The NFL Draft is the time of year for teams to do dumb things and for fans to get mad online. There is truly nothing like this tradition that rolls around every year in late April and early May. I prefer the snap judgments and that we get on twitter as the draft unfolds, but there is a place for knowledge and understanding as well. Here are my thoughts on every Steelers pick from days one and two of the draft.
Round 1 – Pick 25: Artie Burns, CB, Miami (FL)
The Player: Artie Burns is actually a pretty good cornerback. He’s just a little bit, or a lot bit, of a work in progress (especially in the coverage schemes the Steelers run, but more on that later). What stands out the most when watching Burns is his ability to defend the catch point. He is tough and physical, without drawing many penalties, which makes life very tough on the receiver. On top of that, he has exceptional body control in the air and hands like a receiver. Burns has a nose for the ball and he is exceptional coming downhill to defend the run or bring receivers to the ground after the catch.
On another note there is rarely a rarely a comeback route where Burns won’t get lost. It should be very exciting watching him give up 8 receptions and 100 yards to every receiver he covers next year. He is naturally fit to play as a press-man cornerback due to his length, strength, and long speed, but he currently lacks the nuance to do so at a high level. Even though his natural abilities could give wide receivers fits, he too often allows the wide receiver to get a release where he is supposed to be preventing them from going. He has lots of ability and he could very well end as a very good player, but it will undoubtedly take time and care.
The Pick: Burns is a good player and a high upside pick with an uncertain future is easier to justify in this weak draft than most. He is, however, much better suited for the second round than the first. Adding the fact that there were two very, very good nose tackle prospects in Kenny Clark and Vernon Butler on the board when the pick was made only makes it worse. I understand the urgency to take a cornerback in the first round, but reaching is never the way to go.
The Fit: This is hands down the worst aspect of the pick. Burns played almost exclusively press-man and cover 3 at Miami and his skill-set is best fit to do the same in the NFL. I think he can play in the Steelers’ cover 2 coverage, but you’re essentially punting the first few years. The complexity of the cover 2 that Pittsburgh runs and the fact that Burns has to learn it from scratch will keep him off the field, at least in an effective matter, early on in his career.
That alone is enough to make this pick a head-scratcher when the center of your franchise is 34 years old and probably only has 3 years left in him.
Round 2 – Pick 50: Sean Davis, DB, Maryland
The Player: This is one of my favorite players in the draft. I loved Eric Rowe last year and Davis is an almost mirror image of him, especially athletically. That athleticism is what gives Davis the ability to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield, which is probably one of the things the Steelers like about him most. On top of his athleticism and versatility, Davis also has very quick and light feet, although they aren’t very refined. Even in his first year at cornerback he showed that he has at least a decent grasp on the mental part of playing on the boundary.
Davis is a lot better defending what is in front of him at this point than he is defending what is behind him, though. That is a very good thing when you talk about run defense and minimizing gains from short passes, but it becomes a question when projecting him to safety. It even affects him when covering deep pass plays at cornerback. Along with Artie Burns, Davis is another high upside pick at corner, but unlike Burns he seems to have enough ability to see the field immediately in Pittsburgh.
The Pick: The talent in this draft fell off hard after 30 or so players, so getting a player of Davis’ caliber in the late second round could be viewed as somewhat of a steal. Ideally the pick would have been a defensive tackle here or a true safety rather than a cornerback with some safety ability, but I can’t argue when one of my favorite players in the draft is the pick.
The Fit: The one thing I hate about this pick is that the Steelers seem to want to start Davis off at safety. That seems like a popular place for draft analysts to slot him, but I don’t think it could be farther off. Like I mentioned, Davis is a lot better going forwards than he is backwards. He’s a lot more eager to come forward than drift backward, also. If he can’t clean that up by the time he sees major playing time at safety then there will be a lot of deep touchdowns in Pittsburgh next year.
Round 3 – Pick 89: Javon Hargrave, DL, South Carolina State
The Player: Hargrave was a man among boys in Division I-AA at South Carolina State. He would have been nearly unrivaled athletically had he been a defensive lineman in the FBS, let alone the FCS. He is one of the only interior defensive line #ForcePlayers# in the draft and that athleticism clearly translates to outstanding pass rush ability. Hargrave is super explosive and crazy flexible for a 305 pound player. He can beat interior offensive by running over them, by them, or around them as a pass rusher. He’s also surprisingly diverse in his pass rush moves for a player who didn’t need to be in order to have success at the lower levels.
Hargrave does struggle some as a run defender, though. He’s not terrible and he should grow in this area over time, but he’s not nearly as adept against the run as he is against the pass. He probably won’t be doing much run defending in Pittsburgh, anyway, as he is a one-gapping 1-tech or 3-tech rather than a two-gapping nose tackle.
The Pick: Going into the draft I was hoping to come out of the first 3 rounds with a cornerback, safety, and nose tackle. Hargrave definitely isn’t the starting nose tackle the Steelers need, but I am ecstatic about this pick nonetheless. Anytime you can get a top 40 player at the end of the 3rd round you should do it, especially if it’s an interior penetrating (nh) defensive lineman. Interior pass rush is the king on defense in today’s NFL.
The Fit: Don’t get yourself wrapped up in the fact that Hargrave likely won’t ever be a starter in the 3-4 defense that the Steelers run. Instead, focus on what he will bring to the team on passing downs. He immediately becomes a threat that can rotate with Heyward and Tuitt on passing downs. All three will probably even be on the field simultaneously at times. Hargraves pass rush ability will immediately help out the EDGE rushers who struggled so mightily last year as well as the coverage on the back end.
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