NFL Draft

Straley: 2021 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

Pittsburgh Steelers Comprehensive Cornerback Draft Preview

Following a 2021 NFL Draft season in which I dedicated a majority of my efforts toward evaluating this year’s cornerback crop, I’ve decided to compile a preview of fifteen intriguing targets at the position in each tier ahead of next week’s draft.  As I am keeping the list confined to realistic prospects, top level names such as Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn, two cornerbacks with NFL bloodlines who are overwhelmingly likely to be taken off the board well before the 20th pick.  Needless to say, I would be ecstatic if either were to fall to the 24th pick, and would expect Pittsburgh to run the card to the board immediately.  That being said, for this preview, we will begin focusing on prospects more likely to be available at pick 24, before moving into the later rounds.

Realistic Day 1 Targets

While all signs are pointing toward the selection of Alabama’s Najee Harris, if he remains available at pick 24, two of the draft’s top cornerbacks, Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, both represent dark horse candidates in the best player available mode if they were to fall.  Despite their vastly different play styles at the position, and Newsome’s status as the more NFL ready prospect, either player could contribute immediately in sub-packages, with the ability to develop into a top flight number one cornerback down the line.

Greg Newsome II/Northwestern

Measurables: 6’0” 192
40 time: 4.38(1.50)
Arms: 31 ⅛”
Hands: 8 ⅞”
Wingspan: 73 ¾”
Class year: Junior
Scouting Report

Greg Newsome II, my third ranked cornerback prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft, consistently frustrates receivers in press coverage with a combination of length, physicality, and his ability to flip his hips quicker and with more fluidity than any other prospect in the class.  Through his unique combination of agile feet and flexible hips, Newsome II is able to play opposing receivers top shoulders before throttling down quick enough to contest comebacks and curls with ease.  When deployed in off man coverage, Newsome II displayed great patience in his pedal, allowing routes to develop in front of him before closing ground rapidly out of his breaks to contest intermediate and underneath routes.  When targeted vertically, Newsome II does a great job of attacking the ball at its apex when in phase, simultaneously showing the ability to remain calm, and play through the receivers hands with violent hand usage at the catch point.

While he could stand to improve in the block shedding department, refine his technique to avoid flags at the NFL level, and work toward increasing his turnover creation, Newsome’s ability to consistently stay within receivers hip pockets, as evidenced by his healthy ball production numbers in both his 2019 and 2020 campaigns.  In fact, after leading the team with 11 passes defended as a sophomore, Newsome II built on his 2019 campaign, leading the conference with 10 passes defended in a Covid-shortened 2020 season, leading the entire FBS by allowing a passer rating of just 15.77 as well.  Overall, Newsome II’s ability to stay connected tightly to receivers better than any cornerback in the draft, along with his solid football IQ, and ability to succeed in a variety of coverages, will make him a difficult prospect to pass up if he somehow falls into the Steelers lap at pick 24.

Caleb Farley/Virginia Tech

Measurables: 6’2” 197
40 time: N/A
Arms: 33 ⅜”
Hands: 8 ¾”
Wingspan: 76 ¼”
Class year: Redshirt Junior
Scouting Report 

Caleb Farley, a cornerback with elite measurables and athleticism out of Virginia Tech, entered the collegiate level with no experience at the position, adapting quickly and exiting his sophomore campaign as many consensus number one prospects at the position.  Nonetheless, following his choice to opt out of the 2020 season, combined with growing injury concerns which largely kept him out of the pre-draft process, Farley has seen his stock drop, with most now viewing him as the consensus number four cornerback in the loaded class.  Most teams’ attraction to Farley centers around his seemingly unlimited potential with a lengthy 6’2” frame, working in tandem with world class speed, and unmatched foot quickness for a player of his size.

In off coverage, Farley displays a fluid burst out of his breaks unmatched by any other prospects in the class, planting efficiently and covering significant ground in his transition steps.  In both press and off coverage, Farley is able to stay extremely patient, matching receivers off the line and daring them to beat him vertically, understanding that he has the hip mobility and long speed to carry most receivers vertically with ease.  At the catch point, Farley shows elite ball skills, using his size to squeeze receivers to the sideline and attacking the ball at its apex with natural ball skills, showing equally good work from out of phase, consistently remaining patient and showing tactical work to separate receivers from the football when playing the pocket.  In the red zone, Farley consistently plays catch technique at five yard depth, using his size and quickness to take away inside releases and force quarterbacks to make tight window contested throws outside of the numbers, an area where he wins consistently.

During the 2019 season for Virginia Tech, his second as a full-time starter, Farley burst onto the national radar, producing an ACC leading 16 passes defensed, while also producing a passer rating of 17.2 when targeted, a figure which led the entire FBS.  In coverage, Farley needs to work on maintaining more consistent eye discipline, as inconsistencies left him susceptible to double moves at times, never more evident than in his matchup against current Steelers receiver Chase Claypool.  Moreover, while Farley has shown the ability to tackle effectively in space, he must get off stalk blocks and involve himself in the run game with greater consistency at the next level.  Nonetheless, while Farley does not enter the NFL nearly as polished as the draft’s top three corners, meaning that any team selecting him must anticipate potential for inconsistent play as a rookie, Farley has the highest ceiling of any cornerback prospect in the class, with the necessary athletic potential to develop into a perennial All-Pro if able to stay healthy and further refine his technique.

