Like many of you, I’m still hard at work trying to figure out who the Pittsburgh Steelers will draft in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. While Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson seems to be a popular choice amongst Steelers fans, I’m going to present several reasons as to why I don’t think he’ll be the pick this year.
Before we get started, however, I wanted to make it clear that I think Johnson is a very talented player who would definitely fit a Steelers need. This is not an anti-Johnson post. Instead, please consider this post as me just thinking out loud as to reasons why I think the Steelers might bypass him with the 22nd overall selection.
1) Steelers Draft History – Let’s start off with the obvious. The Steelers haven’t drafted a cornerback in the first round since 1997 when they took Chad Scott with the 24th overall selection and that was a few years before current general manager Kevin Colbert arrived in Pittsburgh. That’s a span of 17 years and while every year is a new year that’s full of new prospects, it’s a trend that’s hard to ignore.
2) Wake Forest History – This is another petty factoid, but once again it’s a hard one to ignore. According to my research, only four times has a Wake Forest player been drafted in the first round dating back to 1940 and none of those players played defensive back. Hey, I told it was a petty reason, but Aaron Curry was the last one and that happened way back in 2009.
3 ) Never Played For A Winning College Team – Johnson never played for a winning team while at Wake Forest and additionally he never played in a bowl game. While Wake Forest did play in the Music City Bowl at the conclusion of the 2011 season, Johnson was forced to sit out that season due to him being academically ineligible. If drafted by the Steelers in the first round, he would become the first Steelers first-round draft pick selected by Colbert to never have played for a school with a winning record in any one season.
4) Questions About Competition Faced – While Johnson certainly did play well during his final two seasons at Wake Forest, he very rarely played against top-level competition outside of the four games he played against Florida State and Clemson. While he did play against Louisville in 2014, wide receiver DeVante Parker sat that game out with an injury. If you want to count the 2013 game against Vanderbilt, you probably need to be reminded that wide receiver Jordan Matthews caught 11 passes for 125 yards in that game and I know that two of those catches good for 66 yards came against Johnson.
5) Lack Of Elite Speed – While 40 times and straight-line speed certainly aren’t everything when it comes to cornerbacks, Johnson’s 4.52 second time at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine is a number that will be associated with him from here on out. However, to Johnson’s credit, he did finish second among all defensive backs at the combine in the vertical jump and was also second-fastest in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drills.
6) Lacks Positional Draft Value – Do you consider Johnson to be the top-rated cornerback in this year’s draft class? I know that I don’t and the same probably goes for all of you. At best, Johnson is probably the third-rated cornerback in this year’s class and that means there’s several other players with first round grades that the Steelers have ranked higher than him. Colbert normally doesn’t chase need over draft board rankings, so that’s one more thing that I believe needs to be considered.
7) Age – Johnson certainly isn’t a youngster as he’ll be 22 years, 8 months and 26 days old come draft day. He’ll be 23 at the start of the 2015 season and being as he isn’t likely to be a full-time starter in Pittsburgh until his second season, that would put him at 24 by the time that happens. Being older certainly doesn’t rule him out (See Jarvis Jones), but it’s one more thing that you have to consider when it comes to the Steelers and their first round picks.
Summary) While each one of these individual things listed above is not enough to preclude Johnson from being the Steelers first-round selection, I think when you stack them all together it certainly makes you start to think why he possibly won’t be the pick.
As always, the tape of any player should be the biggest deciding factor and while Johnson’s is certainly good, I don’t think the Steelers will think it’s good enough to warrant spending the 22nd overall pick on. Fortunately, we don’t have much longer to wait to find out if my assessment is right or wrong. Should the Steelers indeed wind up drafting Johnson 22nd overall, however, I firmly believe it will be a case of Colbert chasing need over draft board rankings.