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.