With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up in a bit, and having finished taking stock of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, it’s now time to look back and see how the team assembled the roster they currently have through the draft.
It would be most simple to set a dividing line at 2007, the year Mike Tomlin took over at head coach, so we will revisit the past seven drafts, encompassing 59 selections, to see how the team treated each position, and look into why that is.
The next position we’ll revisit is cornerback. As you can see, there’s been no shortage of them, yet only two remain on the roster, and only one of the six departures was due to playing well enough to score a nice contract in free agency.
2007 – William Gay – 5th round (170)
When all is said and done, William Gay may have been one of the Steelers’ best draft picks under Tomlin, in terms of value, production, and longevity. Already entering his eighth season and having never missed a game, Gay has had his ups and downs, but had one of the best years of his career in 2013, including a pick six. His ability to start or play inside is quite valuable, as proven by last season’s course of events.
2009 – Keenan Lewis – 3rd round (96)
Keenan Lewis, on the other hand, was the best cornerback that Tomlin has yet to draft, but they’re likely hoping to change that on Thursday. Lewis took a while to get his career off the ground, however. As a rookie, he was in over his head, and couldn’t even get out of his own way on special teams.
By his third year, however, he was coming in during sub-packages and playing outside cornerback, with Gay moving into the slot. In 2012, he entered the starting lineup, and by year’s end was perhaps the best player on the defense. He continued his strong showing last season with the Saints, his hometown team.
2009 – Joe Burnett – 5th round (168)
Joe Burnett actually played ahead of Lewis during their rookie season, but unlike Lewis, he didn’t make it to a second season. He struggled, naturally, most notably in the game against Green Bay that ended up being a shootout. He’s since found success, however, in Canada, leading the league in interceptions in 2012 with six.
2010 – Crezdon Butler – 5th round (164)
Crezdon Butler was yet another fifth-round cornerback that saw just one season with the team. You’ll see later on how, after Gay, that hasn’t been a very favorable round for the Steelers to draft a corner. Butler appeared to have some potential—I believe he had a pick six in the preseason—but after drafting two cornerbacks the following year, Butler lost out in a numbers battle. He was on his fifth team last year, appearing in 12 games for the Chargers, though with only 24 snaps on defense.
2011 – Curtis Brown – 3rd round (95)
Three years in, the Steelers determined that Curtis Brown was a bust, and I still believe his problem was mental more than anything. He seemed to lack confidence in himself in the rare instances that he actually saw playing time. Despite showing himself to be a strong special teams player, he even got benched from that for a stretch last season. He ended up tearing his ACL and the team waived him injured, ready to move on.
2011 – Cortez Allen – 4th round (128)
The Steelers got just about everything out of Cortez Allen, however, that they were hoping to get out of Brown. Considered a raw project coming out of college, Allen played dime his rookie season, moving up to nickel in year two, and finally to the starting lineup last year. While he had his issues with injury and struggles on the field, he was back in the starting lineup at the end of the year. I expect more consistency out of him in 2014.
2012 – Terrence Frederick – 7th round (246)
A late-round flyer, nothing much was ever expected out of Terrence Frederick, and nothing much was received either. He didn’t make the roster and they weren’t interested in him for the practice squad either. He played some for the Giants and then the Saints over the past two seasons.
2013 – Terry Hawthorne – 5th round (150)
Thinking they were possibly landing a steal, Pittsburgh seemed happy to take Terry Hawthorne in the fifth round last year. He was considered a high prospect the year before, but his team had a bad year, and he was dealing with injuries, and that hurt his draft stock. He continued to face injuries in training camp, however, and in the end, he didn’t make the roster or even sniff the practice squad.