Earlier in the offseason, we took a position-by-position look at where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand with their roster before the free agency process both ravaged and replenished the talent pool.
The Steelers entered the process with 22 free agents. They re-signed six of them, while losing eight more to other teams, with eight remaining unsigned. They also added seven free agents from other teams.
With the roster picture now much clearer and draft needs much easier to determine, it’s time to revisit those positional draft charts to see which positions are areas of need come draft time.
The next position we’ll revisit will be the cornerback position. With only William Gay under contract beyond this season, the position is certainly a critical need, not only in terms of current talent, but also future availability.
Ike Taylor: Ike Taylor bought himself one more season by agreeing to a pay cut in excess of $4 million, which had been the assumption all along. While he may have seen a significant decline in play last season, he could still arguably be the team’s best cornerback, and they need him to perform in 2014 to succeed.
Taylor appears to have lost a step since a leg injury ended his 2012 season early, but he still plays physically. The Steelers seemed to have shifted their defensive alignments by the end of the season, leaving Taylor alone less often and not asking him to shadow particular targets throughout the game, which could help get the best out of him this year.
Cortez Allen: The former project has had a steady ascent, from dime back as a rookie, to nickel back in his second year, and finally to full-time starter in year three. But he didn’t necessarily rise to the challenge as many expected.
Injuries may have played a role. He had his knee worked on in training camp, which kept him out of the preseason, and then he sprained his ankle at the end of the first half of the opening game, causing him to miss the next two games. When he returned, he struggled, enough to get him benched to sub-packages duties for most of the rest of the season. He will need to be more consistent and reliable in his second year as a starter.
William Gay: Speaking of consistency, William Gay was one of the more reliable players for the Steelers last year on either side of the ball. Outside of a down performance against the Patriots, which could be said of almost the entire roster, Gay had perhaps his best season yet.
He was asked to start for much of the year, and he did so admirably. He only gave up one touchdown on the year, and he made up for that with a pick six. But he was at his best when he was able to play the slot, which is where he should be this season.
Brice McCain: A bargain basement free agent signing, Brice McCain comes to the Steelers on a down year with the Texans, but he offers a lot of playing experience, which is something they desperately lack behind the top three guys. If he plays at all this year—assuming he makes the roster—he may have better luck in the Steelers’ scheme.
Draft Prognosis: There are a few other cornerbacks on the roster—namely Antwon Blake, Isaiah Green, and Devin Smith—but they’re certainly not players that would have any impact on the Steelers’ draft strategy. Blake figures to be fifth on the depth chart right now due to his special teams ability, which is why they originally claimed him off waivers in the first place.
Cornerback may well be the most likely target in the first round for the Steelers this year, with Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, and Kyle Fuller being the top three candidates. Failing that, it would be a shock if they managed to reach day three of the draft without having come away with one. Taylor is gone after this season, and they need to begin grooming a replacement now. They did it just a few years ago, but they may double dip at the position again this year.