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The Pessimist’s Take: Cornerback-Or-Bust

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Assuming the first-round strategy developed into cornerback-or-bust, was it a wise decision to pull the trigger?

The Steelers seemingly took a cornerback-or-bust position in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft on Thursday, after likely being backed into a corner (no pun intended) when Artie Burns became presumably the last cornerback of his tier available, and the risk to trade down and still be able to draft pick too great.

The selection of Burns 25th overall may not be that great in terms of his draft grade, but in the real world, the fact of the matter is that physically gifted cornerbacks get overdrafted with regularity relative to other positions, and that simply means that you have to overdraft one if you want one, even if the data shows that they ultimately produce the least return on investment of all positions.

But you don’t typically get better cornerbacks with later draft picks, so if you want the best cornerback you can possibly get, sometimes you have to reach with respect to the talent available. The Steelers chose to do that, and whether or not it works out for them remains to be seen. There is no shortage of failed first-round cornerbacks in recent years, after all.

Based on pure draft projection, Burns was certainly not at the top of the list when the Steelers were selecting 25th overall in the first round. It is true that he may develop into a talent that is better deserving of that status, but as it currently stands, there are many greater talents that they could have had there that they will now be unable to have.

And the principle way of building a quality roster is adding the best talent that you can at the most premium opportunities when you have that available to you. What the Steelers chose to do is not roster building, but rather filling a need, and not every plug fixes the leak of every hole.

Another factor in this equation is that the presence of Burns as the last cornerback available in his tier likely prevented the Steelers from moving back, giving them the opportunity to acquire an additional draft pick or two to address additional areas of the roster. They likely could have added another late-third-round pick if they were willing to select somebody other than Burns at that spot, and as we see, entering Day Three, there are still some very talented players on the board that could have looked good in black and gold at that extra third-round spot.

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