Study: What Pittsburgh Looks For In Drafting Cornerbacks

We are continuing our series on examining the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft history to try and predict who might meet their measurable and athletic criteria for 2016. We’ve covered receivers and both line groups. Today, we’ll move onto cornerbacks. To be upfront, we are not going to be able to make guesses about this safety class because the team has only drafted three – Gerod Holliman, Shamarko Thomas, and Ryan Mundy – since 2007. The sample size is just too small to say anything with a modicum of confidence.

But the team has drafted 11 corners, giving us a sample to examine and learn from. As always, the year-by-year selections with all the data I can reliably find on them.

2015: Senquez Golson

Height: 5’8/5
Weight: 176
Arm Length: 29 3/4
Hand Size: 9 3/8
40 Time: 4.46
Vertical: 33.5
Broad Jump: 10’0″
Short Shuttle: 4.20
Three Cone: 6.81

Doran Grant

Height: 5’10/2
Weight: 200
Arm Length: 30 1/4
Hand Size: 9 3/8
40 Time: 4.44
Vertical: 35.5
Broad Jump: 10’5″
Short Shuttle: 4.33
Three Cone: N/A

2014: Shaq Richardson

Height: 6’0/1
Weight: 194
Arm Length: 32
Hand Size: N/A
40 Time: N/A
Vertical: 38.5
Broad Jump: 10’7″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A

2013: Terry Hawthorne

Height: 5’11/6
Weight: 195
Arm Length: 31 1/4
Hand Size: 8 7/8
40 Time: 4.44
Vertical: 35.5
Broad Jump: 9’8″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A

2012: Terence Frederick

Height: 5’10
Weight: 187
Arm Length: 31 1/8
Hand Size: 9 1/8
40 Time: 4.54
Vertical: 35
Broad Jump: 10’1″
Short Shuttle: 4.03
Three Cone: 6.59

2011: Curtis Brown

Height: 5’11/5
Weight: 185
Arm Length: 32 1/4
Hand Size: 9 1/2
40 Time: 4.54
Vertical: 39.5
Broad Jump: 10’6″
Short Shuttle: 4.00
Three Cone: 6.59

Cortez Allen

Height: 6’1/2
Weight: 197
Arm Length: 32 1/4
Hand Size: 8 5/8
40 Time: 4.53
Vertical: 37.5
Broad Jump: 10’9″
Short Shuttle: 4.01
Three Cone: 6.76

2010: Crezdon Butler

Height: 5’11/6
Weight: 191
Arm Length: 32
Hand Size: 8 3/4
40 Time: 4.49
Vertical: 39.5
Broad Jump: 10’1″
Short Shuttle: 4.23
Three Cone: 7.08

2009: Keenan Lewis

Height: 6’0/7
Weight: 208
Arm Length: 32 3/4
Hand Size: 9 3/4
40 Time: 4.55
Vertical: 38.5
Broad Jump: 10’10”
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A

Joe Burnett

Height: 5’9/3
Weight: 192
Arm Length: N/A
Hand Size: N/A
40 Time: 4.62
Vertical: 35.5
Broad Jump: 9’10”
Short Shuttle: 4.25
Three Cone: 6.68

2007: William Gay

Height: 5’10/1
Weight: 187
Arm Length: 31
Hand Size: 9 1/2
40 Time: N/A
Vertical: 38.5
Broad Jump: 9’10”
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A

Here are the trends I came up with.

– Eight of the 11 corners weighed between 185 and 199 pounds.

– Eight of the ten (Burnett’s wasn’t available) had at least 31 inch arms.

– Eight of the nine ran a 40 at 4.55 or below.

– Ten of the 11 had verticals of at least 35 inches.

– Eight of the 11 had a broad jump of at least 10 feet.

– Five of the six had short shuttles of 4.25 or better.

So here is my criteria. Cornerbacks who are…

Between 185 and 199 pounds
Arm length of at least 31 inches
4.55 40 or lower
35+ inch vertical
10’0″+ inch broad
Sub 4.25 short shuttle

And here are the four cornerbacks who check every box.

