2019 Pre-Training Camp Roster Review: Cornerback

The last time that we took a look back at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster in review, it was weeks before the 2019 NFL Draft took place. It would be safe to say that quite a bit has changed since then, and the changes apply to almost every position on the roster, some major changes, some minor.

We are closing in on the opening of the Steelers’ several weeks of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, however, so it would be a good time to pause and take stock of where the team stands at each position since the build-up to the draft as we head into the most critical process of the offseason.

Position: Cornerback

Total Positional Figure: 11

Additions: 2

Deletions: 1

Players Retained:

Joe Haden: The Steelers’ top cornerback for the past two seasons, Haden is entering a contract year now unless they get an extension done. Despite entering his 10th season, he has only recently turned 30. He himself admits he’s not quite the athlete he once was, but he has made up for it above the neck.

Steven Nelson: The Steelers’ biggest outside signing during the free agency period, Nelson was brought in the start after a disappointing season at the right outside cornerback spot for the defense. They expect him to help with the lack of interceptions.

Mike Hilton: Hilton, entering his third season, is looking for a new contract as an exclusive rights player, but he’s not likely to get it. He played most of 2018 with an arm injury, to which he responded by adding muscle this offseason.

Cameron Sutton: Entering his third season, it’s not clear what role if any there will be for Sutton. He could be the first cornerback off the bench at all three spots. He could even be inactive. The former third-round pick still has a lot to prove.

Artie Burns: But nobody has more to lose than Burns, who is sticking to the roster by the skin of his teeth for now. A disgraced starter, even the front office is talking about how he’s an unknown right now, and that it’s about him rediscovering his confidence and locking in his fundamentals.

Brian Allen: Another third-year cornerback, Allen was drafted in the fifth round as a project. By year three, that project should be starting to produce results. If he hasn’t made some meaningful progress this offseason, he probably will not make the 53-man roster, though he could stick on the practice squad.

Herb Waters: That’s where Waters spent most of last year. Allen was actually there, and after he was promoted, Waters was signed. He’s still on the roster, so that’s something.

Marcelis Branch: Branch has two offseasons in the NFL under his belt, and spent some time on the Falcons’ practice squad in 2017. He can play both cornerback and safety, and according to reports, did the latter in OTAs.

Kameron Kelly: Another defensive back—actually listed as a DB—who can play both cornerback and safety, I didn’t actually hear any reports of Kelly playing cornerback in the spring, but he’s bound to do so at some point, even if the clearer path to a roster spot is at safety.

Players Added:

Justin Layne: The rookie was drafted in the third round. He is a great prospect with size and speed and the college coverage numbers to back it up, in spite of his relative inexperience. The only thing he’s missing is the turnovers. Most believe he will take some time to develop and won’t be a defensive factor as a rookie.

Alexander Myres: The only college free agent rookie cornerback the Steelers signed, Myres comes out of Houston as a rotational player. His physicality and special teams experience could play in his favor, however.

Players Deleted:

Jack Tocho: Tocho was my favorite of the AAF signings, and of course he was released prior to rookie minicamp. He hasn’t resurfaced anywhere as of yet. There are no indications he has participated in any of the XFL tryouts.

Notes and Camp Outlook: 

There will be a lot to look at for the cornerback group, with Haden the only thing really locked in. Hilton will be monitored for his contract status, while Nelson is still breaking in. Burns, Allen, and others are all competing for roster spots—likely the same roster spot—while Layne will try to contend for a role. Can a darkhorse like Branch or Kelly emerge and make the team?

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