During the 2015 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers added a pair of cornerbacks to their depth chart within the first four rounds. With their second-round selection, the team drafted Senquez Golson. Two rounds later, their first pick on the third day of the draft went to Doran Grant.
The Steelers have a history of drafting players in pairs and allowing them to compete in-season, and I certainly expect that to be the case for these two defensive backs.
Most famously, head coach Mike Tomlin was known to use the phrase “two dogs, one bone” to describe the weekly competition for rookie wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown in 2010 for a helmet on game day, although eventually they both often got a helmet depending on the game circumstances and injuries.
But that is certainly not the only recent example. In 2009, the Steelers drafted cornerback Keenan Lewis in the third round and added Joe Burnett in the fifth round. Despite being the lower draft pick, Burnett earned more game-day helmets due to his special teams ability during their rookie season.
In 2010, the Steelers also added a pair of outside linebackers, with Jason Worilds in the second round and Thaddeus Gibson in the fourth round. Gibson missed out on parts of the offseason due to school, which set him behind, and he was never active for a game for the Steelers after they released him in order to keep Aaron Smith on the roster despite his injury.
In 2011, it was cornerbacks Curtis Brown in the third round and Cortez Allen in the fourth round competing for a helmet on game day. Early on, it was Allen, actually, who got onto the field, although Brown later emerged as a quality special teams player, despite otherwise turning out to be a bust.
This year, it should be Golson and Grant competing against each other to get on the field. As it currently stands, they are the least experienced behind a group of four cornerbacks that were on the roster last season, including B.W. Webb, who even saw a few snaps on defense.
William Gay, Allen, and Antwon Blake are all certainly ahead of the two rookies on the depth chart and will have their helmets on game day, at the very least to start the season. Wherever Webb stands is largely for him to determine as a two-year veteran with a year’s experience in the team’s system.
That will leave it up to Golson and Grant to put their best foot forward week in and week out, auditioning every practice for the opportunity to play that week. Such a competition will only make both players hungrier for the chance, and better players.
Although the hope is for both of them to come in and make major, positive contributions right away, that’s not likely to happen. One will likely emerge faster than the other, possibly as the latter watches from the sidelines if there are not enough helmets for the cornerbacks to go around.