One thing is obvious after the Pittsburgh Steelers made their first two picks in the 2016 NFL Draft: they were taking the lack of talent and depth in the secondary seriously.
Two times, they had a shot at some really good defensive tackles, where they have just one player on the roster in Daniel McCullers. The team seems to be fairly content with him as the starter, because they haven't looked away from the third level of the defense in the first two rounds.
After taking Miami cornerback Artie Burns in the first round -- a move I'm really beginning to warm up to a day after it happened -- they went back to the defensive back well and dipped the bucket once again. This time, they brought Maryland defensive back Sean Davis up from the waters.
Notice I said "defensive back"; that's because he's been used at both safety and cornerback. The bad news is that he was beaten regularly as a corner. The good news is that he's not going to play corner in Pittsburgh. According to defensive backs coach Carnell Lake -- himself a former starter at both positions -- Davis is destined to be a safety alongside Mike Mitchell.
Anyone who has watched Davis play knows that means one thing right up front: this could end up being the nastiest, hardest-hitting combination of safeties in the league. Because Sean Davis doesn't just hit hard. He seems to legitimately enjoy knocking the slobber out of people. If Steelers fans wanted a thumper at strong safety, they didn't get one. They got a missile.
But he's a dichotomy, because he's a hard-hitting safety who actually does a great job of wrapping up tackles. Yes, he misses his fair share of tackles and, yes, that's been a problem with Mitchell, too. But he still racked up almost 300 tackles in three seasons. Against Ohio State in 2015, he had several impressive, open-field tackles. With some work on his angles, he could be an outstanding tackler.
Davis struggles most in off-man coverage, where he tends to lose contact with the receiver during his transition. Like Burns, he's too upright in his backpedal. That tends to be masked in press-man coverage, where he can turn while jamming, maintaining constant contact with the receiver throughout the turn.
Where he really excels, though, is at the line defending the run, as well as playing off in zone coverage. He diagnoses plays quickly and moves laterally to the ball against the run, and stays home in his zone against the pass. Put simply, he does his best work when he's facing the play. For a safety, that's a very good trait to have. For a defense that spends a lot of time in cover-2, that's excellent. A rangy cover safety like Davis will allow the Steelers to use first-round pick Burns to his strengths in press-man coverage with the confidence that they have good protection on the top end of the defense.
The Steelers entered this draft with a stated intention to address the secondary. In fact, Davis is the fifth defensive back the team has taken in their last nine draft picks, going back to the second round of the 2015 draft (seventh-round pick Gerod Holliman is no longer on the team, however). Along with last Senquez Golson and Doran Grant, the team has one first-, two second- and one fourth-round pick ready to see playing time for what is essentially the first time this year. The chance to improve markedly is there.
Davis will leave make an impact in 2016 -- on both the secondary, and on opposing receivers.