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Steelers Go Defense In Rounds 2 and 3

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The Pittsburgh Steelers continued to revamp their defense, taking safety Sean Davis and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in rounds 2 and 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft. Unlike yesterday’s selection of corner Artie Burns, these picks are being hailed as good value for their spot in the draft. They do share a common trait with Burns in that all three are talented athletes seen more as projects that need time to develop rather than finished products. If they do develop, though, their potential is sky high.

Maryland’s Sean Davis is the latest addition to a secondary that badly needs an infusion of talent. He’s coming off something of a horrendous season where he played out of position at corner. The Steelers already said they plan on using him in his natural position at safety. At 6’1 200 pounds he still ran a 4.46 40 so you can see what kind of athleticism we’re dealing with.

Davis has perhaps the greatest opening line in a draft bio I’ve ever read: “[He] speaks English, French, Chinese … and the language of pain.” The guy’s a big hitter, period. Davis forced 5 fumbles along with 88 tackles and 3 picks last year alone. As a corner matched up on the outside with a receiver, he’s too stiff and clunky to hang. As a safety given an area to patrol and people to hit, he’s relentless. I don’t see Davis starting from day one but if secondary coach Carnell Lake (himself a safety once forced to play corner) can mold him in his own image, we could have a pretty solid starter for years to come.

Third rounder Javon Hargrave out of South Carolina State is a freakishly athletic defensive lineman who projects as a nose tackle and back-up end. How freakish? His vertical jump at the Combine was three inches higher than our first round pick’s. Artie Burns weighs 190 pounds, Hargrave is 310.

Hargrave’s highlight tape (above) is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. He explodes off the ball and flies up the field like a much smaller guy. When his quickness doesn’t beat his man, he shows the strength to manhandle blockers. It’s not surprising – although very unusual for an interior lineman – to see he recorded 16 sacks as a junior and another 13.5 this season. He’s stout enough at point of attack to project as a Steve McClendon-esque nose tackle although the Steelers have already said his pass rushing abilities are good enough that they feel like he can be rotated over at DE from time to time.

Of course, there are reasons Hargrave fell to the third round. While he was dominant, he dominated in the mighty Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Small schools produce plenty of great talent but the fact is players in lesser conferences usually excel on pure ability without the skill and polish you find in the power conferences. Hargrave is a project who’ll need time to refine his craft while getting used to playing against guys as big or bigger than he is on a regular basis. Again, I wouldn’t expect a lot this season but a year or two down the line we could really have something.

The Steelers came into this draft recognizing their weaknesses on defensive. They bolstered their secondary with the first two picks then beefed up the line with their third. We can quibble over who they took but you can’t knock them for at least trying to address their needs. How these choices pan out over the next couple years, however, will be a big factor in where this team is headed in the near future.