It’s been a while since this idea could really even be reasonably entertained, but at least for some, it’s no longer an absurd suggestion that the Pittsburgh Steelers ‘stay the course’ at the cornerback position. That is where NFL Network writer Matt Harmon placed Pittsburgh in an evaluation of every team’s situation at the spot.
The team has added quite a bit to the position in recent years. Some of it has worked out, while others have not. For example, the 2015 NFL Draft proved to be a disaster. Second-round pick Senquez Golson was never healthy enough to get on the field, while fourth-round pick Doran Grant—viewed as a steal—was never good enough to get on the field.
But they have had more success since then. In spite of no shortage of detractors, 2016’s first-round draft pick Artie Burns has developed into a capable player, albeit with still much room to grow. His penchant for giving up big plays needs to be scaled back, and his absence of turnovers last year was an oddity.
But the acquisition of Joe Haden last year for the other side was also a big addition, as was the surprise development of Mike Hilton, 2016 undrafted free agent, who emerged as the team’s starting slot defender last season.
None of those players were on the roster in 2015. Two of them were still in college. The group has basically been completely transformed.
And that is without even getting into last year’s two draft picks, Cameron Sutton in the third round and Brian Allen in the fifth round. Sutton spent half of his rookie season on injured reserve, but he played after he was activated and even started a game, in doing so at least displaying the ability to be competitive.
Allen, meanwhile, spent his rookie season as a redshirt year as he continues to learn the position after transitioning from wide receiver. He has the physical attributes to succeed, and showed some potential in the preseason. Veteran William Gay, at least for the moment, is still holding on as well.
“The Steelers revived Joe Haden’s career last season, as the one-time first-round selection had his best campaign in years after leaving Cleveland”, Harmon wrote. They “also got breakout seasons from two young players — one they were hoping for and one that was a bit more unexpected”. Here is where I expect people to disagree…
“Former first-rounder Artie Burns took a major step forward, allowing just 48.1 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage to be completed”, he said of Burns. “Slot corner Mike Hilton was more of a surprise, but no less pleasant. Hilton allowed a 67.7 passer rating in coverage and was promptly rewarded with a contract extension in January”.
There’s always going to be a subjective component to coverage stats. According to Pro Football Focus, for instance, Burns gave up 42 receptions on 81 targets. Haden gave up 25 receptions on 47 targets, while Hilton gave up 32 on 46 targets. But Hilton had the lowest yards per cover snap figure of the group.