Will The Steelers Focus Again On ‘Tangible Evidence’ When Drafting Defensive Backs This Year?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been almost one full year since the 2015 NFL Draft took place and because of that I decided Sunday night to go back and listen to the post-selection press conference that Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin gave immediately after the annual event wrapped up.

If you remember, Colbert talked quite a bit during that press conference, and several other post-draft interviews, about how the team placed a big emphasis on interceptions when it came to the team addressing the defensive back positions during the draft. He made sure to point out that cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant and safety Gerod Holliman all combined to have 29 interceptions during their final college seasons.

“We have a desire to improve our competition, play-making ability in the secondary and really feel good about those three guys,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t really talk a lot about potential or height, weight and speed, but more about tape and productivity and we look at these guys and that is what they give. The 29 picks, two first team All Americans, we felt really good about the tangible evidence that these guys were good picks opposed to hypothetical evidence or upside what they ran or jumped or things of that nature. These guys had impressive plays on 2014 college tape that lends itself to believe that we have very good productivity and tangible football players in terms of ability and what they were able to do at the college level.”

Unfortunately for Colbert, Tomlin and the Steelers, Golson’s rookie season was ultimately wiped out by a shoulder injury. Additionally, while Grant ultimately found himself back on the team’s 53-man roster later on during the 2015 season after spending a good portion of it on the practice squad, he only played one defensive snap in the games that he was allowed to dress for. As for Holliman, well, he was cut loose prior to the start of the 2015 regular season and was never heard from again.

With the 2016 NFL Draft now almost upon us, you have to wonder if Colbert and Tomlin will once again be looking for “tangible evidence” when it comes to them drafting defensive backs this year. If that indeed winds up being the case, one would think that they wouldn’t even bat an eye at Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander has he failed to register an interception during his college career. Additionally, while top-rated Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple did have 3 interceptions during his 2014 season, he only had one last year.

Should the Steelers ultimately wind up drafting a cornerback in the first round for the first since 1997, one would think that Houston’s William Jackson III has the best chance of being that player as he recorded 8 interceptions in the 39 games that he played in. Jackson, by the way, led the FBS last year with 28 total passes defensed.

As far as this year’s crop of safeties go, like the cornerback position, the Steelers have brought in quite a few of them for pre-draft visits during the month of April. Leading that list is West Virginia product Karl Joseph, who had 5 interceptions in the 4 games that he played in last season. Imagine what kind of interception numbers he might have been able to put up in 2015 had he not suffered a knee injury.

Two other safeties that have already made pre-draft visits to Pittsburgh, Justin Simmons of Boston College and Boise State’s Darian Thompson, each registered 5 interceptions last season. Thompson, by the way, had 19 picks during his 51-game college career. Now that’s some real “tangible evidence” when it comes to interceptions.

After the 2016 NFL Draft has ended, Colbert and Tomlin will once again address the media and you can bet that the local media will already have calculated the total number of interceptions registered by whichever defensive backs were ultimately selected by then. Should the interception numbers of those players selected wind up being very low, you can bet that Colbert and Tomlin will be asked to explain their draft decisions in great detail being as such a great emphasis was placed on that stat last year at this same time.

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