2021 Offseason Questions: Who Will Be No. 3 CB This Season?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Who will be the Steelers’ number three cornerback this season?

I’m not sure there are too many questions for the Steelers bigger right now than this one. As we sit here today, we don’t know who the team’s number three cornerback — whether he is a slot defender or plays outside — will be. There are options, but all have their downsides, including a lack of experience.

Of course, Pittsburgh lost two of their top three players from the past two years earlier this offseason, with Mike Hilton signing with the Bengals and Steven Nelson being a salary cap casualty. They did re-sign Cameron Sutton, who jumps from the number four cornerback on the team to two.

The in-house options are Justin Layne, James Pierre, Trevor Williams, and Stephen Denmark. Of the four, only Williams has meaningful experience as a former starter, having played both inside and outside with the Chargers years ago.

Layne was a third-round draft pick in 2019, and played over 100 snaps last season as a dime defender when there were injuries. Pierre played a bit at the end of the season as well as an undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic. Denmark, another former college free agent, is a tall prospect who spent time on the practice squad.

Will any of these four players seize that number three cornerback role? Will the Steelers address the position early on in the draft and expect a rookie to come in and play right away? Might they still acquire a more experienced veteran player after the draft who will fill that role?

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