The 2021 NFL draft is now only two weeks away. Each week leading up to the draft, we are going to dive into an NFL draft class starting with the Steelers 2004 NFL draft. In doing so, each player selected by the Steelers will be highlighted as to how their NFL career, or lack thereof, took shape. As we get to more recent years, some will be combined as many of those draft choices are still with the Steelers.
Part 13 of 15 will highlight the Steelers 2016 NFL draft, where two players had their second stent on the Steelers roster in 2020.
So let’s take a look at the seven players drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2016 NFL draft:
Cornerback, Miami (Fl)
When cornerback William Jackson III was taken one pick before the Steelers first selection of the 2016 NFL draft, many fans felt the Steelers reached to just take whatever corner was out there. With Artie Burns being that selection, he didn’t have the most going for him with the fan base before he even played an NFL snap. With three interceptions in nine starts as well as 13 passes defensed his rookie season, it looked like perhaps the Steelers had made a decent choice. Burns added another interception and 13 more passes defensed as he started every game in his second season, but instead of his play going on an upward trend, the opposite occurred as Burns only started seven games over his final two seasons in Pittsburgh. When the Steelers declined the fifth-year option on Burns, he signed an inexpensive deal with the Chicago Bears which did not even qualify for the compensatory formula. Unfortunately, Burns injured his knee during training camp and lost the entire 2020 season. For 2021, Burns re-signed with the Bears at the veteran minimum.
Used in a variety of ways his first two seasons, Sean Davis settled in as the Steelers free safety his third season in 2018. After missing Week 1 the following year due to injury, Davis returned for one game only to be injured and lost for the season. With the Steelers trading for Mikah Fitzpatrick the same day Davis was placed on injured reserve, the Steelers allowed their second-round draft pick to walk after his rookie deal which included five interceptions, 20 passes defensed, and nearly 250 tackles. Signing with the Washington Football Team, Davis did not make the 53-man roster and returned to Pittsburgh for a fifth season. After only playing 57 defensive snaps in 16 games, only two more than the previous season where he only appeared in one game, Davis once again left the Steelers and signed with the Indianapolis Colts for the 2021 season.
Defensive tackle, South Carolina St
The most successful player for the Steelers 2016 draft class, Jevon Hargrave found himself a big part of the Steelers defense right away his rookie season. In his four years in Pittsburgh, Hargrave had a fumble recovery for a touchdown, two forced fumbles, two passes defensed, 14.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, and 22 tackles for loss. Hargrave signed a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles worth $13 million per season where he had 4.5 sacks in 2020. The departure of Hargrave has netted the Steelers the 140th pick in the upcoming 2021 NFL draft.
Offensive tackle, LSU
Unfortunately, Hawkins rookie deal with the Steelers was greatly inhibited by injuries. Lost for the season with a shoulder injury in the preseason of his rookie year, Hawkins returned in 2017 and was active for five games with one start as the Steelers jumbo tight end. Tearing his quad during OTAs in 2018, it was another lost season for Hawkins. Fighting for a roster position in 2019, Hawkins was possibly going to be released on cut down day but instead was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for exchanging sixth and seventh-round picks in the upcoming 2021 NFL draft. Only appearing in one game for the Buccaneers with a total of three snaps, Hawkins signed with the Houston Texans during training camp in 2020. Landing on the practice squad, the Steelers signed Hawkins back to their active roster after the season-ending injury to Zach Banner. Hawkins appeared in 13 games for the Steelers in 2020 where he served as the jumbo tight end and logged 76 snaps on the season. Hawkins is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Outside linebacker, Washington
The Steelers did not have a fifth-round pick or their scheduled sixth-round pick in 2016 due to trading for Brandon Boykin and Josh Scobee the previous season. The Steelers did have a compensatory sixth-round pick, and although he did not make the Steelers 53-man roster his rookie season, Travis Feeney did land on the Steelers practice squad. Poached by the New Orleans Saints at the very end of 2016, Feeney did not appear in the Saints’ final game of the season. Unfortunately, Feeney was released in June prior to training camp and did not catch on with another NFL team. After playing with the San Diego Fleet of the AAF, Feeney signed a contract with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Opting out of his contract due to the CFL canceling the 2020 season, Feeney has opted back in for the 2021 season.
Wide receiver, Houston
The Pittsburgh Steelers added a seventh round draft pick in the 2016 draft by trading punter Brad Wing to the New York Giants the previous season. Landing on the practice squad his rookie year, Ayers was added to the 53-man roster for the final three games of the 2016 NFL season. Inactive in Week 15, Ayers had his first NFL reception in the Steelers Christmas Day victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The following week, Ayers started against the Cleveland Browns were he had five receptions on 12 targets for 44 yards and a touchdown. With receptions in the Steelers first two playoff victories, Ayers was inactive in the AFC Championship Game. Failing to make the roster in 2017, Ayers chose the practice squad of the New England Patriots although it was short-lived for less than three weeks. Ayers spent the second half of the 2017 season on the Bears practice squad and was signed to a Reserve/Future contract in the offseason. Ayers did not make Chicago’s 53-man roster in 2018 and went on to play with the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF. Drafted by the New York Guardians of the XFL, Ayers was waived before the season started. Signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL, Ayers was much like Travis Feeney as he opted out of his contract for 2020 with no CFL season but opted back in for 2021.
While many seventh-round draft picks do not initially land on the 53-man roster, Tyler Matakevich played four seasons with the Steelers and only missed one game. Used primarily as a special teams player and reserve linebacker, Matakevich started in one game in 2018 and had 77 career tackles with the Steelers. Signed in the 2020 offseason by the Buffalo Bills, Matakevich recently was signed to an extension with the Bills this past offseason.