Steelers Should Be Wary Of Chasing Speed At Cornerback

It was reported a couple of days ago that among the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pre-draft visitors for the day was cornerback Jaylen Myrick, who just so happened to post the second-fastest 40-yard dash time at this year’s Combine—the year in which the fastest time ever was recorded. The record now stands at 4.22, and he posted a 4.28.

Apparently, that is enough to get the Steelers interested, because they have made it a habit in recent years of casing cornerbacks. I’m probably missing names, but in 2014 they coveted the top performer at the combine that year in Justin Gilbert, even going so far as to trade for him years later.

The following year, in 2015, the Steelers wanted Trae Waynes, who, liked Gilbert, posted the best 40-yard dash time among cornerback prospects in his class. Reportedly, they were entertaining considerations of trading up for either of them if it were feasible, but, of course, that never proved to be the case.

Nor have either of them really managed to live up to their draft status as of yet, although Waynes did make some strides last season, particularly in terms of making plays, even if he struggles in other areas. He made eight starts and intercepted three passes. Gilbert is a street free agent right now.

Myrick probably isn’t going to go in the first round the way that Gilbert and Waynes did, no matter how much his stock may rise between now and the draft, as often happens with highly athletic prospects. But there is a pattern here.

It was once the case that the Steelers were sticklers for technique and sound run defense with a healthy dose of want-to mixed into their perimeter defenders, but they have moved away from that in recent years. Both of their starting outside cornerbacks right now are a liability to some degree on the boundaries, and one of them they took in the first round.

My concern is whether or not they have fundamentally revisited what it is that they look for at the cornerback position, and if they are placing too much emphasis on speed alone. Myrick has many of the same shortcomings that others of his ilk have demonstrated, but this really isn’t about him specifically. It’s about the profile as a whole.

I just don’t want the Steelers to start going around chasing speed. They have already put heavy emphasis on building a quicker defense, and they have clearly also gravitated toward a certain type of wide receiver in recent years, with three or four of them on the roster pending reinstatement.

Not many players have it all, however, and what these sorts of players trade off is often in the fundamentals. Like it or not, that has been hindering the Steelers increasingly in recent years. Poor tackling, drops, biting on double moves, sloppy route-running. These are issues to be addressed, not added to. Myrick may prove more capable than others, but perhaps the priorities need to be refocused.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • RickM

    Your concern is totally warranted. We have a head coach who says football in shorts is meaningless. But then for some reason, pre-practised sprints and exercises in shorts or spandex catch his attention. It’s illogical and frankly it’s a very lazy way of scouting. I’m not suggesting that speed is unimportant in the NFL. Of course it is. But a player with good technique and the necessary speed will outperform a speed merchant with deficient technique every time.

  • Jason

    On a sad note, I just read that former Raven TE Todd Heap accidentally ran over and killed his 3 yr old daughter while moving his truck in the driveway. No words.

  • Jaybird

    I think Burns will become a really good corner. Last year was his first full year of football with no track. And from what I’ve heard, Miami’s coaching wasn’t exactly the greatest. Throw in the fact that Burns came out a year early and is still very young, and I think he has a lot of positive growth ahead of him.
    I don’t even care if we draft another outside corner , or a slot corner , but we need at least one more corner withdecent cover skills. It might be a pipe dream but I’d love to get a good outside corner in round 1 and just pray that Golson finally steps up , stays healthy and fills the slot.

  • Jaybird

    I read that this morning. Horrible. As a dad myself , I can’t even imagine what he is feeling right now.

  • Jaybird

    The Steelers also had interest in Peterson of the Chiefs. So I’m not sold that the Steeler scouts and coaches are doing a poor job. A lot of teams liked Gilbert and Waynes. I can’t fault the Steelers for guys that they didn’t even wind up drafting. I think the real problem was not using a high draft pick on a corner for so many years. I got faith in Burns , last year should have been his senior season in college. He’s still very young, plenty of time to improve.

  • Jason

    No doubt. I have 3 of my own and I know how easily this kind of thing can happen. My buddies son was run over when he fell off a mower he was riding on with his grandfather. That family never recovered. Worst of all fears.

