Cornerback Versus Wide Receiver Battle Will Be Decided Tonight

Wednesday night on Twitter, I asked my followers who they thought the Pittsburgh Steelers would pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft that gets underway later this evening and unsurprisingly the consensus was that they wanted either a cornerback or a wide receiver with the former being the most popular of the two positions. Should it indeed come down to those two positions, current Philadelphia Eagles senior football advisor Tom Donahoe told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently that he feels the cornerback position will win out.

“If you look at the draft over time, there probably have been more busts picking wide receivers than there have been picking corners,” Donahoe told Bouchette. “With the emphasis on the passing game today, you almost feel like you have to have four or five corners on your roster who can play just to compete. More teams are using the hurry-up offense, there’s more emphasis on throwing the ball; you better have people out there covering guys.”

Donahoe, who was the Steelers director of football operations from 1991 to 1999, makes a good point about the need for four or five cornerbacks on the roster in today’s pass-happy league and currently the Steelers have only four on their roster with experience in Ike Taylor, William Gay, Cortez Allen and Brice McCain. McCain, however, is the new kid in town and being as he measures in at just under 5’9″, he’s a short kid at that.

Donahue, however, also told Bouchette that a wide receiver could be justified if he can make an impact right away. While I could certainly get onboard with that line of thinking, the Steelers last rookie wide receiver that made an immediate impact was Santonio Holmes, who caught 49 passes for 824 yards and two touchdowns in 2006.

If the Steelers were to somehow wind up drafting Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr. Thursday night in the first round, could they get those kind of numbers out of either of them in 2014? Remember, they already have Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton, and they certainly didn’t give Lance Moore a two year, $3 million contract to be No. 4 on the depth chart.

Sure, Beckham can also help in the return game, but how much is that worth in 2014 when there’s a pretty good chance that he catches way less than 40 passes?

Senior NFL.com analyst and former Dallas Cowboys Vice President of player personnel Gil Brandt thinks the cornerback position should win out as well, according to Bouchette’s report.

“Why take the corner first?” Brandt asks. “Because there is a bunch of wide receivers. So if you take a wide receiver first and then go for a corner in the second round, that player is not going to have – I call it distance from the top. The wide receiver that you get in the second round or the third round is going to be a lot closer to the top than a corner.”

I think Brandt is on the money with that response and especially this year when it comes to the wide receiver class. Colbert even said as much on Monday during his pre draft press conference.

“The receivers, we think that’s a great position, he said. “They come in all shapes and sizes, big, small and return capable. It’s really a great group.”

While the cornerback class is also regarded as a fairly deep one this year, how confident would you be in having either Bradley Roby or Jason Verrett succeeding Taylor at some point this season and beyond? In addition, there’s no guarantee that either slides to the Steelers in the second round.

Colbert called this year’s cornerback class, “solid”, on Monday, but he did not reference the depth of it. If he’s unable to secure Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard or Kyle Fuller in the first round Thursday night, he might be forced to wait until round three to draft one. If you look back at his track record when it comes to drafting cornerbacks in the third round or later, it’s not exactly great.

I’ve come a long way this offseason in my own thinking when it comes to the Steelers 2014 draft as it took some time to scout nearly 150 players. Following the Senior Bowl, I thought inside linebacker should be the way to go and then I let myself get caught up in the “tall” wide receiver talk for just a little bit. Finally, after getting pretty deep into the cornerback class, it became clear to me that it’s Fuller, Dennard and Gilbert followed by some serious rolls of the dice.

I’ve said along that I think the Steelers should double-dip at the cornerback position this year and with the draft now finally here, I hope that first dip comes Thursday night. Sure, those top three cornerbacks come with no guarantees, but in my opinion, it’s a risk that Colbert has to take. He can draft a wide receiver a round or two later. We’ll know later on this evening if the cornerback position wins out in the battle against the wide receiver position, or any other position for that matter.