Steelers 2017 Pre-Draft Movements: Cornerback

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with well over a dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, and also tendered their two restricted free agents.

Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at wide receiver, defensive line, running back, and cornerback, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at wide receiver and linebacker, and suffered yet another retirement in the process. There was one significant player release, and no contracts were restructured. One franchise tag and one major extension also transpired. They still have four unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned.

The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that they have essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities, with the focus turning to the draft, so now is a good time to take a look back and see where each position started at the beginning of the process and where it is now leading up to the draft.

Position: Cornerback

Total Positional Figure: 10

Offseason additions: 5

Offseason losses: 1

Players Retained:

Ross Cockrell: Cockrell is still the team’s top cornerback until he isn’t, as much as a large number of people don’t want to hear that. While he didn’t pull down any interceptions last year, he did get his hands on 14 balls and generally showed good coverage skills, limiting opponents over the top.

Artie Burns: Burns is the player the Steelers are looking to emerge as their top cornerback. With size, speed, and man coverage abilities, they are hoping that he comes into his own in year two after a solid, if uneven, rookie season as a former top pick.

William Gay: The savvy veteran is still kicking around, and while the team finally got him out of the outside, Gay remains their slot defender. There are options for competition, but it’s far from a given that anybody manages to take his place, even if that might be the goal.

Al-Hajj Shabazz: A former undrafted free agent, Shabazz is a cornerback with decent size who played well in the preseason but earned a chance for his special teams work. He bounced from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and even got claimed at one point before finding his way back. He is a depth player who will be fighting for a roster spot.

Senquez Golson: This is the year for Golson. It has to be, right? The former second-round pick has spent his first two seasons either on injured reserve or on the inactive list due to injury. He is coming off a foot injury and the team isn’t counting on him to contribute right now.

Players Added:

Coty Sensabaugh: The Steelers were hoping to land a more exciting cornerback than Sensabaugh, but he is not to be dismissed either. While obviously a depth signing, he has starting experience and time spent in both the slot and on the outside, versatility that most of their cornerbacks lack.

Greg Ducre: Ducre spent time with Washington and San Diego in 2014 and 2015, managing to record an interception. He was out of the league last year and played in the CFL. He was signed to a futures deal in Feburary.

Brandon Dixon: Like Ducre, Dixon came into the league in 2014 and kicked around different teams, recording one interception. Unlike Ducre, he spent some time on the practice squad in 2016.

Mike Hilton: Hilton also spent some time on the practice squad a year ago. While height-deficient, he is versatile and has some skills.

Devonte Johnson: Academically ineligible for two years going back to college, Johnson is under 5’11” but has some athletic skills. He was unsigned last year but picked up by the Falcons and spent some time on their practice squad.

Players Lost/Not Retained:

Justin Gilbert: The Steelers traded their 2018 sixth-round pick for Gilbert after Golson’s injury when depth became necessary, but the former first-round pick was scarcely used. The team released him early in the offseason due to his first-round contract but left the door open to re-sign him. I find that unlikely at this point.

Notes and Draft Outlook: It’s no secret that cornerback is one of the Steelers’ biggest priorities. There was even a report that their intention is to draft the best available defensive back in the first round. They hadn’t taken a cornerback in the first round in many years but they could go back-to-back in the past two as they look to be able to incorporate more man-coverage principles into their secondary.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • John

    Intriguing draft year. It sounds like all of the OLBs are more round 2 guys except Rivers and they don’t do small schools in round one. So maybe secondary works. I would think we need someone to unexpectedly fall to us though if we are going to pick a CB and we are not just taking one like last year.

  • Rocksolid20

    Wasn’t Joe Green a small school guy ?

  • John Bennett

    They need the best man corner they can find in the draft or the best outside rush guy that falls to them by circumstances not expected.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Their FA CB pickup likely won’t even see the field. This was bottom of the bench depth, nothing else.

    The Steelers are likely to draft another CB or two in the draft. They have to draft a slot corner because Golson hasn’t shown he can play. So, besides Gay, the team will have a rookie, and whatever Golson is, all ahead of sensabaugh.

  • Terrible Towlie

    any big names expected to fall…who will it be….somebody always drops for whatever reason

  • SfSteeler

    im fine with a CB or hybrid in the top three and let him, Gay, and Sens fight it out…the question is, how much man-man will we see in preseason?

  • Darth Blount 47

    There used to be a time when the Steelers wouldn’t shy away from smaller school guys in Round 1.

    ’88 Aaron Jones, Eastern Kentucky
    ’90 Eric Green, Liberty
    ’96 Jamain Stephens, NC A&T

    But it’s certainly no longer any kind of a style in the Kevin Colbert Era, that is for sure. I kinda think you might be right that we are going to be hoping for a CB to drop into our laps this year like maybe Marlon Humphrey. I don’t think we’ll take one just to take one.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I know things are perking up, but I’m still underwhelmed by the totality of our CB group. We still need another infusion of talent. And I’m still hoping for a draft day double-dip, myself.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Could be Marlon Humphrey as a CB.

    And not that he’ll fall to us or anything, but Marshon Lattimore is receiving quite a bit of bad press all of a sudden about those hamstrings. I KEEP hearing teams say they are concerned about them. Once a surefire top 5 pick, could now slip a tad.

    As far as falling pass-rushers…. the list of 1st round talent rushers isn’t long. I think Derek Barnett may be a likely answer. And I think most assume Takk McKinley will fall due to the injury.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The same thing was said of Brice McCain. Sensabaugh is a guy who has contributed every year of his career, including last year when he was cut midseason and worked his way into the nickel with the Giants.

  • Shane Mitchell

    The news that Golson is 100% and cleared to return to football activity is big, I think he can have a major impact this season.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    That’s fine, but he will likely be sixth in line to see the field when the season starts, before injuries.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I won’t lie, that’s a possibility.