Evaluating the Steelers’ 2016 Draft Picks: DT Jarvon Hargrave

image.jpegJavon Hargrave is one of the guys I covered fairly extensively prior to the draft, although it was under the assumption he would be a Day Three guy.

You can see by the picture why I would have been suggesting him for a BLA draft candidate. He has a sweet smile, for one thing, and hardware, for another. These considerations presumably didn’t sway the Steelers one way or another. But here’s some of the things which might have:

Rob Rang declared Hargrave and QB Carson Wentz his top “diamonds in the rough” in this draft, saying:

With all due respect to the “skill position” players, what makes the 2016 NFL Draft unique from recent years is the remarkable talent at defensive tackle. Hargrave is a perfect example of this. Despite recording an eye-popping 29.5 sacks over the past two seasons and turning heads at both the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, only the most passionate of NFL Draft fans are familiar with him in part because there are simply so many other defensive tackles to choose from. In terms of slicing through gaps and wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage, however, few are better than Hargrave.

Hargrave recently completed his degree (Sports Communications). I was amused to find Hargrave went to the same high school as my mother. A profile of Hargrave in the Salisbury Post notes:

Hargrave is one of the standout defensive linemen in the country, and for the second season in a row he was named the BOXTOROW Defensive Player of the Year and the MEAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Though Hargrave often faced double and triple teams this past season, he still led his conference with 13.5 sacks, the second highest total in FCS. He also registered 22 tackles for loss and 59 tackles overall. He was credited with 11 quarterback hurries. Hargrave said he is working on strength and speed techniques that will improve both his hands and his times in the 40. He stands 6 feet, 2 inches, and wants to be a solid 305 pounds by the time his pro day comes around.

More to the point for Steeler fans, he won the 2015 SBN/Mel Blount Defensive Player of the Year. He was also the 2014 SBN Sports Mel Blount Defensive Player of the Year

NFL.com’s scouting report assigns him a grade of 5.5, and says:

Raw, but athletic one­-gap penetrator who dominated his level of competition with effort and quickness. Credited with 16 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses, Hargrave has the ability to play on the other side of the ball, but the jump in talent and size could be challenging for him. Hargrave is better than a “”project,” but he will require patience and much more coaching to realize his potential.

That was all before the draft. Here’s what Jeremy Fowler, the ESPN Steeler guy, had to say immediately after it:

My take: The Pittsburgh Steelers needed run-stopping help after losing Steve McLendon, but they got something extra with the 89th overall pick — pass-rush-happy tackle Javon Hargrave, a 295-pounder with 37.5 career sacks at South Carolina State. This has been an all-business, needs-heavy draft for Pittsburgh, filling voids at tackle, cornerback and safety. The Steelers believe Hargrave can help right away, unafraid of the perceived lack of competition in his Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Every-down DT? The Steelers played a true nose tackle less than 40 percent of the snaps last season because of the league’s passing trends. That’s why Hargrave’s pass-rush ability makes sense here. Defensive line coach John Mitchell believes Hargrave didn’t go higher in the draft because he played in a small-school conference. “This guy’s impressive,” Mitchell said. “One of the few big men I’ve seen you can leave on the field on third down.” Another rotational tackle will help spell overworked ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Hargrave needs to improve his hand techniques at the line of scrimmage, Mitchell said.

Nimble 300-pounder: Hargrave believes a high school basketball career helped with his stamina and footwork in football. Hargrave was an All-State basketball player out of North Rowan High in Salisbury, N.C. He ventured out to the perimeter to handle guards. “I can be on the field 30 or 50 plays. That’s how I’ve been my whole life,” Hargrave said. “Of course that’s a plus, being able to stay on the field that long, play every down.” Hargrave didn’t qualify academically out of high school, forcing him to a small school. “I had to take a different route,” he said.

This all sounds great of course (except, for me at least, the “didn’t qualify academically” part. He turned that around, clearly, Since he completed his degree at South Carolina State.) Now the question is, can he transfer the skills that allowed him to win so many awards at the college level into what’s required in the NFL?

Apparently Defensive Line Coach John Mitchell thinks so. He told Jim Wexell of Scout.com:

“The first thing I’d like to say,” said Mitchell, “If Mr. (Bill) Nunn was alive today, he would really like this pick.”

As to taking him in the third round (the NFL.com draft profile projected him to go in Round 3 or 4), Mitchell said:

“I thought we got him where he should go,” Mitchell said. “I’m really happy. I told Mike Tomlin that if this guy was around in the third round or fourth round, if there was any way we could pick him, let’s take him…I’m really happy. I think we got the best bargain getting him in the third round.”

Hargrove was even happier than Mitchell. As a lifelong Steeler fan he was rendered practically speechless by being picked by Pittsburgh:

“I can’t believe it, man. That’s crazy. It’s a crazy feeling, for real. I can’t really speak. I can’t believe it. It’s just a blessing. It’s just a real blessing.”

He loved Casey Hampton, but as he said:

“I was a fan of that whole defense growing up,” he said. “Especially in those days when we were No. 1 — 2008 — the No. 1 defense. That’s what I pride myself on, looking at guys like that.”

As a fan who occasionally slips into the “we” usage in referring to the Steelers, I love that Hargrave did. Of course, he was actually a Steeler when he said that, but I’m willing to bet he has used “we” for a long time in referring to the team.

In going back to Kevin Colbert’s “Hearts and Smarts”, it seems clear that Hargrave has even more than the usual investment in the team, and his college tape showed he played with relentless energy and heart. Wexell referenced, for example, a game during his junior year which Hargrave didn’t even start/ He had six sacks. I’m betting he started the next game. Mitchell said “This guy was competitive week in, week out.”

The word out of OTAs is good so far. Chris Adamski of the Tribune-Review tweeted last week:

Cam Heyward on Javon Hargrave: “He’s got built-in leverage… Quick first step, good hands. Now it’s just about grasping the playbook.”

We will find out whether he has the necessary “smarts” in the coming weeks and months. It will be very interesting to see how quickly he comes along. It has to be easier in Keith Butler’s simplified defense than it was in Dick LeBeau’s gargantuan playbook. But it seems pretty clear that Hargrave is going to give it everything he has. Who could ask for more?



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