Analysis: Steelers' draft class solid but won't help now
The plan was made, and the plan was followed.
The only thing that remains is to wait and see if the plan worked, which we might not find out for a couple of years, and that might well be too late.
The Steelers on Saturday wrapped up their second consecutive defense-heavy draft by using five of their seven picks on defense, including investing their top three choices — cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis and defensive lineman Javon Hargrave — to need positions on defense.
Great picks. It was just what the Steelers needed and wanted.
The plan in place all along was to fill holes on the offense in free agency and address the maligned but improving defense through the draft. They did that more than almost any other franchise over the past three days. The only teams that invested more on the defense early in the draft were the Jaguars (first five picks on defense), Bills (first four) and Panthers (first four).
It was the fourth straight year the Steelers picked more defensive than offensive players, and 11 of their past 15 have been on defense. So you see what they are thinking — to return the defense to a championship-caliber level.
“We always want to have pride in our defense,” linebacker coach Joey Porter said. “We were happy where we finished last year, but it wasn't enough. If we get our defense back to where it used to be, I think we'll have the pieces to do something special.”
There's no question the Steelers have infused an influx of talent into the defense the past two years. You can deny that.
The biggest concern is will this new found talent help a team that was three minutes away from the AFC Championship game — despite playing without Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell and with a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger — get over the hump?
Probably not, but that doesn't necessarily make this a bad draft for the Steelers. It just makes us watch a secondary and say “who?”
All kidding aside, it's actually a solid class but probably not when they need it to pay off the most, which is right now.
It is a difficult proposition not only to find talent in the draft but talent who can contribute immediately. It doesn't happen often. Even when the Steelers thought they had a guy who could handle it (Ryan Shazier), they were mistaken.
The Steelers need help in their secondary. They have a solid player with William Gay, an up-and-comer with Ross Cockrell and their second-rounder from last year, Senquez Golson, but not much, if anything, after that. And, in a passing league, that could be an issue.
Burns could help this year, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Same goes with Davis. He's a tremendous talent, but can you see him playing right away after moving back from corner to safety? Possibly, but again, I wouldn't bet on it.
Hargrave might have the best chance to help the defense, just if he can eat up a couple of snaps. But he is a FCS player, and there still has to be questions.
The Steelers' third-day picks aren't going to help them this year— their words, not mine.
Jerald Hawkins isn't “complete by any means.” Sixth-rounder Travis Feeney would have to overtake James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and Bud Dupree (not happening). Their first seventh-rounder, DeMarcus Ayers, is strictly a punt returner, and Tomlin said he isn't “concerned about preserving” current punt returner Brown. The second seventh-rounder, Tyler Matakevich, was taken, admittedly, because he was the highest-ranked player left on the Steelers' board.
You would think there would have been more of an emphasis put on players who could help now, but is that right thing to do? If it takes Burns three years to develop, so be it. If Davis doesn't play a snap but steps in as a starter next year, I will take it.
It is not like the Steelers' window is this year and that's it. There is time even if Roethlisberger is heading down the twilight of his career.
These young guys will get a fair shot, that's for sure.
“If they are the best and they prove it, they will be given an opportunity to (start),” Tomlin said. “That's how it has always been. I believe it is realistic, and that's why we chose them where we chose them. They have to earn it, and we will give them the opportunity to do that.”
It's not a bad thing to sit and watch if you are a rookie. Most rookies do sit.
But if any year you could get an NFL-ready one, at least for the secondary, it would have been this year.
“Did we get everybody at every position? No. But did we get seven good players? We think so,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “If these guys help us win a championship, then it worked out. That's the only way to evaluate any class. We will see come February if it worked out.”
Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.