It’s no secret the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t known for drafting productive cornerbacks. They’re as bad at drafting corners as they are good at receivers. But ask Kevin Colbert about it and he’ll largely dismiss the history and push back on the notion they’ve struggled as much as perceived.
“Sometimes we forget about Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor, they were significant starters on Super Bowl winning teams. Some of the other guys have made it and they’ve been contributors maybe not here but they’ve moved on to other teams. And there were just different reasons why we made different decisions in each of those cases. And a lot of times it’s a medical situation where a player was injured.”
It’s probably not the best counter claim when you bring up players drafted 15 years ago. Colbert seems to make a reference to Keenan Lewis, drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. He started just one full year in Pittsburgh before cashing in with New Orleans, starting two seasons there and picking off six passes. And he alludes to Senquez Golson, who never made it into a preseason game, let alone anything on Sundays, due to repeated injuries.
But there is still a subpar track record. Here are the corners drafted in the top five rounds since 2010:
It’s largely a list of “oh yeah, I remember him” type players. Only one of those received a second contract from the team, Allen, a move that very quickly fell flat on its face. Most frustrating of all isn’t the fact those names didn’t turn into starters, you can’t expect every mid-round corner to become Richard Sherman, but the complete lack of impact most of those names made.
Butler bounced around to eight different teams in his career, recording only 24 tackles and never intercepting a pass. He spent just one year in Pittsburgh. Brown spent three years as a Steeler, working only on special teams. Hawthorne and Richardson were complete whiffs, never appearing in an NFL game. Grant failed to make the team as a 4th round pick. Burns has been a bust while Allen has yet to take the step the team hoped for. Those point to evaluation issues, not coaching, considering the lack of interest and success from the rest of the NFL.
So sure, the team did hit on McFadden and Taylor. It’s just been a long time since we’ve seen that caliber of player selected. Perhaps it’s the team struggling to adjust with the evolution of the game. Physical, run-stuffing corners like McFadden don’t work anymore, something Colbert seemed to acknowledge earlier in the offseason.
“Our game has always been about getting physical players who can come off the edge and close off the edge and make a tackle,” he told the team site in February. “But are they doing that at the expense of not making plays on the football? We have to maybe try to find that balance and maybe be more open to the concept that the game is constantly changing and if you want playmakers in the back end, then find someone who has done it.”
That implies they’ll look for a different type of corner in an effort to create more splash and improve a defense that intercepted just eight passes in 2018.
Colbert did conclude by saying, and this should be no surprise, they evaluate positions the same way.
“We don’t evaluate corners any differently than we do receivers.”
Let’s hope this weekend, they find some corners who turn out more like their receivers.