse.

He’s not a marquee name yet, a guy like Bud Dupree who is carrying that James Harrison/Troy Polamalu torch, but he’s getting there. A theme of this class is not quite reaching potential, but Hargrave is by far the furthest along of all the prospects drafted.

Round 4 (Pick 123)

Jerald Hawkins

OT, LSU

Current Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

It took until the fourth round for the Steelers to find a guy who wouldn’t be a starter three years after being drafted. That being said, Hawkins is still on the roster and the lack of starting hasn’t been because he’s been beaten out of the job. Hawkins didn’t make his NFL debut until his second season and lost his entire third year to a quad injury in the preseason. If not for those setbacks, there’s a decent chance he’s on the starting offensive line, and there’s plenty of hope he can get to that point in 2019.

Round 6 (Pick 220)

Travis Feeney

LB, Washington

Current Team: Free Agent

Feeney was a compensatory pick for the Steelers, but didn’t make the final 53-man roster cuts before the opening of the season. He then bounced to New Orleans’ practice squad before landing in the ill-fated AAF.

Round 7 (Pick 229)

Demarcus Ayers

WR, Houston

Current Team: Free Agent

Ayers actually saw game action, but the most notable part about this selection is it was acquired by the Steelers from the Giants for punter Brad Wing.

Round 7 (Pick 246)

Tyler Matakevich

LB, Temple

Current Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s hard to be a seventh round pick and make the 53-man roster. Matakevich has the distinction of being a late-round guy who made it the first year and is still there after three. Entering his fourth season as a backup linebacker for the Steelers, Matakevich is a solid contributor who seems to have carved out a place for himself in Pittsburgh.

Retrospective Grade

Artie Burns will likely be gone in 2020 and the jury is still out on Sean Davies. But the Steelers used their first three picks to draft starters that were part of playoff contending teams for three years. Add to that the addition of a potential future starter in Hawkins and all of a sudden the Steelers draft doesn’t look that bad.

It’s far from a glowing success, but the Steelers swung and hit a solid double with this draft class.

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