Pittsburgh Steelers fans may not have gotten any of the cornerbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft that were on their wish list, but, as hard as this might be for some to admit, the team did manage to come away with not one, but two players at the position who both have potential for the opposite reason.
The team’s third-round selection, Cameron Sutton, is an attractive fit because of his football intelligence, which could help accelerate his path toward playing time during his rookie season, where a position could be awaiting him in the slot.
Sutton was a four-year starter at Tennessee and a team leader. His coaches raved about his understanding of the defense as a whole and the assignment that every other player on the unit would have on any given play. That is his strength.
Fifth-round cornerback Brian Allen is in many ways the opposite, as it is his inexperience that is most intriguing. The fact that he is 6’3”, well over 200 pounds, and has first-hand knowledge of wide receiver route trees doesn’t hurt.
Allen is, of course, new to the cornerback position after moving there from wide receiver in his final couple of seasons at the collegiate level. He is still quite raw, but the potential for something more is there. The Steelers see that, or they would not have drafted him.
“I made the switch in 2014”, he told reporters recently during the Steelers’ rookie minicamp. “I’ve just been here and I adapted to the position. It took a while, like a year and a half, just to get the basics down and everything, because, I mean, I never played defense before in my life before I moved to Utah”.
Like Steelers first-round selection T.J. Watt, the transition from one position—and side of the football—to the other wasn’t seamless, but there have been enough positive signs to hope for the future, and both quickly embraced their new roles. “Since I’ve been there and I developed in my senior year I feel like I’ve been playing it my whole life”, Allen said.
He was also complimentary of his new home environment in Pittsburgh, saying that “this city is just so rich with history and everything. It’s just different from Utah, but since I’ve been here these past days I fell in love with the city and I’m just excited to be here”.
It’s probably an often-overlooked facet of the first-year transition for players. Many college athletes attend in-state colleges and remain not far from home. Moving out on your own and settling in a new and strange city far from what you grew knowing is stressful and takes away from on-field learning.
Pittsburgh, however, seems to be an easier city than most for players to adapt to—especially those who steer clear of the South Side district in the early morning hours—so the quicker Allen gets settled in and embraces his new home, the better he can focus on his new profession.