Devil’s Advocate: House Of Cockrell

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: What are Ross Cockrell’s prospects—his floor and ceiling—for this season as he enters his second year as a full-time starter?

I don’t know that there is anybody facing more pressure from fans on the Steelers roster this year than Ross Cockrell, who seems to have about him—admittedly, from one very vocal group of fans, though not all—even less leeway than Vince Williams, who has never been a full-time starter before. More than Martavis Bryant, who has yet to be fully reinstated.

So what exactly are the parameters that we might reasonably anticipate for Cockrell as he enters his second season as a full-time starter? Let’s use the typical house metaphor: what is his floor, and what is his ceiling? How high can he go, or how low? Personally, I view him as a player whose floor and ceiling are not all that far apart.

In terms of his ceiling, it’s really mostly about being more consistent. He actually does have the capability of playing in man coverage, which should keep him in the mix no matter how much the Steelers want to use that. But in terms of press and in run support, he definitely has room to get a lot more physical.

Cockrell is a smart player who can take advantage of film study in zone coverage. It does seem odd that he failed to come down with an interception last year when he had two the year before. But he still got his hands on 14 passes, many of which involved playing the pocket, not exactly interception opportunities.

Opposing teams will know more about him this year, however, and they could look to exploit his lack of physicality by matching him up with big-bodied receivers more often. Yes, he had some success—and also some failures—against such types last year, but he is a risk to get beaten off the line of scrimmage.

Even though he doesn’t really get burned down the field, one problem that he had at times was in allowing targets to get open on scrambles, which we saw a few times last season, and allowed teams to convert low-percentage plays.

I don’t think that Cameron Sutton is going to replace him in the starting lineup, and the Steelers could definitely do a lot worse than having Cockrell as one of their starting outside cornerbacks. But he does have his limitations, and this season will be all about how well he is able to mitigate them, while working on turning the ball over more.

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