While there were several intriguing options for the Pittsburgh Steelers to go with their first pick in the third day of the 2015 NFL Draft, they ended up doing what most believed that they would, or at least should, doubling down on cornerbacks with Doran Grant.
That selection marked the first time that Pittsburgh had taken two cornerbacks that high (in the first 121 selections) since the 1987 draft, when they used their top two selections on Rod Woodson and Delton Hall. Needless to say, that turned out well, which goes without saying whenever a Hall of Fame player is involved.
Of course, Senquez Golson and Grant may never live up to that legacy, but it certainly injects a much-needed level of pedigree to a lagging defensive back crop that is riddled with question marks.
One trait that both Golson and Grant share, other than a lack of ideal size, is a cerebral approach to the position, with an ability to manipulate the quarterback into delivering a ball on a route that they can jump.
It’s clear that the Steelers were intent on adding interceptions to their secondary, and they did find that with Golson and Grant. Golson led all cornerbacks in the nation last season with 10 interceptions, while Grant, playing on a championship defense, had five of his own (seventh round safety Gerrod Holliman led the entire nation with an NCAA record-tying 14 interceptions).
For comparison, Pittsburgh has not had a quarterback intercept more than three passes in a single season in over a decade. The last cornerback to do so was Deshea Townsend, who intercepted four passes in 2004, which was his career-high.
Last season, William Gay and Brice McCain tied for the team led with three interceptions apiece, but the Steelers lost McCain in free agency, who signed a contract to play for Miami instead.
The rest of the defensive backs on the roster accounted for three interceptions total last season, and the Steelers as a team had only 11 interceptions, or just one more than Golson had by himself during a shorter college season.
Of course, both Golson and Grant present their own limitations, and we have already looked into Golson, whose lack of vertical measurable raises some concerns. Standing at under 5’9” with below average arm length and vertical leaping ability, he will have to rely on his excellent timing and better learn to play through the ball at the next level in order to mitigate his limitations.
Grant, too, stands only a little over 5’10”, although his arm length is slightly better, and he improved his vertical at his Pro Day (Golson, in contrast, stood on his Combine numbers outside of the bench press).
Clearly, their height will be a factor in their performance on the field. Everybody’s height is a feature of their makeup. But these two cornerbacks have superb skills in other areas that should go a long way toward minimizing their height deficiencies. In terms of talent, I think the Steelers got themselves two good young cornerbacks who could potentially contribute early in sub-packages.