A decade and a half ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were usually able to find their cornerbacks in the middle of the draft. While there was Bryant McFadden in the second round, they often surrounded themselves with mid-rounders like Ike Taylor, Deshea Townsend, and William Gay.
Generally, their profile was intelligent, willing tacklers who could understand complex schemes and work within them. The way the game has evolved, however, makes it difficult for that profile alone to succeed. Which, according to Bob Labriola, presented a two-fold problem for the Steelers.
The team’s in-house beat writer took umbrage with the categorization that the team can’t evaluate cornerbacks, instead pointing to an evolution in their thought process of how to evaluate the position, which has resulted in some growing pains.
Much like at outside linebacker, where they usually had their pick of undersized college defensive ends in the mid to late rounds to convert, the profile of cornerback the Steelers are now after are sought early in the draft, rather than later.
The team now tries to prioritize, for example, playmaking ability over fundamentals, athleticism over smarts, etc. it’s not that black and white, of course, but you get the point. And those athletic playmakers get taken early in the draft.
When the Steelers first started re-evaluating their profile of a cornerback, they were still looking in the middle of the draft at players like Crezdon Butler, Terry Hawthorne, Shaquille Richardson, and Dorant Grant, all of who were drafted in the fourth and fifth rounds.
While these cornerbacks more closely fit the new prototype, they are not at the talent level that you would anticipate developing into starters. So they tried to swing higher, using a second-round pick on Senquez Golson in 2015 and a first-round pick on Artie Burns a year later.
The problem is that they basically whiffed on both of those selections. Golson never even played for them, even in the preseason, spending most of his career on injured reserve. Burns played and even started for a couple of years, but he appears to be on his last legs now.
The fact that they have had two early whiffs obviously goes against Labriola’s argument, but one can consider it part of the learning curve of getting it right in the long run. the Steelers have taken a look at some of the top prospects this year, so it will be interesting to see what they do at the position in the draft next week.