Heading into the 2014 NFL Draft the conventional wisdom on the Steelers draft needs and drafting strategy was that Pittsburgh would target cornerback early and often. That didn’t happen. And during the 2014 season the Steelers struggled at cornerback, although credit must be given to the coaching staff for making adjustments on the fly.
But you don’t win Super Bowls by planning to get by making adjustments on the fly and the Steelers can’t afford that luxury, as this analysis of their 2015 draft needs at cornerback reveals.
Analyzing Steelers Depth at Cornerback – The Starters
Of the two current “Starters” for the Steelers at cornerback one wasn’t starting at the beginning of 2014 and the other got demoted to nickel back. And then he got outright benched.
William Gay stepped in when Ike Taylor was injured vs. Carolina, and it is hard to argue with his play. Yes, Gay did get beaten a few times – no one will say he’s a shutdown corner, but he also took three interceptions to the house, something that even the legendary Mel Blount never did in a single season.
- The Steelers could do better than William Gay at corner, all things considered, Gay has done pretty well for himself.
Opposite Gay, the Steelers return Cortez Allen. The operative question on Allen is can Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, and Carnell Lake lead a Cortez Allen reclamation project? Cortez Allen came in and contributed as a rookie in 2011. He looked to have the makings of a stud by the end of 2012, which led to Keenan Lewis’ departure.
Cortez Allen was injured, and got off to a shaky start in 2013, but came back and reasonably played well, showing some of his big play ability in the Steelers victory vs. Green Bay. The Steelers saw enough to extend Cortez Allen’s contract prior to 2014.
2014 was an unmitigated disaster for Cortez Allen, as he got beat and/or penalized routinely, found himself demoted, and then benched. The rallying cry for Allen is Ike Taylor, who struggled after signing a big contract extension in 2006.
Put bluntly, the Pittsburgh Steelers need Cortez Allen to bounce back in 2015, or else it will be a long, long season on defense.
Analyzing Steelers Depth at Cornerback – the Back Ups
Restricted free agent Antwon Blake will be back, and while Blake is probably projects to a number 3 corner at best, he showed promise in 2014. Behind him they have B.W. Webb, a wavier wire pick up by the Steelers whom little is known about. Other than that the Steelers cupboard is pretty thin at corner.
Priority Status of Cornerback for Steelers in 2015 NFL Draft
The need for a “shut down” corner is regular touted in today’s NFL. As Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest has observed, the number of people who’ve seen a true shut down corner in the context of today’s NFL, which favors the passing game to a fault, lies somewhere between those who have seen Haley’s Comet and those who have seen a unicorn.
But if that’s true, it’s also true that the NFL teams generally need 3 competent corners in addition to depth to guard against injury. Right now the Steelers have one proven cornerback and therefore the draft priority status of cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015 NFL Draft is High.