Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Cornerback

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

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    Double-dip, PLEASE

    Cortez and WillieG are solid.. and I like Blake and Green but im not sure they will ever provide anything but depth and special teams play. I hope they concentrate most of the focus on DBs this year, 2CBs and a Safety would be welcomed.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    It is hard to know what we are going to do because it is tough to know how well some of the younger guys have developed. If Green or Smith made decent strides during the season then we may need only a late round guy for depth/ST. Allen, Gay, Taylor, Blake, Green/Smith, Rookie. Although we would need another guy to fill the long in the tooth Taylor but I feel Allen and Gay could start for a couple of years together which gives us time to find a good CB.

  • ATL96STEELER

    There is some talk Ike could move to S…he’s at least considering it…I would use Ike’s money to try and secure Worilds…It would be great to see Blake step up and be that slot CB…Gay and Allen on the edges next year, draft Gay’s replacement 2nd to 6th round…hopefully he sees some dime/nickel action as a rookie.

    The guys at the top of the draft are probably slightly more NFL ready, but imo don’t have much separation from the 2nd tier guys like Purifoy, Fuller, etc. that will be around later.

  • chris ward

    Like most Steelers fans, I hope the Steelers get a tall athletic corner with some nice ball skills in the draft. Safety/Corner both need to be addressed through the draft.

  • dgh57

    With C. Allen not living up to the hype of his play at the end of the 2012 season, W. Gay another year older, over the hill Taylor, depth nothing to get exited about equals the need to do a double dip at the CB position with a FS as the cherry on the top!

  • RW

    I agree with almost everything with the exception of Allen, who was paired against the opposing team’s WR1 more toward the end of the year. I suspect this was a major adjustment for him, but I have faith that he can be a well-above-average CB2 for the duration of his career. Remember how long it took Keenan Lewis to emerge as a true CB1… Anyway, I agree that we should double dip and hedge our bets, because in today’s NFL you can’t win without a plethora of athletic corners.

  • Schneider

    The more I read the more Dire I believe our CB position and depth is. What FA are available to FO if they EVEN decide to dip their toes in the water? I think I impact FA and a rookie CB or 2 would go along way to shore up the POS.

  • cp72

    I think Shamarko playing some slot corner is interesting. He ran a 4.37 and most slot corners are undersized and not that quick.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I think Ike holds the key to what we do this offseason. If he takes a pay cut, he can play the #3 role this coming year with one of the 2 draft picks also getting some looks in the Dime potentially. If he does not take a pay cut, I would expect us to Double Dip at the draft AND bring in a UFA.

  • PA2AK

    God help us all if Ike moves to S…

  • PA2AK

    Double up for sure. Also, nice analysis…appreciate that you didn’t sugar coat Gay’s performance, nor did you moan and groan about him not being a superstar…seems you also remember he was only brought in to play the nickel. Ike’s contract needs slashed, but we certainly don’t have his replacement yet.

    And what was the deal with Hawthorne? Everyone was pretty high on him to begin with from what I recall. Did he just flat out stink or what?

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Ike needs to take a big cut if he expects to be around and truly HELP the team. Actually you could say the same for a few players. Then they can figure out how many to draft and if they might be able to get some help in FA.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Some interesting UFA CB’s:
    D. Rodgers-Cromartie (27yrs), Sam Shields (26), Vontae Davis (25), Alterraun Verner (25), Walter Thurmond (26). Assuming their respective teams don’t sign them, franchise tag, or can’t agree to terms.

  • Schneider

    DRC will probably be in DEN hitting the wacky stuff. Shields is interesting…..always around the ball. The other 4 sound good. Thanks for the info. Now the big question…will the FO make a strong move…..they need to if they are serious about turning this situation around quickly.

  • dgh57

    I have no problem with Allen when you look at the big picture it’s the hype that was created by the TOs he caused towards the end of his 2012 season which didn’t happen in 2013. I was all for signing him to a extension after 2012 because I felt he would cost more if we waited and he ended up having a monster year in 2013. So it’s the hype part(which caused me to over react to signing him to a extension)with regards to him creating TOs not his overall play.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Would like to see the FO be more aggressive this offseason. A FA corner and left tackle would be nice just gotta find the $$ to make it happen.

  • Matt Manzo

    I think CB is our most pressing need. Especially cuz we need a starter and depth. If only Hawthorne had worked out! Throw in Safety and we need to walk into the season with 3 new DBs! (That are expected to contribute)
    We have needs everywhere but CB has to be addressed twice, FA and or draft.
    I hear a lot of people saying they’re comfy with Gay starting, not me! He might need to start a few games if Ike’s gone but I’m not ok writing his name in pen.
    WAllen at FS? No way. Like Gay, maybe a few games til the rookie gets adjusted. But I think the FO will grab a FA Safety before they start Allen. I hope.
    We need a playmaking WR, TE, and LB too, but I’d be fine starting who we have now. CB is a different story!

  • LayDownTheHammer

    Agreed. CB is deceptively very very thin. Brown should be out the door and Ike will progress on his decline as had happened slightly from 2 seasons ago to this past season. Critical year for Cortez to show that he can work on making hsi cover skills more refined.

    I say first round CB because historically the Steelers have had very bad luck in CBs not as high picks. Ike is an exception but as I posted previously, MT has very poor luck at the end of drafts compared to Cowher. The 6 foot CBs that are raw in coverage (Desir, Jean-Baptiste, and the 3 from Florida) aren’t impact players but if Lake can coach them up AND they have enough of a work ethic they will be worth the investment. That’s how Ike panned out. Tall and fast with iffy cover skills, but he is one of the hardest workers on the team.

    One prospect I have not seen enough tape on to make a decision is Fuller from VT.

  • Jazz

    I remember after the Steelers won 4 Championships in the 70’s, they held onto their Dynasty Players far too long. As a result, the team fell into mediocrity for about a decade, never fully recovering to being a consistent playoff threat like the 70’s. Mr. Rooney made a comment that the team held onto their players far too long and that was something the organization would look not to do in the future. Hmm! Fast forward about 35yrs, here we are again, time to move on from these aging under performing players. Also, players with huge contracts that are under performing as well. Enough said.

  • Showboogie

    I really like that Fuller kid from VT.. Hope we can get him in the 2nd rd..

  • Axe Skot

    I was really hoping to see more out of Curtis Brown.

  • alex

    double dipping and a safety will finally gives Lake some real clay to work with and mold into the defensive backfield of the future…