NameWeightArm Length40 TimeVerticalBroadShort Shuttle
Eric Murray19931 1/24.4939.510’4″4.05
Briean Boddy-Calhoun193314.473510’4″4.22
Maurice Canady19331 5/84.493810’4″4.09
DeAndre Elliott188324.554110’5″3.94

We have both Minnesota cornerbacks. Murray is bigger and overall tested better but both should be interesting. Canady is the biggest corner with length who put on an overall fine showing at the Senior Bowl. Elliott is someone the team has shown interest in so it’s no surprise to see him pop up on this list. Athletically, he’s up there with the best vert, broad, and shuttle, while offering the most length of the quartet. 

I did struggle with the height parameters. Six corners were between 5’10 to 5’11, but two were under 5’10 while three were at least six foot. Knowing that the average corner falls in that 5’10 to 5’11 range, it’s not surprising to see the most come from that pool, but there is not an overwhelming majority. 

Having said that, if a corner weighing more than 200 pounds can show the same athletic traits, then they should be at least considered as well. The only reason to knock heavier corners is that intuitively, they aren’t as athletic. But if the numbers match, they should be on the radar. Make sense? 

So let’s apply the same criteria to any corner weighing at least 200 pounds. We come up with three. 

NameWeightArm Length40 TimeVerticalBroadShort Shuttle
James Bradberry211334.503610’4″4.21
Jalen Ramsey20933 3/84.4141.511’3″4.18
LeShaun Sims20331 5/84.533710’0″4.19

Ramsey is a top five pick, maybe first overall, and while it’s no surprise to see him on this list, he will not be in consideration for Pittsburgh. Sims and Bradberry are two FCS kids, from Samford and Southern Utah, and while you can retort with Cortez Allen, the team rarely dips into the FCS level.

Only four players since Kevin Colbert’s arrival have been drafted there. So while they fit and are interesting, Bradberry also got exposure at the Senior Bowl which gives him a slightly better chance, they aren’t rather likely.

If you’re protesting, wondering where the sub 185 pounders are at, none fit the criteria.

Let’s keep the three 200+ pounders with the four originals. That gives us seven cornerbacks to monitor and in total, giving us 31 across all positions to take a hard look at.

Just for fun, because we don’t have enough of a sample size at safety, let’s make a very large assumption the athletic measurements carry over to them. Just to see who would fit.

Name40 TimeVerticalBroad JumpShort Shuttle
Sean Davis4.4637.510’6″3.97

Players like Tyvis Powell and Derrick Kindred were very close but only Davis could meet every requirement. He has experience at corner so it doesn’t surprise he passes the scrutiny. I imagine, and want to be clear, this is just a hypothetical and I am sure the criteria for safeties is a little lower, given their often bigger nature.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • PittsburghSports

    YES!!! So glad to see Mo Canady make the list. He can return punts too. I would spend a 2nd rd pick on him. I think he’s that good, and can fit in our defense playing off-man. Any reports coming on him?

  • CP72

    This definitely is all over the place measurements for criteria. Interesting that Apple, Alexander, Jackson are on their radar (based on pro day visits) don’t meet the above the criteria.

  • Steve Johnson

    Whatever methods they have used in the past, they need to go against the grain! This organization hasn’t selected a Pro Bowl CB since the days of Rod Woodson. They haven’t drafted a serviceable CB/S since 2003 when they took Troy P. and Ike Taylor. Since Mike Tomlin took over as the Head Coach, they have drafted dud after dud after dud! I just hope they finally get it right.

  • Rusted Out

    Isn’t that a good sign?

  • Ike Evans

    Last year was a change….they went after a shorter guy….lower on explosion but tons of playmaking turn over ability…maybe their criteria is changing a bit….who knows

  • CP72

    You would think…..but that’s a pretty lackluster group.

  • Rusted Out

    sigh… I’m numb to corner back talk.

  • CP72

    Lol….I’m a draft and stats nerd. So I never get tired of it.

  • alevin16

    I thought our only criteria was that they cannot cover or tackle? 😀

  • Alex Kozora

    I’m excited to watch him. Hopefully soon. DB only has one video on him specifically but I’ll look at other UVA games on there.

  • Bridgeburner10

    Based upon the success of those players, they may want to change their criteria…

  • Thom

    I don’t think the limitations on arm length are relevant.

