Steelers' draft criteria: 'Football kids' with speed and toughness

General manager Kevin Colbert isn’t into grading his Pittsburgh Steelers draft class. The way he sees it, there’s only one method for that anyway.

“If these guys help us win a championship, then it worked out,” Colbert said. “That’s the only way we can evaluate a class.”

At least on paper, this year’s seven-player class was reflective of the traits the Steelers want for their roster.

‘Football kids’ with desire to win

Teams say it all the time: They want players who love the game. And the Steelers believe they have that in first-round corner Artie Burns. During rookie minicamp, Burns said his sole concern is absorbing the defense and doing whatever coaches want. He considers himself coachable. He left his ego in Miami.

Burns’ defensive coordinator with the Hurricanes, Mark D'Onofrio, echoes that sentiment. “He’s a football kid,” D’Onofrio said. “He understands the game and he asks a lot of questions.”

Burns also made a point to say he’s not a ‘soft’ football player. He’ll have to prove that over time, but that’s generally a good sign.

Athletic freaks

The Steelers found some proverbial ‘workout warriors’ in this draft, particularly three defensive players.

* Burns -- 6-foot, 193 pounds, 33¼-inch arm length, 4.46 seconds in the 40, broad jump 10 feet, 4 inches

* Sean Davis, safety -- 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, 4.46 seconds in the 40, 37.5-inch vertical.

* Travis Feeney, outside linebacker -- 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, 4.5 seconds in the 40, 40-inch vertical.

Those numbers are impressive, especially with Feeney, considering his size. That’s serious value in the sixth round, based on measurables alone.

They have to know how to play, of course. But the Steelers can work with these numbers as a baseline.


In the Steelers’ defensive scheme, speed is encouraged, but utilizing that speed to attack the football is demanded.

Apparently Feeney in particular is unafraid to hit.

“He’s exciting,” Colbert said. “He flies around. He puts his body in some reckless places and does it without concern.”

The Steelers’ zone coverage gives players the chance to react to a play, then run downhill for a big tackle. Linebacker Ryan Shazier started to excel in this area late in 2015. The willingness seems to be there for the young players. Knowing when to react is the next step.

As for third-round pick Javon Hargrave, coach Mike Tomlin said he has a ‘unique burst’ for the defensive-tackle position, which should help him embody the Steelers’ defensive culture.

‘Moldable’ youth

Three of the Steelers’ seven picks declared for the draft after their junior seasons, including two of their top-four picks.

Usually juniors have the most talent in the draft. In the case of fourth-round tackle Jerald Hawkins, the Steelers acknowledge he could have improved his stock with a senior season.

The team saw the upside regardless, believing he can begin as a swing tackle and hopefully work into a prominent role.