The Pittsburgh Steelers showed that they are committed to improving their much maligned secondary on the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft. With plenty of talented defensive lineman still on the board in the latter portion of the second round, the Steelers went in a different direction, snatching up Maryland corner/safety hybrid Sean Davis.
Davis, a senior, finished his collegiate career with 319 total tackles in 38 games, racking up over 100 tackles from the safety position during his sophomore and junior seasons. As a senior, he was moved to cornerback, where he recorded 88 tackles, three forced fumbles and five interceptions. Those numbers helped earn him honorable mention All-Big 10 recognition.
Like first rounder Artie Burns, Davis is a raw and physically gifted player, who should be able to contribute on special teams in his rookie season. He played the gunner position on the Terrapins punt coverage team in 2015, using his 4.4 speed to hunt down and obliterate return men.
At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, Davis ran a blazing 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and bench pressed 21 repetitions of 225 lbs. His 21 reps were second only to Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew (22 reps) among defensive backs.
Davis's size and speed stand out in his game tape. He's a willing and fundamentally sound tackler, capable of playing both in the box as an extra run stuffer, and as a center fielder on the back end. This versatile skill set allowed him to transition to cornerback last season, where he played on the outside in man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage. As both a corner and as a safety, he showed the ability to high point the ball and contest throws.
Davis was an intimidating force for the Terrapin defense. A violent hitter with a ripped frame, he was bigger, stronger and faster than most of the receivers he matched up with. Similar to West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, he uses his elite closing speed to separate the ball from backs, receivers and tight ends, both at the line of scrimmage, and in the secondary.
There is, of course, a lot Davis needs to work on to become a starting caliber safety at the next level. Despite being an exceptional athlete, he’s far too inconsistent. At times, he seems to lack a sense of urgency when pursuing the action from behind, and needs to show more effort and intensity on a consistent basis.
Like most larger defensive backs, he is a bit slow and mechanical in his backpedal, and can be picked on by smaller, shifty receivers in man coverage. Like Burns, he’s raw, and will need to be coached up in order to achieve success as an every down player in the NFL.
According to Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake, the Steelers plan to play Davis at strong safety, in tandem with free safety Mike Mitchell. He’ll be competing with veteran Robert Golden for a starting spot in training camp, but Lake also said the coaching staff is open to using him as a reserve cornerback.
"He and Mike Mitchell will work well together in the secondary," Lake told reporters at the team facility following the selection.
"He’s going to provide us with a lot of versatility and depth at a need position of safety for us, that’s where we plan on playing him."
With the addition of Burns and Davis, and the return of 2015 second rounder Senquez Golson, the Steelers secondary is poised for improvement in 2016 and beyond.