The calendar is quickly flipping through the month of April, and each day brings us closer and closer to the 2015 NFL Draft. By now, teams should have by and large accomplished everything that they have set out to do in terms of free agent roster building, which means that their sole focus is now preparing for the draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally been able to clear the Troy Polamalu hurdle and settle into their pre-draft roster. We have broken down the Steelers’ moves at each position in free agency in terms of re-signings, free agent additions and subtractions, cuts, and retirements, so now we begin the final process: determining draft needs.
Yesterday, we gave the outside linebacker position a look, and if that isn’t the Steelers’ biggest need heading into the draft, then the cornerback position certainly is, which is where we find ourselves focusing today.
The Steelers are already down two of the six cornerbacks that they carried through the season last year, though for different reasons. They have retained the other four, but have only added one additional cornerback as a reserve signing back in January.
Ike Taylor began the 2014 season, as he had for the past decade, as a starting cornerback for the Steelers, and he may have remained there for all, if not most, of the season were it not for a freak injury in a friendly fire incident during the third game of the season.
Not that his play during the first three games of the season was exemplary by any means, but the Steelers weren’t prepared to take so many hits to the position. When he returned, he struggled to keep up, and he wound up as a scratch for the playoff game.
Also gone is Brice McCain, who ended up sliding into the starting lineup from Week Six on after Cortez Allen was benched. He played quite serviceably overall, especially given his size limitations as an outside corner, although he moved into the slot in sub-packages. He recorded three interceptions, including two in the season finale, which helped earn him a nice little contract from Miami that the front office didn’t want to match, presumably.
What remains is Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, and B.W. Webb from last year’s roster, in addition to Kevin Fogg, who spent some time on the practice squad. It seems a foregone conclusion that Gay will be in the starting lineup, but the other corner could be up for grabs, no matter how much the coaches hope Allen can step up and fill that position.
We got a good look at Blake toward the end of last season and found that he could play, but he may have a limited ceiling. We don’t know much yet about Webb, a former fourth-round draft pick with decent size. I don’t know that he’ll be in competition for a starting job, but he could compete for playing time, as Blake did last year.
No matter how much they may like these four cornerbacks, the Steelers certainly seem adamant about adding to the position, both in their public comments and in their list of pre-draft visitors, with nearly a third of them being cornerbacks.
As I wrote yesterday, it does look like this year is shaping up to be yet another time that Pittsburgh double dips at the cornerback positions. The factors appear to be aligned. The need is very much there, as is the talent, with this cornerback class being regarded as one of the best in recent years in terms of both quality and quantity.