Evaluating the Steelers’ 2016 Draft Picks: Travis Feeney

feeneyOf the Steelers’ six picks in the 2016 draft, Feeney is the only player other than 7th round WR DeMarcus Ayers who I didn’t profile prior to the draft, or at least consider profiling. I can tell you this, though—had I seen this photo a few weeks ago he definitely would have been on the short list for Momma’s Mock Draft.

As I know almost nothing about him, we’ll start this journey together.

Not surprisingly, the “Ryan Shazier to safety” crowd have already started moving him around the field, as this episode of Asked and Answered testifies:

Q: I’ve noticed with the drafting of Travis Feeney, all the talk is about special teams and pass rush. Given that he has good speed and size and converted from safety to linebacker in college, how come there is no mention of using him as a possible dime back in sub-package? He could be used in the manner some teams are going, like the Cardinals do with Deone Bucannon.

A: Excellent. No sense waiting until these rookies even walk into the locker room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first time before switching their positions.

In case you can’t tell, Bob Labriola absolutely HATES “why don’t the Steelers move Player X to Position Y” questions. It’s a good thing the questioner didn’t know that Feeney was picked by the Oakland A’s in the 2011 MLB draft (but declined to sign) because then he could have really  gotten creative.However much sense it might make to those who are keen to mix it up, I can say with a high degree of confidence that if young Mr. Feeney plays any non-special teams snaps, they will almost certainly be at linebacker. So let’s find out what sort of a linebacker he was in college.

The NFL draft profile graded him at 5.34, and commented:

Feeney made a name for himself with an outstanding senior year, as well as a memorable haircut. To pay tribute to people who he knew who passed away from breast cancer, including his aunt, Feeney had a pink-dyed awareness ribbon shape cut into his hair. It’s not that he needed to do so to make himself known on campus, as he had already made an impact for the Huskies, being named the scout team Defensive MVP in 2011, honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick the following year (76 tackles, six for loss, four sacks), a nine-game starter and team Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014. His senior year was his best, however, as he replaced NFL draftee Hau’oil Kiahaha at the Buck position and earned second-team All-Pac-12 notice with 17.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

It’s interesting that he is considered a “development prospect” given that he is a five-year player. (It’s also counter to the Steelers’ apparent preference for young players—Feeney is 23.)

Feeney had a terrific combine, and as a result some draft projections had him being drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round. (The NFL draft profile projects him as Round 5 or 6.) So if he was so impressive at the combine, what went wrong?

In a word, injuries. He had surgery for a sports hernia shortly after the combine. He later noted that he was only 70 to 80 percent at the combine, which makes his blazingly fast 40 time and 130 inch broad jump (both second for all linebackers in the 2016 draft) all the more impressive. (He was marked as a “top performer” in four out of the six drills he ran.)

It wasn’t just the athleticism, either. A bigeasyBeliever article noted:

Feeney looked smooth in drills; especially where he was asked to flip his hips in coverage and was very quick — which is likely due from his days as a defensive back.

But the news about the hernia combined with a known shoulder issue during Feeney’s senior season scared a lot of people off, apparently, even though Feeney said:

I’m good.  I’m ready to go.  My shoulders feel good.  I’ve played through things before. I always played through things. I take that as a good thing. I missed one game my whole career here. Not many people get to say that.

The NFL scouting report’s bottom line?
Has worked hard to transform his body from safety to linebacker, but is still lacking the frame and strength to consistently hold his ground at the point of attack. Feeney’s 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.
Hmm. This is the second player I’ve written about in this year’s draft so far who projects as a 4-3 WILL. I’m beginning to sense a trend…although the trend might just be the strong emphasis on athleticism in the Steelers’ recent drafts. And it certainly makes sense to have players with the versatility and conditioning to play every down as needed.
So how does he feel about being a Steeler? Because ultimately that’s a pretty important question. When asked this by Christian Caple, writing in thenewstribune.com, he answered:

“Freakin’ awesome.”

Short and to the point. I like it. The awesomeness apparently wasn’t spoiled by the necessity for patience:

No matter that the former Washington Huskies outside linebacker had to wait until the draft’s final day to hear his name called…“(I was) just sitting at home, thinking nothing was going to come,” Feeney said. “My dad is from Pennsylvania, family lives out there, and I know they’re all excited out there. I’ll get to see my family while I am there, and they can watch me play. I’m ready to go.”

Fortunately he had the sense to not bother about where he would be drafted. As a seattletimes article detailed:

So varied is the range of possibilities for where he is projected to be selected in the NFL draft — depending on what draft analyst you trust, he could go anywhere from the second to the seventh round — that Feeney says he has stopped paying attention to the speculation altogether.