  • Scunge

    I know they had interest in Demarcus Van Dyke when he ran a 4.28 at the combine too. Of course the Raiders drafted him in the 3rd and he fizzled out quickly with them and then we picked him up in 2012. He never did much and has move on seemingly every year, showing up with a new team each year. Players with that rare speed will always get chances, multiple chances, it can be seductive.

    I am not totally enamored with speed but it sure does not hurt to have it either. If anything though, it seems like the Steelers have been more adventurous of late in finding players. Golson does not fit the LeBeau prototype of a CB. Cockrell doesn’t look the part either, many think he is too soft. Quite frankly, I am willing to take CBs that are better in pass coverage and weaker in playing the run. Everyone is so down on Cockrell but man, I can probably pick out a half dozen CBs that will go in the first 4 rounds that are worse tacklers and softer than Ross Cockrell.

  • Jim Foles

    Correct… two steps made fast in the wrong direction is worse then one step slower in the right direction to make a play.

  • WreckIess

    Definitely although it seems like they go after physical skills rather than just speed. It should always be technique over physical skills. i mean, who cares how fast you can run if bad tech has you running the wrong way? What I will say is that there is something to be said about taking raw physical talent and molding it for your team. So far the approach is showing some promise with Shazier, Dupree, Burns, and Davis defensively. That’s where the issue arises. Higher floor or higher ceiling? They tend to for potential

  • cencalsteeler

    Nice article, Matt and I agree whole heartedly. It certainly didn’t work for Al Davis and it seems Tomlin has speed ranked up there at top of his list. Unless the QB drops the perfect over the shoulder pass and in perfect stride, I don’t see what all the fuss is when someone runs a 4.28 compared to a 4.4. We’re talking two tenths of a second. An extended arm can make up that difference quite easily defensively speaking. Some may not agree, but I think Shaziers speed is sometimes a negative. We see him knife through or overpursue only to be left grasping for air because he showed up too early to the party. Sometimes it works for him while sometimes it doesn’t. Dri Archer would be another example of where speed didn’t quite work out in our favor. The cone drill is much more of a measuring stick imo, as opposed to 40 times.

  • capehouse

    “You find me athletes, and then it’s our job as coaches to make them players” – Chuck Noll to Bill Nunn

  • Michael Mosgrove

    run over by a lawn mower. owww.

  • RickM

    Peters and Gilbert are guys who actually support Matthew’s argument. Peters had a somewhat pedestrian 4.53 in his 40, but he has great technique and will be a shut down corner for years. Gilbert was much faster at 4.37, but he has little in the way of technique. His speed overcame that in college, but not in the NFL.

    Ideally you’d like a guy with good techique and great speed. But they are few and far between. But good technique and decent speed wins out over much lesser technique and great speed every time. As for Burns, it’s just a little too early to tell on him. I think he was selected because all the other corners were gone and he legitimately was the next ranked corner – as opposed to soley based on his track speed.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I’ll take smarts,technique and want to over chasing 2/10’s of a second any day. I think the “old and slow” label they were given a few years back has received a little bit of an overreaction by the team.

  • NinjaMountie

    Trying to find the next Ike Taylor, lol.

  • RickM

    I agree with you. Maybe that ‘old and slow’ tag seeped into MT’s thought process. I get that probably the three best CB’s in the last 20 years, Bailey, Revis and Peterson, ran between 4:28 and 4:38. So good technique with above average speed obviously remains the ideal. But Peters shows how good you can be with a 4.53 clocking.

    Myrick, at least in his NFL draft profile, is referred to as possibly making it as a back-up in the league for a while, mostly because of his poor pattern recognition. The fact he runs 4.28 is irrelevent if he doesn’t have good pattern recognition and ball skills.

  • capehouse

    Despite rumors there’s no evidence that the Steelers wanted Gilbert or Waynes. Neither was a pre draft visit or had a dinner meeting with the Steelers. Steelers haven’t drafted a CB that’s run faster than a 4.44 at the combine. That’s really just above average speed these days. In fact, if you look at the CBs the Steelers have shown interest in pre draft from those years, their speed is really all over the map.

  • Jaybird

    I stand corrected: I thought Peters had a much better 40 time At the combine. I did see however that he ran a low 40 time that was sub 4.4. I guess that was his pro day or something, maybe that’s what gave me the idea he was faster.

  • capehouse

    Tom Shaw, who coached 8 of the 10 fastest combine times ever, said Ike was the fastest player he’s ever worked with. He clocked him at 26 mph once.

