By Matthew Marczi
Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.
If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.
There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.
The Steelers haven’t had a Pro Bowl cornerback in a long time, the last one being Rod Woodson. The closest they’ve had since then, Ike Taylor, might be described by some as in a free-fall, while Cortez Allen and William Gay are by no means special talents. Beyond them, depth is fairly unimpressive. I would say that shaking up the cornerback depth chart could be classified as a draft need this year.
Ike Taylor: Taylor gave up more yards than any cornerback in the entire league last season, while allowing over 60 percent of the passes in his coverage to be caught. His failures often came at inopportune times, and his tackling efficiency is on the decline. Even the Steelers accepted this by the end of the season when they began leaving him on one side of the field, rather than having him follow a specific receiver around the field.
William Gay: Gay wasn’t supposed to be a starter this year, but he wound up starting most of the season. His opportunity was initially granted by an ankle injury suffered by Allen in the first game of the season, but after he returned, it was his poor performance that kept Gay in the starting lineup for most of the season. He has clear limitations as a player, but he uses his intelligence to get the most out of his abilities. At the end of the day, you would rather have him as your nickel back.
Cortez Allen: Allen ended up starting for most of the second half of the 2012 season due to Taylor being out with an injury. He forced five turnovers in a two-game span that was for some reason supposed to represent consistent playmaking ability rather than an aberration. That was, of course, an unrealistic expectation, and he did settle down by year’s end. With the ankle injury early on and a knee cleanup procedure in training camp, he had some hurdles to climb last year. He will have no excuses for 2014, however.
Antwon Blake: I’m putting Antwon Blake’s name ahead of Curtis Brown because when the Steelers needed a third cornerback for a play due to an injury, it was Blake on the field rather than Brown. Blake is a height-deprived but aggressive corner who turned himself into a staple of the special teams unit.
Curtis Brown: Brown has yet to accomplish anything after three years in the league, despite having the opportunity to do so. Previously skating by on his special teams ability, he was even benched briefly due to his special teams play, though he was his usual self when he returned. He finished the year on injured reserve after tearing his ACL.
Isaiah Green: Isaiah Green was a surprise inclusion on the final 53-man roster, although he was quickly cut in favor of Blake. He bounced between the active roster and the practice squad throughout the preseason. His speed gives him a chance to be an asset on special teams.
Devin Smith: Devin Smith spent time on the practice squad last year as well after performing respectably during the preseason, including a sideline interception. He is just one of many bodies hoping to make a roster, but doesn’t appear likely to be much of a threat to contribute on defense.
Draft Strategy: The cornerback position can be addressed at any point in this upcoming draft, from the first pick to the last. There are some worthy candidates that stand a chance to be around when the Steelers pick in the first round this year. How soon would he contribute on defense? Allen, who was considered raw, contributed in his rookie season. Shamarko Thomas contributed this past year as a rookie in the slot.
Considering the uninspiring quality of the majority of the depth chart, however, it’s certainly not out of the question that, like in 2009 and 2011, the Steelers double-dip at the position. They missed on a fifth-rounder last year, which suggests that they not only consider the position a need, but that they’re also now behind.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Interior OL
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Offensive Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Defensive End
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Nose Tackle
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Inside Linebacker
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Outside Linebacker