    Neither of last year’s CB’s had 31″ arms, so it can’t be that important to the team.

    Looking at the other criteria, most are backed up well by the available Pro Day numbers, even if some are too unreliable to use here.

  • Brian Tollini

    William Gay and Keenan Lewis were pretty good, but I get your point.

  • Thom

    Doing a version with every CB the Steelers drafted OR brought in for a visit would give a much bigger sample size.

    The Steelers brought in ’14-’15 alone:
    – Darqueze Dennard
    – Jason Verrett
    – Ross Cockrell
    – Steven Nelson
    – Bryce Callahan

    None of them meet all of the criteria, with arm length and 20yd shuttle being the main reasons.

    You’d want to eliminate players who visited before a full workout, but I doubt there are all that many of those.

  • Alex Kozora

    I use the numbers in their totality and not possible single-year aberrations. If I did that, I could probably never make much of a statement about anything, given that there are always exceptions.

    Yes, I do not use timed numbers from Pro Day events because they are unreliable and I don’t even know where the number comes from.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I have Breian Boddy Calhoun on my last mock so thats nice to see also in the footnote I am a fan of Derrick Kindred who would be an interesting late round S pick up IMO.

  • RickM

    This has been a problem drafting area for a long time. If I’m the G.M. of the Steelers, I would have ordered my DB scouts two months ago to pour over the college tape of the last 10-15 good CB’s and safeties drafted by NFL teams from the 2nd round on. And after an extensive review I would want a report as to what college abilities these guys had that translated so well to the NFL, and what might have been missed in their college tape review by many teams. I would then have them pour over the tape of the failed guys we selected to provide an honest report telling me where we went wrong, what didn’t we see, or what we gave too much credit for.

    I’d read the reports and provided the scouts had taken their job seriously, I would tell them to take their knowledge and find some good secondary players. You’ll never convince me in a million years that there is a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to finding good players. You do it through hard work – an honest and detailed assessment of players that you passed on and failed players you selected, and then film study of current prospects using the knowledge you’ve gained. That’s the only way to avoid making the same mistakes over and over.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The only problem with this Alex is that the criteria for picking a CB does not work since they have failed so miserably…I think they need new criteria.

  • Kevin artis

    Based on the list above, it’s obvious they don’t know what to look for in corners, so, it’s best to scratch whatever they are doing and start over.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I believe the mental aspect of the game is the big unknown. In college a lot of players can live off athleticism alone and are able to be successful in college but one thing I have heard over and over from coaches is if the game is too big for them. I feel this deals with guys who cannot adjust mentally to a game that is highly complex not only physically but mentally. A good example would be Shamarko Thomas. The game to this point has been too big for him.

  • Kevin artis

    I said basically the same. I knew someone would beat me to it. I’m not even looking for pro bowlers any more, just someone to get out of camp, stick on the 53 man roster and be mediocre for at least during the length of their rookie contract.

  • IndianaCarson

    Just curious, how do those stats compare with those of the “best corners/def.backs” in the league the past 5-7 years?

  • PittsburghSports

    Yeah I think most see him as a mid-round pick, so I have him rated higher than most. Only returned a few punts, but looks like he has natural ability. You know I just realized the other day that you could search Draftbreakdown by school and all the videos come up.

  • RMSteeler

    Whatever the metrics say, they didn’t translate into success, for the most part. They’ll just bring out the dart board and then concentrate on WR’s.

  • RickM

    Sorry but I disagree. The mental aspect can be looked at through film study. You look at the good receivers the guy faced. Did he come up big? How did the good receiver do against this CB as opposed to other CB’s he faced. You look at the ‘big’ games he played in; did he play well when the most pressure was on? Did the CB play well in close games in the 4th quarter?

    I think it’s a red herring to say that the mental toughness of a college prospect – which is required in the NFL – is an “unknown”. You can learn a lot about it in big college games, against better college receivers and in close games, and you can supplement that knowledge in an interview process. I agree that you’ll never know with certainty, but there are keys that you can look for in film study.