“I told my agent, ‘Don’t even tell me what the projections are. I don’t want to hear it,’” he said.
Feeney told author Adam Jude:
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted; it just matters that you get on the team and show what you got,” he said. “I don’t talk that much … but whoever passes on me they’re going to regret it. Whoever gets me, they’re getting a gem.”
At least one analyst would agree, apparently:

Most analyst[s] project him to go in the middle rounds, but Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke wrote this week that he believes Feeney might sneak into the second or third round Friday.

“The NFL is foaming at the mouth trying to find rangy linebackers to match up with modern offenses, and Feeney could be that type of player,” Burke wrote.

Coach Porter had plenty to say about Freeney, which is another piece of evidence that the Steelers aren’t planning to move him to safety. (Not to mention the fact that they drafted a safety in the second round…) Here’s some of what he said in a video on Steelers.com:

…Smaller guy but runs real fast, easy runner, really strikes you when he puts a hit on you…One of the things that jumps out at you on the tape is how easy he runs. You can never have enough speed on defense…He checks all the boxes on how he plays the game…he plays real passionate. He has real good body control, real good body lean in the pass rush.

Porter was asked how the team views him—as a 3-4 linebacker or more of a guy to use in a four-man front. Porter didn’t take the bait:

We look at him to do everything we like to do with our outside linebackers…If we find out he does something special, we’ll find that special position to put him in. But right now we like him as an outside linebacker.

One of the reporters asked how a guy who ran a 4.4 40 and was clearly so explosive could last to almost the 7th round. Porter shrugged his shoulders:

You know the draft, man, it’s crazy…You’re gonna have some good guys get passed over, and you’re gonna have some guys you don’t think are as good go early. That’s part of it. The thing about the draft is, you just need one person to like you.

I’m sure it’s a great comfort to Joey Porter to know that at least one of the P-G guys agrees with him. In yesterday’s Steelers chat, Gerry Dulac summed up the Steelers draft, noting:

On the last day, they took two more defensive players, one of whom — Feeney — looks like a lock to be a special teams guy to replace Terence Garvin. The Temple kid is so solid he will be one of those guys who will be tough to cut. Does everything right.

Right after that, he answered this question:

Q: Outside of the first three picks, do you see any of the other players selected making an impact this season?

A: I think Travis Feeney does on special teams. Too light to play outside in the NFL but he can run and hit. Great athlete

As far as personal information, it’s pretty thin on the ground for this young man. He has already graduated—last June, in fact, although with what degree I cannot tell you.

Rant Warning: It bugs the heck out of me that so many of the college profiles of players, ON THEIR COLLEGE WEBSITE, give no indication whatsoever that the player is a student of any description. Washington is one of those. Figure it out, people. If you want to be perceived as a university, perhaps the guys playing for you should at least appear to be, you know, studying something.

Rant over. I extend my sincerest welcome to Mr. Feeney, who appears to be a sensible young man. For one thing, he chose to go back home to California to await a call during the draft, rather than throwing a big party and then being totally embarrassed by everyone going home after Day Two. For another, he’s excited to be a Steeler, even a sixth-round compensatory pick-type Steeler, and that’s definitely sensible. Look where it got Antonio Brown. I look forward to studying him more closely at training camp.

 

7 comments

  • I am enjoying this series. Porter seems to contradict himself though, first he says he is going to play OLB then he says he is too small to pay OLB. Which is it?

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  • 4-3 cover-2 LBs was a big thing this rookie camp.

    Adding to Feeney and Matakevich (who could play will or mlb in Tampa-2, esp. with a baseball background) there’s 239 lb. Tyriq McCord who is athletic and did really well dropping into coverage. He was a 4-3 outside rusher, but has the skills and physical make-up for the will.

    If you look at the players that were only at rookie camp you add 2 more: Cory Magwood was a tackling machine at the Will lb spot in college, never played anything else and his only shot to the NFL is really as a backup for a team that wants to run cover-2 concepts. You also had Grant Campbell, a mlb from Baylor who delayed his football career for a few years to try and make it in baseball where he was a standout center fielder. nothing says drop this guy into deep cover as a cover-2 mlb than leading your team in tackles and playing center field.

    I can’t say what it all means, but Tomlin was certainly bringing in a lot of 4-3, cover-2 players and giving them a shot at making the team.

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  • Pingback: Training Camp Battles: Outside Linebackers | Going Deep:

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