 

Early Day 2 Targets

The next crop of cornerback prospects in the 2021 represent great value in round two, with all possessing the ability to contribute to an NFL defense as rookies, yet also possessing a fatal flaw, unlike the four likely first round cornerbacks.  While it is unlikely that all five cornerbacks are drafted in round two, and even less likely that all five will be available when the Steelers are up on the clock, it seems safe to bet that none of these talented prospects will be available by the time pick 87 rolls around.  All that being said, the second tier of cornerback prospects in this year’s class has a great variety of slot and boundary prospects, all of which can help the Steelers sub packages, and help dictate Cam Sutton’s usage moving forward.

Assante Samuel Jr./Florida State

Measurables: 5’10” 180
40 time: 4.38(1.50)
Arms: 30 ⅛”
Hands: 8 ⅞”
Wingspan: 72 ¼”
Class year: Junior
Scouting Report

Asante Samuel Jr., son of former Patriots and Eagles pro-bowler, Assante Samuel, an artist in turnover creation who also played briefly with the Falcons.  While not quite possessing the ball skills of his father, Samuel Jr. has the agility, quickness in transition, and route recognition skills to excel out of both press and off man coverage assignments.  Moreover, Samuel Jr. plays with a physical demeanor to his game, finishing with violence at the catch point to separate receivers from the football, while also showing fearlessness in run support, a good sign for his ability to play in the slot, in addition to boundary work, at the NFL level.

Playing primarily man coverage out of both the slot and on the boundary, Samuel Jr. finished his collegiate career with 33 passes defensed, a figure higher than the 32 games which he played in his career, evidencing his ability to stay connected to receivers and play the pocket effectively.  The primary knock on his game centers around his lack of ideal height, or moreover, room to add weight to his frame at the next level, to better shed blocks and tackle with greater consistency in the box, along with his tendency to give too much cushion in off coverage at times, ceding uncontested receptions underneath.  While Samuel Jr. has adequate hips for the position, he has a tendency to open them prematurely while machining releases out of press, compromising his leverage and allowing receivers to cross his face and create separation at times.

While his size certainly limits his ceiling somewhat, NFL General Managers have fallen in love with Samuel Jr.’s versatility to play both the slot and boundary positions, providing sticky man coverage ability from either spot, flashing potential reminiscent of Chris Harris Jr.  While it seems unlikely that Samuel Jr. will be available at pick 55, it would be tough to justify his selection at pick 24, making a trade down out of the first round a potential option if Tomlin and company are in love with his skillset.  If drafted by Pittsburgh, Samuel Jr. would immediately compete for snaps in Nickel, helping replace MIke Hilton’s coveted physicality in the slot, before likely assuming a starting role on the boundary in 2022, giving the Steelers secondary an interchangeable feel alongside the equally versatile Cam Sutton.

Kelvin Joseph/Kentucky 

Measurables: 5’11 ½” 197
40 time: 4.34(1.44)
Arms: 31 ⅞”
Hands: 9 ¼”
Wingspan: 77 ⅛”
Class year: Redshirt Sophomore
Scouting Report

One of the youngest prospects in the 2021 class, Kelvin Joseph combines a lengthy frame with elite long speed, fluid hips, and advanced ball skills to challenge receivers in press coverage.  When in phase, Joseph displays elite ball skills, consistently attacking the ball at its apex, and often beating receivers to the catch point.  When attacking from out of phase, Joseph shows great patience, rarely panicking with the ball in the air, waiting for the receiver to flash his hands and playing through the pocket with quick punches.  Perhaps even more impressive for a longer corner, Joseph has a natural feel in off coverage, pedaling patiently before displaying elite click and close out of his breaks to suffocate throwing lanes.  While his weight limits his block shedding, when able to stay clean, Joseph is an extremely effective cut down tackler at the point of attack.

Predictably for an inexperienced corner, with only one year starting after transferring to Kentucky, Joseph needs to play with more consistency, particularly with eye discipline, as he allowed three touchdowns in 2020.  Moreover, Joseph simply lacks consistency in his technique on a down to down basis thus far in his career.  While Joseph is an extremely fluid athlete and talented coverage player, his punch lacks power, and an NFL weight room could certainly help him both as a run defender as well as competing at the catch point.  Nonetheless, Joseph has clear first round talent, with the ability to match receivers in both press and off coverage effortlessly to go along with potentially the best ball skills in the entire draft.  While Joseph is raw, and may have to work through some warts early, if Pittsburgh were to choose him with pick 55, there is potential that they are getting a future All-Pro caliber defensive cornerstone.

