With the start of the 2016 NFL Draft now less than a week away from getting underway in Chicago, several fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers are patiently waiting and hoping that this is the year the team finally selects a cornerback in the first round. While that could ultimately wind up being the case, there are plenty of reasons to think that won’t happen and that the team will address another position instead.
Gay was re-signed – The Steelers thought enough of veteran cornerback William Gay to re-sign him to a three-year contract prior to the start of the new league year and while the guaranteed money included in that deal wasn’t very much, it’s obvious that they expect him to be around for at least two more seasons. At worst, Gay will be the Steelers nickel cornerback moving forward but arguments can be made that he deserves to start and play outside for the foreseeable future. Gay has easily been the Steelers best cornerback for the last several seasons and the team hopes that will continue on into 2016 and beyond.
Cockrell is well-liked – The Steelers received a pleasant surprise prior to the start of the 2015 regular season when the Buffalo Bills parted ways with cornerback Ross Cockrell. They quickly snatched him up and the Duke product went on to play 61.7% of all defensive snaps during the regular season. The Steelers showed quite a bit of interest in Cockrell leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft and there’s no reason to think they have soured on him after his first full season in Pittsburgh. Even though Cockrell is currently only under contract through the 2016 season, the Steelers can easily retain him for a least one more year next offseason being as he’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent.
Big investment on Golson – While young cornerback Senquez Golson unfortunately missed his rookie season due to a shoulder injury, the Steelers expect him to hit the ground running in 2016 and contribute heavily. It’s yet to be seen if Golson will be asked to play outside or inside, but regardless of where he actually lands in the defense, he should play at least 600 snaps on the low side. The Steelers have a second-round draft pick invested in Golson and will treat him as if he were an extra draft pick this year due to him missing all of last season.
Grant might still be considered a cornerback – While there has been some talk over the course of the last year about cornerback Doran Grant potentially moving to safety, until that does happen we have no choice but to still consider him a corner. Sure, Grant failed to make the 53-man roster out of training camp last year and while he spent a good portion of the year on the team’s practice squad, they finally promoted him after it appeared as though another team was trying to poach him away.
Any rookie corner isn’t likely to play much in 2016 – Even if the Steelers were to spend a first-round draft pick on a cornerback this year it’s hard visualizing that player seeing the field much at all during his rookie season. While the Steelers defense may have been simplified some under coordinator Keith Butler, I doubt he and head coach Mike Tomlin would rush any cornerback into action just the same.
Only mid to late-round cornerbacks have visited – Sure, the Steelers attended the pro-days of top-rated cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves III, Eli Apple, Mackensie Alexander and William Jackson III but outside of that, none of those players were brought to Pittsburgh for visits. While pre-draft visits are not a prerequisite when it comes to players possibly being the Steelers first-round selection, it sure is curious that the only cornerbacks brought to town were ones who will likely be drafted in the third-round or later. Of that group of top-rated cornerbacks, Jackson would seem to have the best chance of being the Steelers selection at 25th overall and that’s only if he’s still on the board come time for the pick to be made.
Trends say they won’t – At some point we’ll no longer be able to say that 1997 was the last year the Steelers drafted a cornerback in the first round but until that day comes, that’s a fact. On top of that, all of the cornerbacks drafted by the Steelers since general manager Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000 were players who had entered the league after the senior seasons. Once again, while that streak is surely to end before most of us die, I think there’s some sort of reason behind it. With that said, Jackson is again the only top-rated cornerback in this year’s class that could quite possibly keep that trend alive.
While each and every one of you can take turns at poking holes in the seven reasons I have posted above, the combination of all them together really makes you wonder if this will indeed be the year that the Steelers draft a cornerback in the first round. Fortunately for us, we only have a few more days left before we find out who the Steelers first-round draft pick in 2016 will be.