By now you’ve certainly read all the scouting reports on the players the Steelers selected in the 2016 draft. The net is full of “Twitter” scouts who will tell you how good or bad Pittsburgh did in drafting their players. While nobody knows how these players will do in the NFL, we can speculate on how they will affect what the Steelers do on the field.
The first thing that jumps out at you about the Steelers drafting is the apparent emphasis in speed on defense. Corner Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis have elite speed, both having run sub 4.5 times in the 40 yard dash. That’s a great time for a cornerback, but even more impressive for a safety in Sean Davis’ case. In the 6th round Pittsburgh selected linebacker Travis Feeney who ran a 4.5 himself in the 40. That’s an incredible time for a linebacker. When you add these players to other recent draft picks like Senquez Golson (4.3/40), Bud Dupree (4.55/40), and Ryan Shazier (4.38/40) you start to see an amazing pattern developing. Pittsburgh is well on the way to buiding one of the fastest defenses in the league.
Drafting this kind of speed may also tell us something about the style of defense the Steelers may use in upcoming seasons. The days of Pittsburgh using the old 3-4 defense with giant nose tackles, slow run stuffing inside linebackers, and sub par corners playing 10 yards off are a thing of the past. The NFL has become a passing league which requires more and more sub package football. The Steelers used a version of the nickel defense with great success against Denver in the playoffs last season. I address this topic in a post earlier this year called “2-4-5 numbers every Steeler fan should know”. Stockpiling these kinds of fast and athletic players is an indication that Pittsburgh intends to play even more sub package this season. Further evidence of this is the allowing of Steve McLendon to leave as a free agent. McLendon is a very good base 3-4 nose tackle, and a player the Steelers coveted in the past. Drafting Javon Hargrave over more traditional 3-4 nose tackles is another piece to the puzzle. Many thought Andrew Billings, a more traditional nose tackle, was a lock to Pittsburgh in rounds 2 or 3. Instead they opted for a player with much more pass rush ability in Hargraves. The South Carolina St. product had 13.5 sacks last season, very unusual for a defensive tackle.
Don’t expect a complete change in philosophy for the Steelers right away. We will still see a lot of base 3-4 in 2016. Senquez Golson and Artie Burns won’t see a great deal of playing time to start the season. Sean Davis may be the third safety when the Steelers go with their 3 safety look, and Javon Hargrave will be used to give Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward breaks during games. Neither player will be a starter right off the bat. The real transition will be complete in 2017. Veterans like Lawrence Timmons, and James Harrison will most likely be gone, and corner William Gay will be another year past 30. While 2017 seems a long way away, don’t be surprised if some of this takes place by the end of 2016. Just in time for the Steelers to make a run at Super Bowl number 7!