    As for Shamarko Thomas he was taken 111th in the 2013 NFL draft. There were all sorts of holes that NFL teams saw in his college tape. My guess is that the mental issues (re: understanding plays and complex defenses) were on tape at Syracuse as well.

  • Alex K

    What does Pittsburgh look for in cornerbacks?

    Answer: Poor coverage ability, lack of ball skills – ZING!

  • falconsaftey43

    I like their new criteria, “Can you cover AB?”
    That’s why they drafted Golson, let’s see if it pans out.

  • Alex Kozora

    haha yup, that’s one of the workarounds if a guy doesn’t have specific cut ups for him.

  • Add me to the mob on this one. Whatever they’re using to evaluate corners is terrible so I kind of don’t want to study it. Most of the failings of the CB position are between the ears IMO. I think last year they might have weighed the tape a little heavier than measurables based on the picks.

  • popsiclesticks

    I remember watching the TCU-Minnesota game last year and liking both Minnesota CBs, especially Murray. I felt the same way a few years back watching a Boise State game and wondering who the hell is this #8 guy (Iloka).

  • PittsburghSports

    One thing I noticed from watching his tape is that he plays close to the line in the Slot almost exclusively. I wonder if that’s a knock on him, as far as PIT is concerned, or was he used like Will Gay was for us last year, and how important it was to have him man that position.

  • Nick Sabatella

    Is it just me, or does it look like Eric Murray is going to be a pass interference machine?

  • Tom Jackson

    Well it’s kind of sad that the analytics on DBs are so inclnclussive here. Many of the top guys who are linked with us some way or another just didn’t do enough at the combine. Jackson didn’t do enough drills to be checked, Apple as well and Fuller didn’t do any obviously since he has that meniscus injury. Very unfortunate.

  • StarSpangledSteeler


    What’s your opinion on Sean Davis (Maryland)?

    He played CB most of his college career. People are saying he’ll likely move to FS in the NFL but I’m not so sure of that. I think he could play both (kind of like a poor man’s even McCourty). He’s is an excellent athlete and and physical tackler and tested with much better speed/explosion numbers than I anticipated.

    What are your thoughts?

  • Ike Evans

    Havent looked at him actually so i dont know much….the only thing i know is i was watching his db mate William Likely and he pops all over the field making plays

  • TroymanianDevil

    I actually just asked Alex if he could do a report on him like a week ago haha.

    This is my guy if we don’t go CB in the first. Besides the measureables I liked what I saw in some of those ACC games he played in. I’m high on him like you but playing the draft value game, I think he can easily be drafted in the 3rd, so I’d wait and try and scoop up someone else in the 2nd, but we’ll monitor his stock until the draft.

  • TroymanianDevil

    I’m excited for you to watch him as well b/c I’ll have several comments/thoughts on him whenever that report comes out haha

  • PittsburghSports

    His 2014 tape is up and down. Starting to sour on him after watching it lol. Games against FSU and Miami in 2014 he looked outmatched by guys like Phillip Dorsett and Rashad Greene, who were both drafted last year. I’m not very good at evaluating tho, so I’ll be excited to see a review on him too. I really like how he pays the slot and is strong against the run.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Alex has given his list. Now we know who the Steelers should avoid at all costs because they don’t exactly have a stellar reputation for getting it right at CB.

    Great work again Alex. Thanks for getting us the breakdown.

  • RickM

    Sorry TJ, I’m on a different page here. The combine is a totally useless evaluation tool IMO. You have 20-40 game tapes to watch of these prospects, to see their technique and talent against multiple other players (both good and bad ones). That is infinitely more important than running in shorts, lifting weights, jumping high or running through a bunch of pre-practised drills. I’ll take game speed, game strength and game agility over similar measurables at the controlled-environment combine every day of the week. The medical checks and interviews done at the combine are the only valuable things IMO.

  • Tom Jackson

    Oh I agree… at least to some extend. For teams with all-22 tape of these guys and lot’s of live game scout exposure combine #s should just be a ‘check the boxes’ kind of deal. For a guy like me, a ‘youtube scout’ so to say, it has more value because you can’t be totally sure about the guys athletic ability. I’ve been wrong about quite a few athletic projections pre-combine over the years so in that sence it’s useful to me personally.

