Just One Small Problem With The Cornerback Depth Chart

The Pittsburgh Steelers were clearly at a place of relative comfort with their cornerback depth entering the 2014 season—certainly far more so than outside observers speculated throughout the offseason leading up to the draft.

They had an opportunity to draft one of the top cornerbacks in the draft last week, Darqueze Dennard, at the 15th overall selection. Instead, they chose to draft Ryan Shazier, a speed demon of an inside linebacker.

In fact, the Steelers didn’t draft a cornerback—or a defensive back of any kind—until a bit into day three of the draft, when they selected Shaquille Richardson in the middle of the fifth round. Richardson is a six-foot corner with quality speed who surely will be primarily tasked as a gunner and other assorted special teams duties, should he make the roster.

After all, they don’t need him to play. They have a myriad of more experienced cornerbacks in front of their new mid-round draft pick.

Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake even name dropped a pair of them, with whom he had been working in the opening weeks of the offseason program. Those two—Antwon Blake and the newly acquired Brice McCain—figure to be fourth and fifth on the depth chart as of right now, perhaps in no particular order.

Blake, a third-year player, joined the Steelers after they claimed him off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars after the final roster cuts in 2013. Because he joined the team so late, he didn’t contribute much on defense—just filling in for an injury snap here and there.

McCain, meanwhile, was a free agent signing who has spent the last few years playing in sub-packages with mixed success with the Houston Texans. He has by far the most playing experience after the top three on the Steelers’ depth chart.

Lest we forget, the depth chart also includes speedster Isaiah Green, who as a former futures signing spent the season bouncing around between the active roster and the practice squad. There’s also safety Shamarko Thomas to consider in this scenario.

There’s just one small problem with this picture, to my mind.

more specifically, the depth chart is littered with small cornerbacks. Every defensive back mentioned above stands at just 5’10” or under. If we add primary nickel back William Gay, then just the top two cornerbacks on the depth chart stand at six feet or above, excluding the newest member, Richardson.

Make no mistake; of course five-foot-something cornerbacks can find ample success in this league. Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden is under that height threshold and has become one of the best in the game. Dennard, the corner that the Steelers could have chosen, is only 5’10” himself.

But when it comes to bottom of the roster guys, as we’ve seen in the past, quarterbacks are not shy of taking advantage of height deficiencies. Both Blake and McCain, in fact, are particularly short, standing at 5’9”. Thomas is of the same height.

So the depth chart from four to six behind Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, and Gay are all under 5’10”. Which is all the more reason to root for Richardson to find some success, to give the Steelers at least the option of offering some height at the position should an injury arise.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • steeltown

    No doubt rooting for Richardson

    But also there are plenty of CBs under 6ft that excel in this league. The main thing with shorter DBs is speed and recognition. Our guys, Thomas, Blake, McCain and Green sure have the first part, all names mentioned have the speed to hug the hips of most WRs. Hopefully they can make strides under Coach Lake regarding diagnosing plays.

  • dgh57

    We can only hope that Blake, McCain, Richardson prove the coaching staffs faith in them showing something because we have contracts expiring soon on Taylor, Gay, and C. Allen so I see 2 problems brewing ahead.

  • shawn

    I have a really hard time believing that Blake & McCain are going to be counted on for anything other than special teams … i really can’t fathom the steelers FO having any serious plans for playing them in any kind of packages …

    I mean barring any serious injuries Shamarko & Gay should take care of any nickel or dime packages …. but yes by all means we need a couple more taller guys heading into 2015 !

  • Steel PAul

    Why I was rooting for the team to draft Baptiste.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I don’t think you can assume they are comfortable with their depth just because they didn’t reach for an average CB at the expense of an above average player. The first 4 rounds produced significant players. Even if they felt it was a significant need the idea of passing on a starting player for a developmental player isn’t something any reasonable team will do.

    They can pick up a CB better than anyone they could have drafted after the second (in terms of his ability this year anyway) between now and training camp. I think they simply took the best player with each draft choice and rightly ignored this years needs.

    They’ll probably use the first round choice next year or a lot of free agent dollars at CB because of the failure to draft an elite CB but I glad they didn’t force it and pass on someone better.

    I’m also pretty happy they decided to add so much talent that can help this year. I think this team can win. I’m really excited to watch both the offense and defense this year.

  • steeltown

    I have to agree. Everyone is screaming for not drafting a CB after the 2nd Rd, but they may have not had any CBs graded that high at the spot they were selecting, Phillip Gaines was already gone and I think they viewed Desir, Cockrell and others as 4th Rd or later prospects. Then when the 4th rolled around and Bryant was STILL on the board, they pounced

  • Superdriller316

    I see them getting different corners come cut down time. Like they did with Blake.