  • Big Joe

    I understand the point, but beyond having interest in the top CBs for those draft classes, i’ve seen no real proof they wanted them. As for their previous approach to scouting the position, yes, they looked for players with solid fundamentals and talent over flashy speed. Nowadays though, the fundamentals are taught less in college in favor of using what they have and positioning players in schemes to maximize their talent to win. So teams are more accepting now in draft process if players show decent fundamentals and show natural speed to stay with faster WRs and TEs. Teams can work to fix the fundamentals over time but natural speed can’t be taught. There’s risk there for sure but they can financially take more chances since they’re not handing out massive contracts in the draft anymore on unproven players.

  • SilverSteel

    It seems on this site that if a player like Cockrell has 3 or 4 average games per year and 1 or 2 below average games, we forget the other 10-12 games he played well. Cockrell has been solid for us since the day we got him. Other than shut down corners (which he is not yet), he is right up there with the good CBs in the league. He is very smart and athletic. He is a fine #2 or 3. I would take him any day over Blake, Boykin, Dwayne Washington, and all the other 15 below average guys we had in our secondary over the last 15 years. (except Ike of course)

  • SilverSteel

    Agreed, Burns is going to be a star player. He has the athleticism, and more than that – he has the drive to be excellent. Him wanting to go against AB in TC all the time told me something about him. Gonna be a top 5 CB this year I think.

  • dany

    gee they really screwed the pooch with Jarvis then, no athlete, can’t make him a better player

  • SilverSteel

    JJ was no top athlete. 🙂 He always seemed kind of soft to me. When you look at Shazier- it’s like he is chiseled out of granite comparatively.

  • Consistent

    ‘Football Speed’ really does exist. It’s not being fleet of foot as much as it is to knowing what to do,where to be and completing the play.

    Speed BEEN overrated on defense especially since teams who play well together tend to look faster than teams who don’t.

    A fast LB core may jump off the tv screen but a fast secondary usually only runs as fast as the person they’re defending,with exception of a FS covering centerfield

  • Matthew Marczi

    Evidently I have seen things that you haven’t.

  • LucasY59

    I agree to some point, just having speed isnt going to help, but the right player with good speed is a good thing to have (especially in the secondary)

    Jalen Myrick was the fastest CB (at the combine) and I think he could develop into a good slot corner (and his speed would be useful as a ST guy while he is developing) and with Gay, Golson and the addition of Sensabaugh they should have some time to let him develop (getting a earlier rd guy that can contribute righ away could be useful but isnt completely necessary, and getting Myrick late in the 3rd or 4th could be good value)

    Shaquill Griffin was another fast CB and he could be useful in similar ways to Myrick (but would develop as an outside CB, and should be picked around the same time as Myrick as well)

    there were 21 secondary players at the combine that were sub 4.5 and some more that have done well at their pro day (Brandon Wilson)

    it doesnt have to just be at CB that speed will help, like I already mentioned the DBs were fast at the combine, and there were some fast Safeties as well, Obi Melifonwu, Josh Jones, and Montae Nicholson, were fast with good size and could help the team in a dime package, Budda Baker could also help as a Slot safety

    the Steelers dont really need to chase speed as there are a lot of prospects this yr that have speed, so whoever they get will probably be fast

  • Matthew Marczi

    According to the draft day sleuths who use draft room images and the unfolding of the draft to reverse engineer the board, Gilbert and Waynes were their top CBs in their respective classes. That’s one bit of evidence. I believe it was SCI who has written multiple times that Gilbert would have been their pick that year had he been available. SCI’s ‘sources’ are reliable. Aside from a report from league sources that the Steelers were calling teams inquiring about a trade up for Waynes, they also had three scouts at Pitt’s Pro Day when Pat Narduzzi told reporters that scouts kept asking him about Trae Waynes. It’s not hard to put enough pieces together.

  • RickM

    Peters didn’t run the 40 on his Pro Day, as I guess he knows the combine was accurate. He concentrated on corner drills and I remember reading or hearing that his back pedal was incredible and he had great closing speed when you saw him in person. Good hip movement as well. His Pro Day sealed the fact he wouldn’t drop to us unfortunately. Sorry for all the details. i liked the guy two years and was hoping he’d drop so watched the write-ups about him.

