The Pessimist’s Take – Cornerback Depth

For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect  the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.

Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.

Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.

Question: What will the cornerback depth chart look like heading into the next season?

After two consecutive seasons of giving up the fewest yards through the air in the league, the Steelers’ secondary took a mighty tumble in that regard, plummeting to ninth. But more concerning than the yardage is the differential.

In 2012, the Steelers allowed a league-best 185.2 yards per game through the air. In 2011, they allowed just 171.9 yards per game—that total bests the number put up by the Seattle Seahawks defense this past season. Yet the Steelers gave up significantly more in 2013, surrendering 221.6 yards per game through the air, their worst since 1991.

Could the Steelers really intend to trot out the same group of cornerbacks from last season that produced one of the most porous pass defenses in the last two decades of the team’s history? It certainly appears that way.

While indications are strong that Ike Taylor will be asked to take a pay cut, it seems equally probable that he, like Casey Hampton before him, will be agreeable to the decrease in pay. Cortez Allen and William Gay, in all likelihood, are expected to continue to round out the top of the depth chart.

Don’t expect the Steelers to add any help in free agency, as, if anything, they appear more interested in using that avenue to replace Ryan Clark on the back end rather than bringing in somebody to cover. And even if they use their first pick in the draft on a cornerback, the odds are that he will have to work to even earn time in the nickel as a rookie.

So who, then, is behind Taylor, Allen, and Gay? Well, last season suggests that it would be Shamarko Thomas if he’s not starting at safety, and after him, Antwon Blake. That is how far former third-round draft pick Curtis Brown has fallen, who may even be considered lucky if he earns a roster spot this year. Devin Smith and Isaiah Green at this point are just bodies, hardly to be considered upgrades of any kind.

To put it quite simply, the depth of talent at the cornerback position from top to bottom is fairly mediocre, but it really takes a plunge at the bottom end. The Steelers have experienced misery as recently as 2012 simply because they couldn’t get healthy bodies to cover wide receivers.

They were fortunate not to have multiple players injured and out simultaneously last year, with only Allen of the top three missing two games, but it might be pushing it to bank on similar luck with health in 2014.

Though it’s too early to say with certainty, the Steelers seem content to only address the cornerback position through the draft this offseason, which seemingly guarantees that nobody but Taylor, Allen, or Gay will start a game at the position this season, barring injuries. I’m not confident any longer that that is a comfortable situation. I believe in this case that the reality skews toward the pessimistic view.

The Optimist’s Take – Cornerback Depth

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

    Big trouble in the secondary, unless they get really lucky. I really think a high draft pick on a CB is essential. Even if he takes a while to learn, he could still play man-to-man if he is good enough, and be used in nickel and dime situations. And the future would, at least, look brighter. At least if Ike takes a big cut, they may be able to find another 2nd or 3rd tier FA to help with depth.

    Gonna be tough sledding otherwise.

  • steeltown

    I think Antwon Blake makes the roster for depth and special teams, not sure if he’ll take any snaps on Defense, but I like the addition, he’s strong and fast, he seems like a scrapper

  • Steelers12328882

    Today we get to see Gilbert run the 40. There will be no room for pessimism if he falls to 15.

  • pat

    Man what happen to Brown I figured him to be starting by now would be great if he turned the corner this yr

  • Callentown

    Ike has one more year and then we have only Cortez and Gay, essentially, to man the CB spots opposite A.J. Green, Josh Gordon, and the Calvin Johnson’s and Julio Jones’ of the NFL.

    HAVE to draft a CB high this year. Every year we see CB’s that start year one and never leave the field. The FO will need to hit on this pick as a year one player and not a 3-year project that may or may not work out.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    Uh oh. Gilbert just rant a 4.35 40 in the combine. I think we can forget him being available at 15. We’ll see how Dennard and Fuller run the 40. We’ll have to settle for what is left.

  • cencalsteeler

    I’m optimistic that a rookie corner should be able to start for the Steelers. LeBeau’s Rosetta Stone is more for the interior part of the D and strong safety. Corners usually are in man or in zone with a blitz sprinkled in every once in a while. If there is a position that a rook can start on D, it’s got to be corner.

  • shawn

    i see him as a ST only … dont see him getting any playing time

  • shawn

    Brown has been a Huge disappointment … figured he’d be a decent nickel back at worst … we really have a bad batting average with DBs … well under .500

  • shawn

    I think they will draft 2 CBs and bring in an UDFA so we have a couple chances …. they might even bring in a FA as well

  • shawn

    The drills are fine, but I really want to see them covering some routes and WRs …. much more telling … drills are overrated IMO

  • steeltown

    He got a few snaps on Defense last year on the outside, over everyone not named Taylor, Gay and C.Allen

  • dgh57

    My pessimistic take on the CB depth:

    We find our poor depth situation at the CB position as the result of the poor drafting of the likes of T. Hawthorne, T. Frederick, C. Butler, and J Burnett since 2009. Top that off with the fact that since 2009 only 2 CBs drafted are still on the roster and one of them is useless on defense in C. Brown. No UDFA have yet to pan out, Taylor has regressed, and Gay another year older means we need to be aggressive this off season through both FA and the draft!

  • pat

    Thats something I dont understand with Tomlin being a specialist in this department im hoping Brown steps it up this yr and becomes what we thought he would be. IMO we draft 2 CBs this yr and 1 Safety retain Worilds keep Woodley due to the dead money, its not worth the cut, and move McLendon to end draft a NT. Also think we draft a WR and TE

  • cencalsteeler

    Great points!

  • Callentown

    Why not right? Can always let players go once the position is covered effectively.

  • shawn

    i think you are on the money with the 3 DBs TE and WR … will pick up all those … to be fair i thought the Curtis brown pick wasn’t bad … he came a round late and had great athletic ability from a big school .. hadn’t watched his film but i was definitely hopeful … sometimes it just doesnt pan out … what kills us is when it does pan out and they get away like Lewis … i wasn’t as high on him as everyone else .. but he was definitely serviceable .. and we lost him because of bad player personnel development management !!!

  • shawn

    hit it big … throw everything at the dart board and see what sticks … worked out well for the 80 49ers … picked up their entire secondary in one draft … and they were awesome … if only lol

  • shawn

    We all realise this … and i dont think its lost on the FO … i am hopeful they attack DBs in this draft like a pit bull !!!

  • pat

    IMO we should of gave hawthorne a little more time

  • Jacob Dixon

    Ha-Ha Clinton Dix or Justin Gilbert is who I want the Steelers to draft

  • dgh57

    I didn’t post this to enlighten anyone but to get it off my chest as it’s something that’s been bothering me now for some time now.

  • shawn

    i know i know … Im right there with you !