  • Thom

    Darrelle Revis, Joe Haden, Alteraun Verner, Brent Grimes, Johnathan Joseph, are all under 6 feet. In fact, most good corners are under 6ft. It’s okay.

  • Thomas Rancy

    I’d maybe pick a cheap tall depth guy up before camp, Terrell Thomas Maybe

  • cencalsteeler

    They sure did invite a lot of cbs into camp to compete. Curious to see if they uncover a few gems.

  • steeltown

    Indeed. I think everyone is all of sudden enamored with huge CBs after SEA one the SB last year.

  • steeltown

    Najja Johnson, Dayonne Nunley and Lew Toler are decent looking prospects, low expectations for any of these guys though

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    Anyone that honestly takes what has been said about our cb position and so called talent is about 3 bricks shy of a load, to coin a phrase. The truth is based on what we have watched these past few seasons, we don’t even have 2 ligit starters. Maybe coach Lebeau is beginning to not believe what he sees on tape.

  • Zach

    I agree, Eric, good analysis. In my view, the point is that this year’s draft CB class was not that deep after round 2.

  • James Kling

    Brandon Browner was AWFUL for years, and even when he first went to Seattle. Last time we played them, we absolutely torched the guy. Sherman’s a stud though.

  • Bill

    If the Steeler’s up front picks pan out, maybe they’ll get a good pass rush and thereby assuage the CB position. Beyond that, Mr. Lebeau must revise the defense somewhat to allow less experiences players to have a chance of succeeding and contributing on a major level. I know he is a great coach but one of the earmarks of our modern society is rapid change and he must adapt. The agreement between the players & owners has so limited contact practices, it’s must be difficult to teach the new kids the many techniques and nuances of Lebeau’s complicated schemes along with all the physical techniques they must learn.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Just reading the title i knew it was about height im guessing the fo is planning on signing somemore cb/olbs once the second wave of cuts after june 1st roll alound

  • Smokin_Smiley

    so someone tell me when we ever had elite corners in the last 10 years? The fact is when your base is a 3-4 zone blitz defense you really just need good zone covering cbs. Now you can say “what about when there in sub? really with pitt the same applies…..like bill said…”good pass rush and thereby assuage the cb position”…….Ike has never been an elite man corner…but yet we have 2 rings this decade that says…..Who needs elite cbs when your lbs are making life miserable for opponent’s qbs “.Pressure equals to qb mistakes wich falls right into hands of good zone cbs!!!!!!!!!!!!! ENOUGH SAID

  • steeltown

    So true.

    I think people tend to forget we went to 3SB with guys like Bryant McFadden, Deshea Townsend, Anthony Madison and Willie Gay

  • blue

    Sign a quality veteran CB and James Harrison FOR CHEAP & 2014 roster is complete

  • Matt Manzo

    Makes sense when you realize that we just ask our CBs to not give up the big play. A lot of those big plays were on Clark. Or Polamalu being out of place when asked to stay close to the line.
    Im hoping Ike steps up and Mitchell starts making plays. Shazier will put Troy back in his normal place. We just have to hope that Cortez makes some strides and everyone stays healthy!
    But I still think we’ll see another FA CB signed before the season starts.



  • I am of the school that playing height (considering vertical, arm length, how it all translates on the field, etc.) is more important that just a basic measurement. Shorter guys can (as mentioned) be very successful. Still, there is a dearth of height in the secondary.

  • That’s the thing, other than Dennard, who is not tall anyway, I don’t think there were any situations where a CB on the board was a better value than the guy they picked. Steelers fans should know by now that we don’t draft based on positional need alone.

  • There were some decent options, but nobody that was likely to make a dramatic impact this year.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Every team has its weakness(es) CB happens to be this team’s.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Eric you make a good point. The Steelers had Shazier rated higher than Dennard. That means they didn’t believe Dennard was a shut down guy.

    So if Dennard wasn’t a shut down guy, what does that make Jean-Baptiste, or J. Watkins, or P. Desir, or R. Cockrell?

    The Steelers don’t need another “solid” CB. We need a 1st round type CB (talent wise). There was going to be a position or two that would have to wait until next year to draft a top prospect. Those positions turned out to be CB and TE. (And maybe OLB).

    If we extend Cortez and Worilds this year and draft a 1st round CB next year, our D will be in really good shape.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Agreed. We might get lucky after truing camp/final foster cuts. Some team may get excited about their new rookie CB and cut a quality veteran CB

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Can they play football that is what I am worried about.