  • capehouse

    Like what?

  • Ken Krampert

    I highly doubt they only look at speed. Dri Archer is the only draft pick that we seemed to be enamored with his speed, and overlooked his lack of football toughness amongst many other things. We haven’t drafted many dbs over the last several years, not including last year, so you don’t have much recent history to go on. Last year’s picks have good speed, but that is not their only attributes, so this theory has little merit right now. Oh, and btw…speed is pretty important in today’s NFL. ….

  • Matthew Marczi

    See my reply below to Big Joe.

  • “WC”

    Must be a slow news day or something.

    I personally have no idea who the Steelers will draft, nor do you.

    Secondly, I really have no idea what the Steelers are looking for in players be it speed or otherwise!

    Yes, we can go back and look at some draft history which is fine if you really have the time and inclination to do so.

    If you really think about it, through the years there has been so many sure fire prospects, even Heisman trophy winners that just did not do very well as NFL players, and that is a known, historical fact!

    So just sit back, read the trades or whatever, watch some films if that’s your thing and enjoy the process and the journey.

  • NinjaMountie

    Ike was FAST…and by all reports inconsistent the (I believe it was) one year he played CB in college; in a Sun Belt college at that. That’s why I made the comparison. Though this guy did play in a B1G school (I guess it can be considered that).

  • Jaybird

    Yeah I don’t know , a sight called NFL draft scout has his combine time then it also shows a low 40 time of 4.37 and a high 40 time of 4.58. I hav e no idea where those numbers are from . But if I recall , the Steelers had interest in him , which shows it’s not just about the speed .
    Bottom line , we ain’t getting the top CB’s who are fast and can cover when we are picking in the high twenties and low thirties.

  • JB Burgess

    Fire Lake

  • Darth Blount 47

    On one hand, I think speed kills, and certainly can’t be taught. But on the other, just for instance looking at this particular draft class board, many of the guys that I really seem to like, lack a lot of the top end speed. 3-cones and Short Shuttles and the like, are equally as important, and more so sometimes, depending upon position played. Speed is like a lot of things in life, it’s really only an issue… if you have none.

  • reddickranch@msn.com

    No more runts!

  • jsteeler

    WC, thank you!
    . Trying to figure out who the Steelers may draft is like guessing the numbers to the powerball!
    The Steelers and Kevin Colbert have been doing this since 2000. I trust them. Everyone drafted will not be starters or make the team. The best drafting team in the NFL won’t fail Steeler Nation.
    I’ve got my Popcorn ready!

  • John

    Interesting. On the other hand, they drafted Golson who wasn’t exceptionally fast. And they supposedly liked Cockrell at draft time but he was picked slightly beforehand. I do think they have changed things from their philosophy when they chose an awful array of lower round CBs (like Burnett) and basically had none of them hang around for any length of time. But it seems it is a mix and match scenario where they really do evaluate each player and try to figure out how they fit Steelers’ schemes.

  • capehouse

    Gilbert and Waynes were the first CBs selected in those drafts, so yeah maybe the Steelers had them rated #1 too, as well as every other team in the league, but other than that there’s no evidence to suggest the Steelers were planning on selecting them. Like I stated neither came to PIT on pre draft visits. I don’t think Tomlin or Colbert were at their Pro Days and there’s no reports of Pro Day dinners. The rumor about trading up for Waynes came from Charlie Campbell and even Dave suggested he fabricated the story.

  • Matthew Marczi

    “Some fans may have taken the Alexander talk as confirmation the team is targeting the Clemson cornerback in the first round. But short corners who primarily play man coverage haven’t been prioritized by the Steelers, who in recent years have targeted tall, fast zone corners such as Trae Waynes and Justin Gilbert.” – SCI before the Steelers signed Gilbert. It was a pre-draft article in which he traced the team’s interest in certain CB types, including Bryant McFadden, whom they had a first-round grade on, to deduce interest in Artie Burns.

  • John Pennington

    You can all the speed you want but if the player cant tackle bites on double moves like Gay when your beat your beat period.The steelers need to refocus on the scheme they want to run then find the players who can play in the scheme.The scheme has to focus on the safety position also cant have Mitchell getting beat again like in the last game.Find the players who can play in the new defense or you will get the same results as last year.Missed tackles and players dont know where they are supposed to be..