    But what I do think that even though teams might not be crossing every guy off just because he doesn’t meet one or two criterias, I do think though that teams are looking for player types at certain positions and athletic profiles. And thats why I think analysis like Alex is doing are useful. Because they can show tendencies and preferences. And thats why I think it’s a shame that the player pool get’s diminished for these analytics just by players choosing not to do some of those drills. So yes, I would like to have a full picture on it.

  • Labrat0116

    I’d like to see all of their Wonderlich scores and hear about their Emotional maturity evaluations.

    They can be gifted physically like Greek Gods but if they are stupid and immature it’s all for naught.

  • RickM

    I understand your desire and enjoyment of a fuller picture. And Alex does a great job and I don’t want to diminish the compilation of these stats or his analysis. They are very interesting. But the only thing these particular stats tell me – in the case of the CB position only – is that the Steelers like CB’s with pretty good speed (under 4.55) who are athletic. That probably describes most teams in the NFL.

    I do think the stats show that the Steelers don’t place the same premium on CB height that other teams do. The first 6 CB’s taken last year were 6’0 or 6’1 and before Golson no CB had been under 5’11”. Even the team’s 2nd corner Grant was only 5’10”, unusual for a guy who weighs 200 pounds. Five of the 11 CB picks over the years have been 5’10 or less, just a shade unusual. It doesn’t mean the selections won’t work out. It just seems that they may not place as much emphasis on height in their scouting.

    I’m a little surprised that they weren’t troubled by Golson’s vertical. The lowest of the 11 guys listed (tied with Hawthorne). but if he can play it won’t matter.

  • Labrat0116

    If the mental aspect can be looked at through film study how in the heck did Shamarko pass this process ???

    Somebody fugged up big time if they did not realize before the draft the he is not the sharpest tool in the shed.

  • RickM

    Darrelle Revis had a Wonderlic score of 10 and Shamarko Thomas had a score of 23. That shows how useless the test that measures your skill in mathematics, grammar, logic, etc. is. Football field intelligence far outweighs a Wonderlic score. Le’veon Bell supposedly had a score of only 17 and he’s the best back in football when healthy.

  • DoctorNoah

    I was just thinking, whatever criteria they’ve used in the past should be completely disregarded…

  • jsteeler

    Kevin Colbert drafted them.

  • jsteeler

    Big Time Game tape is the only criteria that is %100 percent full proof. If they are consistent in the game they will be consistent in practice and learn the team’s scheme. The combine and all these other criterias just confuse the person in the position. IMO.

  • David Paul

    You’re delusional if you think he makes these decisions in a vacuum.

  • David Paul

    They went for production. Hope I’m wrong, but he may be the Troy Edwards of CBs.

    By the way, if you want to see Golson in action a lot, watch the Sammie Coates highlight reel 🙁

  • David Paul

    Incinclussive? You literally sounded that out, right? Sue your school system – they failed you.

  • Tom Jackson

    What are you talking about? I wrote ‘inclnclussive’ and it’s the letter beneath ‘o’ on the keyboard of my phone. I’m very sorry I didn’t recognize I hit the wrong one. And I’m obviously the first one thats ever happend to… man I really have no idea what to say to such a clever person right now. Lmao

  • PittsburghSports

    That would be cool. Maybe add dinner invites and Pro Day meetings too.

  • RickM

    Poor film study. Nothing more, nothing less. The guy played 48 games at Syracuse and they interviewed him in person. There is no way, absolutely none, that they didn’t have ample opportunity to evaluate his mental sharpness on the playing field and in the interview (with a blackboard diagramming plays and asking questions). But you have to realize that Shamarko was picked in the middle of the 4th round. If they did miss on him, it’s not like missing on Jarvis Jones. My guess is that they wanted a safety, but it was not an immediate need. They liked his hitting ability, back story and combine results.

  • Steve Johnson

    Kevin may have drafted them, but I believe The Scouting Department is just as much to blame as Colbert. I’m pretty sure Mike Tomlin and Carnell Lake had something to do with it as well. I just hope they draft somebody that will make the team.

  • steelasfreek1981

    Good work Alex!!
    You just earned some street cred!