After losing out on their top two rated cornerbacks on their board in the first round, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally found a cornerback that they could live with by staying up in the second round, despite, according to reports, failing to find a trade up partner to draft Eric Rowe.
With an eye toward impact plays, the Steelers selected Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson, who led the nation in 2014 with 10 interceptions. In comparison, it has been over a decade since a cornerback for the Steelers has recorded more than three interceptions in a single season, although safety Troy Polamalu had done it multiple times.
So the Steelers added a ball-hawking cornerback with their second pick in the draft—and yet there is a significant undercurrent of outrage over the selection. Why?
Primarily, it’s because of his size, although the fact that the pick is regarded as a reach has also drawn significant ire, but that is a separate topic.
First, let’s get the data out there. Golson is short for the position, and, in addition to that, posted mediocre to below average numbers in the vertical jump and in arm length. That is the trifecta of coming up short physically. More specifically, the former baseball player stands at just a hair over 5’8.5”, his arm length is a quarter of an inch shy of 30”, and his vertical jump was just 33.5”.
While he has neither the shortest arms nor the lowest vertical among defensive backs in the draft class, the two together, combined with his height make for an uninspiring high-point plateau for a second-round selection, which one would expect to log snaps on the outside, against taller wide receivers.
The truth of the matter is this: his height and leaping ability will be an issue. But it will be up to Golson to determine how much of an issue that is, and it certainly does not preclude him from having the ability to flourish in the NFL.
From a skillset standpoint, the Steelers’ newest defensive back has all the tools to play at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. No doubt he will be dogged every now and then when matched up against a wide receiver that dwarfs him in size—three of the four touchdowns that he gave up a year ago came against receivers who were 6’4” or taller—but his ability to take the ball away, if successfully translated to the pro level, will be a more than even trade-off.
If you read his scouting report and take away the references to his size, you would be reading about somebody who has the potential to be a Pro Bowler, certainly. And when you actually watch his tape, you have to feel that he plays taller than he actually is.
It’s when you look at the raw numbers—the height, the vertical, the arm length—that you begin to become concerned. After all, the professional level is a very different beast from the college ranks, where you can get away with a lot more.
But Golson will have his chance to show whether or not his vertical ability will deter him from excelling with the Steelers. It certainly won’t be decided in early May. After all, he has played against tall receivers before. And those elite tall receivers have the potential to abuse any defensive back in the league, no matter what their vertical.