  • HiVul

    I agree we need help at CB, but we also haven’t had a pass rush and they seem more concerned about fixing that. What can you do in one draft when you’re missing talent on all 3 levels of the defense?

    They chose to address DL and ILB with the first two picks based on some combination of BPA and need I’m sure. Even if they drafted a corner in the 3rd we’re probably not talking about a starter, but they did add impact players on offense in the 3rd and 4th. Hopefully the pass rush solves some problems for our secondary, Cortez can step up, etc.

  • greeny

    Nice analysis

  • Ike Evans

    Who cares? Theyre throw in guys….trash heap guys…if u get anything out if them its win no matter how tall they are

  • dave

    I’m all for taking ‘best available’ and I have no problem with taking Shazier
    However, the problem I see is – I really don’t see an ‘elite’ CB on the being available in 2015 unless the Steelers are picking top 10 – I haven’t done one bit of research on the 2015 draft and I have no idea who are the top CBs- I’m just saying, when you look at it historically, the top CBs usually go in the top 10. Let’s say the Steelers are picking 22 next year – they’ll be lucky if someone similar to Dennard is there.
    (I’m also not saying you can only get a good CB in round 1, but if you want one to step in as an immediate starter, it helps)

  • unfurious

    Three of their backup CBs have run sub 4.4 40s and have verts of 37-40 inches. 2 of those guys are still real young. After seeing that, I’m glad that they didn’t flood the CB position before Lake has had a chance to make/break those guys. I believe that one was plenty this draft.

  • SfSteeler

    and we could have a serious front 7 with some fresh speed and hunger with Timmons being the elderstatesman!

  • Eric MacLaurin

    The early mocks I’ve seen have about 4 in the first round next year.

    Dennard wasn’t an elite CB so the option wasn’t there this year either but next year we have a 3rd rounder to move up as well as free agency. There are no guarantees for next year but I would rather go stop gap at cb with a free agent then to ever pass up a potential pro bowl starter in the draft.

  • dave

    Yeah, like I said, I had no problem with them taking Shazier over Dennard, I’m a fan of going “best available”.

    I just don’t think they’re going to find anyone a lot better than Dennard in the 2015 draft, especially if they’re picking in the 20s. Any corner that falls will have certain ‘warts’ – or vice versa, the next Patrick Peterson goes in the top 5 or maybe 10 picks. Do the Steelers go for maybe the 3rd or 4th best CB based on need at that point?

    Or maybe they address CB in free agency – the Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden, Richard Sherman types never hit the market but maybe there will be a decent mid priced younger guy – someone similar to this year’s free safety Mike Mitchell.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    I think they rated the quality cornerbacks available after round 2 thru round 4 the same.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    I agree, the Steelers obviously do not consider Dennard elite.


    Hopefully Cortez is healthy this year. He played through an ankle injury and still graded out better than the our other corners. You would think they have seen enough to try and extend him this summer. I know I’ve seen enough and he’s a lot farther along than K. Lewis was going into his 4th year.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Dennard worried me because of his lack of speed and reliance on physicality. I would rather develop a lower pick with the requisite speed or, as you mention, go FA.

    A first round corner that isn’t elite isn’t going to do what I want anyway. I want them to invest in one shut down corner that qb’s just won’t go near. Anything short of that is too close to league average to be worth a first round pick.

  • KenNYSteelerFan

    It seems that people are forgetting the long touchdowns we have up last year. We weren’t getting bombs completed on us. It was MISSED TACKLES and RAC yards. Megatron, Josh Gordon and mostly RUNS. Our secondary has been good and we’ve been in the top 5 ever since Carnell came back. Lets put Troy back at safety and let him do what he does. Mike Mitchell is the answer for a lot of problems. He has the speed to overcome mistakes and holes in the secondary.

  • Zach

    I don’t think we need a shutdown CB (or 1st rounder) to be a top-5 Defense and win SBs. Solid CBs are OK for us (I’ve been saying that for some time here). I would bet my money they will not take a CB in the 1st next year, unless it’s someone like a D. Revis-like or P. Peterson-like prospect. But this is unlikely, given that we never draft in the top 10, where we would need to be to grab a stud CB. The Steelers will go BPA again, like we have gone recently with Ziggy, Pouncey, Heyward, de Castro, Jones, and now Shazier. We still need playmakers on the defense and offense, so I wouldn’t rule out a S, OLB, WR, or TE.

  • HiVul

    I think we’ll need to add more talent early in the draft at CB next year because of Ike’s age and lack of depth at the position, but this year I totally agree. I’d be surprised if we were a top 5 secondary, but I think that Ike and Gay are above average as 2nd and 3rd/slot corners. And absolutely if we hadn’t missed so many tackles we’re probably a playoff team.