Anatomy of the Steelers drafts is an ongoing series leading up to the NFL Draft which examines the successes and failures of past Pittsburgh draft choices.
Today's article focuses on the Steelers 2016 sixth round draft pick, Travis Feeney.
Feeney had a tremendous senior season, recording eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. The production earned him Washington's Defensive MVP award while also being named to the All-PAC-12 second-team.
Feeneys NFL.com draft profile raised eyebrows around Steelers Nation:
Feeneys competitiveness and ability to play in space could help him transition into a more natural role of 4-3 WILL linebacker and his coverage talent on special teams gives him a shot to break camp on the 53.
Why would the team draft someone who fit a 4-3 scheme rather than their system?
Feeney didn't appear to be a fit for the Steelers. Many thought that the linebacker was taken strictly for special teams play, and they may have been correct.
At least partially correct.
In recent drafts, the Steelers have been focusing on versatile athletes who can also play with speed. Feeney fits all of those bills and more. Considering late round picks aren't intended to become impact players, his upside was greater than his downside coming into camp. Pittsburgh needs linebackers in their system, and the more the merrier. If anyone was going to turn Feeney into a pro-caliber player, it could be a Pittsburgh staff who also found a late, sixth-round gem when they picked LB Vince Williams in 2013.
The Other Picks
With only a year under their belts, it's hard to discuss whether the other picks taken around the same time as Travis Feeney has been good and/or bad selections. Feeney was taken with the 220th overall pick, near the bottom of the sixth round. The Steelers were on the clock again with pick 229 (Demarcus Ayers) and pick 246 (Tyler Matakevich) so it's hard to determine if they risked anything at all by taking a chance on the Washington standout.
The only other pick who has seen any significant playing time around the same period of Feeney's pick is Detroit RB Dwayne Washington, who was called into action following a number of significant injuries to the Lions backfield.
Feeney struggled to get on the field early in the preseason but would enter the Steelers second contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, playing a little over half of the game. He would register one assisted tackle, while also drawing a neutral zone infraction penalty for jumping a snap count.
The linebacker's snap count would be trimmed down to 37% of the defensive plays in Week 3 of the preseason, as he would only account for another assisted tackle. With the writing on the wall, Feeney would make the first round of roster cuts, but only play ten snaps in the Steelers final exhibition game (13% of the defensive plays) as he accounted for another assisted tackle.
He was eventually released as part of Pittsburgh's reduction to a 53-man roster and re-signed to the practice squad. In December, the New Orlean Saints would pluck Feeney from the Steelers, signing him to their active roster. Though he has yet to appear for their team, he remains a Saint at this time.
Inside The Pittsburgh Steelers plans for the 2017 NFL Draft
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