Steelers: Is Sean Davis the most important member of the 2016 draft class?

Jan 28, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad head coach Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars talks with safety Sean Davis of Maryland (21) following a play during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 28, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad head coach Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars talks with safety Sean Davis of Maryland (21) following a play during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of Sean Davis in the second round of this year’s draft marked the earliest selection of a safety in a decade’s time.

The Steelers selected Syracuse safety Anthony Smith with their first of two third-round picks in the 2006 draft. Smith would go on to have a modest three-year outing with the Steelers, earning a Super Bowl ring during the ’08 season and totaled four interceptions and seven defended passes during his time in black and gold.

It is safe to assume that the Steelers are hoping for more of a return on their latest draft investment, especially due to the fact that the safety position is not as prominent as it was eight years ago. Both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark have moved on from the sport, and the organization has yet to find a suitable duo at the safety position since their departures.

During the 2014 offseason, the Steelers signed Mike Mitchell in an attempt to begin securing the future of the position. His inaugural season in Pittsburgh was marred by injuries and a pairing with a Polamalu that was a former shell of himself. He returned in 2015 and put on a great personal outing, but inconsistency reared its head again as Will Allen, who was all but forced into the strong safety position, struggled to stay healthy and relevant in coverage.

The Steelers declined the opportunity to extend a contract towards Allen, opting to retain reserve safety Robert Golden on a three-year contract. Primarily used on special teams, Golden made the first three starts of his career last season. He leads a list of safeties on the roster such as Ross Ventrone, Jordan Dangerfield, Jacob Hagen, and Ray Vinopal with little to no experience on the field.

The lack of starting talent available made selecting a safety early in the draft imperative for the future of the Steelers’ secondary. By the time the organization was on the clock for their second pick of the draft, Karl Joseph, Keanu Neal, and T.J. Green were off the board. This gave the Steelers a wide berth in making an adequate selection.

Ohio State safety Von Bell was one defensive back many had the Steelers selecting early in day two of the draft, but was passed over in favor of Sean Davis. While not exactly an unknown prospect, many saw Davis as a third round defensive back. The Steelers yet again made the unpopular decision, but in time it could turn out to be the right one.

In fact, Sean Davis may very well be the most important member of the Steelers’ 2016 draft class. This is a bold statement given the fact that Pittsburgh made the cornerback position a priority for the first time in nearly twenty years, but it still holds true. This selection could define the Steelers’ secondary for years to come.

This isn’t to say that the rest of the Steelers’ six draft selections are undervalued in any way. From Artie Burns to Tyler Matakevich, Pittsburgh addressed a need with every pick they made in the last week. Each selection has the ability to contribute in one way or another if they are able to make the 53 man roster. The impact Davis makes in his rookie year will help determine the level of success the secondary experiences in 2016.

Unlike Burns, Davis does not have proven starters in front of him on the depth chart that he can sit behind as the season progresses. William Gay and Ross Cockrell proved themselves to be adequate starters in 2015, and will most likely start the 2016 season as such. The gives Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler time to steadily integrate Burns into the lineup.

Davis may very well be tasked with taking on a large role in the secondary as early as week one. To be realistic, Golden has a very little chance to be a successful starter in the NFL. He is a serviceable backup and has much experience on special teams, but his ceiling does not extend far beyond that.

When he transitioned to cornerback in his final season at Maryland, Davis did not have the outing that many would expect from a second-round draft selection. He struggled at times, but still had a respectable year statistically with 70 unassisted tackles and three interceptions. If his season as a cornerback would have played out more in his favor, Davis could have very well been a first round selection based on his versatility.

One aspect of his play that he utilized during his time at cornerback was the hard-hitting ability the Steelers covet when searching for a safety. Davis recorded a total of five forced fumbles last season, which was ranked second in the entire nation.

A prime example of the tremendous stopping power Davis possesses was put on display at the Senior Bowl earlier in the year. Up against Nick Vannett, drafted by the Seattle Seahawks last Friday, Davis takes on the 6’6″, 260 lb tight end with relative ease.

With great speed behind his tackle, Davis gets low at the right time to uproot Vannett and slam him to the turf before any kind of play can develop. His size, speed, and mechanics of the game make Davis a downright exciting member of the Steelers’ secondary. A pick that caused many to turn their heads in confusion has the potential to make heads turn in awe on Sunday afternoons.

The future is a difficult thing to predict, and it often leaves those attempting to do so look foolish. One thing is for certain as Davis begins the process of developing into a prime athlete in his position at the next level: He has the potential to bring stability to the Steelers’ secondary that it has lacked for quite some time.

Next: Steelers Rookies: First Test

Time will tell how the Steelers’ draft class of 2016 will be defined. Whether it be by victory, defeat, calamity, or prosperity, expect Sean Davis to be the most important athlete to come out of a stellar list of talented selections.