Javon Hargrave unlike any other Steeler before him

Artie Burns could be the next Ike Taylor.

JuJu Smith-Schuster could be the next Jericho Cotchery.

Javon Hargrave could be the next…

Player comparisons are always a fun game. It’s exciting seeing visions of Steeler greats while watching these young players brimming with potential. Whether it be Artie Burns being compared to Ike Taylor, or even Ryan Shazier‘s playmaking style being compared to Troy Polamalu, with enough thinking you can usually find a comparison for every young player.

Well, unless you’re name is Javon Hargrave.

For the longest time, Steelers defensive tackles were known for being immovable objects. They were fat men in the middle; cloggers in the run game. Times change, and while there’s still value in having mammoth players like 350-pound defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, the future is filled with more athletic defensive tackles, such as Hargrave.

The most famous defensive tackle in recent Steelers history is Casey Hampton. Famous for his immense strength and run-stuffing, Hampton was a fan-favorite player for obvious reasons. As great as he was during his time, nose tackles like him aren’t as prevalent in today’s league. The nickel defensive formation, which removes a DT for another defensive back, has become the Steelers primary package. It’s used more frequently, nearly twice as often, than their traditional 3-4 “base” defense, making the nickel the new “base” for Pittsburgh.

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With the league gradually becoming more pass-focused, run-stuffing defensive tackles are becoming a liability. The big men are great at closing holes for opposing running backs and stopping rushers for minimal gains, but outside of a potential pass rush, the lack of a more able-bodied defender to cover leaner, faster receivers, handicaps a defense before the ball is even snapped. This shift is why the Steelers initially opted for a more athletic replacement when Hampton retired.

That replacement was Steve McLendon, who is the closest roster comparison to Hargrave in recent seasons. McLendon became the Steelers starting defensive tackle in 2013 and played in that role until departing after the 2015 season. While a more athletic option, McLendon was seldom used and rarely successful as a pass-rusher, amassing only five sacks in his six-year long career in Pittsburgh.

This brings us to the man this article is about: Javon Hargrave. While he may not be a plodding run-stuffer like Hampton, what he brings to the table is the necessary athleticism to be an every down player. For some perspective on just how athletic Hargrave is, let’s show his NFL combine results compared to McCullers:

As you can clearly see, Hargrave and McCullers are polar opposites. McCullers is a physical specimen with minimal athleticism. (There’s a reason his nickname is “Shade Tree”!)

Hargrave is very athletic for his position despite not having prototypical size for a defensive tackle.

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While McCullers would’ve been a perfect fit during Hampton’s hey day and prior, players like Hargrave are a peek into the future. The evolution of the defensive tackle position means that the Steelers have never had a player like Hargrave on the roster before. He is one of a kind, and given that he is entering only his second season with the teams, his story is far from over. We have yet to see the extent of the role he’ll play on the defense, and how he may redefine the position for others following in his footsteps.

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