There is a certain impression about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their profile for what they seek in their cornerback, specifically as it refers to size. And it’s certainly far from unjustified, nor is there any lapse in logic in that profile.
The Steelers typically look for a cornerback with size, who is at least six feet tall, and it’s not just because they want to match up with the taller wide receivers in the league. The bigger component in that profile is that they have the requisite size to play the run.
Take a look at a sampling of their recent cornerback selections. Bryant McFadden their highest-drafted cornerback in recent years until this year, was 6’0”. Third-round draft picks Keenan Lewis and Curtis Brown were 6’1” and 6’0”, respectively. Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen were 6’2” and 6’1”, respectively.
Of course, the consistency diminishes as the rounds tick down, but even recent fifth-round selections Terry Hawthorne and Shaquille Richardson were six feet tall. As you can tell by the list of names, however, success varies, no matter what height.
Last year, the Steelers found their strongest combination of cornerbacks with a trio of munchkins all standing at 5’10” or below, with the shade over 5’10” William Gay being the giant of the bunch.
Following injuries and a benching for Taylor and Allen, Brice McCain emerged as the starting outside corner opposite Gay, at 5’9”, and he moved inside in the nickel to give way to the 5’9” Antwon Blake.
Realistically, the Steelers did not have a good secondary last year, although the safeties were just as culpable in the misfortune, if not more so. But it is true that their best combination at cornerback developed out of this above mentioned munchkin bunch.
But after seeing their success on the field last season—the trio was responsible for nine of the team’s 11 interceptions, including four touchdowns—one can’t help but draw a correlation to the additions of the 5’9” Senquez Golson and the 5’10” Doran Grant.
More specifically, one can’t help but wonder if the front office became more inclined to take a harder look at shorter cornerbacks after finding that they can play with a reasonable level of success in their system.
It doesn’t hurt that the short cornerbacks that they’ve added come with a higher pedigree, and stronger resumes, having 15 interceptions between them last year, which is of course more than the Steelers had as a team.
Both also enter the league with a reputation for a willingness to make contact, and although Golson is a bit undersized, he, like Blake, makes the most of his frame. Grant was seen by the Steelers as the best tackler in the cornerback class.
The Steelers have already fielded their share of criticism for the picks, particularly with Golson in the second round, but there’s still a very long way to go to determine whether or not this was a sound course of action for the team to take.