 

Elijah Molden/Washington

Measurables: 5’10” 192
40 time: 4.60(1.63)
Arms: 29 ½”
Hands: 9 ½”
Wingspan: 72 ½”
Class year: Senior
Scouting Report

If the Steelers are searching for a Mike Hilton replacement, Elijah Molden represents the 2021 prospect with the closest skillset.  Molden, a versatile cornerback prospect who played in the slot, on the boundary, and at post safety in his career at Washington, making his impact felt with elite ball skills and unrelenting, physical run support in the box.  Out of all prospects in the 2021 class, few cornerbacks possess the blitzing acumen, maniacal effort in pursuit of the football, and violent hit power to match that of Molden’s game.  Moreover, Molden’s instincts in coverage, particularly when deployed in shallow zone assignments, helped him produce excellent ball production, with 19 passes defended and five interceptions over his last two seasons at Washington.

Whether playing from out of phase or in phase, Molden consistently wins at the catch point through physicality, using violent and relentless finish to break up contested catch opportunities.  In off coverage, whether in a man or zone assignment, Molden displays great click and close out of his breaks, consistently producing his best reps when able to react and come downhill.  Although a smaller framed cornerback, much like Mike Hilton, Molden has a knack for slipping oncoming blockers with agility, while also showing surprising ability to shed oncoming blockers with physical hand usage when engaged.  Unfortunately, the 4.60 forty yard dash time recorded by Molden is true to his play speed, which, combined with his lack of desired hip mobility, causes him to get beat vertically at times when caught in a sloppy transition.  Nonetheless, if Molden is available at pick 55, Pittsburgh would gain a replacement for Mike Hilton’s skillset, allowing them to continue deploying Nickel on early downs, while also continuing to disrupt opposing offenses with their patented Cover 1 Nickel blitz.  While his limitations are similar to Hilton’s in that size and lack of elite speed hinders his ceiling in coverage, Molden’s physicality and versatility to fill various roles across the secondary make him an intriguing second round prospect for Pittsburgh.

 

Eric Stokes/Georgia

Measurables: 6’ 1” 194
40 time: 4.29(1.50)
Arms: 32 ¾”
Hands: 9 ⅛”
Wingspan: 78”
Class year: Redshirt Junior
Scouting Report

Stoke’s stock has steadily risen ever since he clocked a 4.29 forty, which accurately matches his absurd play speed.  Explosive in every phase of his game, Stokes stays patient, maintaining proper eye discipline, while consistently showing the ability to fly out of his breaks and close ground rapidly, inserting himself into passing windows to disrupt incoming throws.  Stokes consistently uses his length to his advantage in press coverage, matching receivers off the line with patient feet before unleashing one hand jams to disrupt receivers and control their release before locating their hips and carrying vertically with ease.  While his ball skills aren’t among the classes elite, they steadily improved throughout his career at Georgia, culminating with him recording a team high four interceptions in 2020.  Moreover, Stokes’ speed to carry receivers vertically and size to contest in the red zone helped him limit big plays throughout his Georgia career, allowing just three touchdowns across three seasons.

A taller cornerback, Stokes must work to lower his pad level at the NFL level, as he was caught “playing too tall” at times coming out of his breaks, and more often, in his transitions from off coverage, although his makeup speed would often mask what separation he allowed.  Moreover, Stokes must learn to trust his technique and rely less on physicality downfield, as evidenced by his nine penalties recorded over three seasons, most coming due to panicking downfield and failing to get his head around and locate the football.  Nonetheless, Stokes allowed just 38.5% completion percentage when targeted in 2020, showing his improvement toward becoming a complete cornerback.  While not as technically refined as various other prospects in the draft, Stokes unique combination of length, speed, and ball skills, make him an intriguing prospect at pick 55, although his forty time will likely move him off the board earlier in the round.

Tyson Campbell/Georgia

Measurables: 6’1” 193
40 time: 4.36(1.53)
Arms: 32”
Hands: 9”
Wingspan: 75 ½”
Class year: Junior
Scouting Report

One of the most imposing press-man cornerbacks in the draft, Tyson Campbell uses his lengthy and strong frame to disrupt receivers at the line scrimmage with patient and fluid feet, working in tandem with effective hand placement.  Campbell carries receivers vertically with ease, showing desired makeup speed when he allows separation off the receivers release.  Similarly, Campbell is able to use his length and frame to squeeze receivers to the sideline downfield, making pass catchers work hard in contested catch situations.  Nonetheless, despite three years starting at Georgia, Campbell consistently struggled to find and attack the ball at the catch point, ultimately allowing 76% completion when targeted in 2020, allowing five touchdowns across the 10 game schedule.  Moreover, against advanced route runners, Campbell struggled to stay square, opening his hips early, and thus allowing receivers to navigate his blind spots and create separation.  As a tackler, Campbell shows effective mechanics, consistently breaking down, squaring his target up, and wrapping to bring ball carriers to the dirt.

In total, Campbell was targeted 93 times over his three year collegiate career, producing only 11 passes defensed on a surprisingly high target volume, showing not only opposing offenses willingness to attack him, but also evidencing his struggles to locate and contest the ball in the air.  Similar to his teammate Eric Stokes, Campbell had tendencies to rely on physicality downfield, panicking at times, and ultimately recording nine penalties across three seasons.  Overall, while Campbell projects as one of the highest ceiling prospects in the class, he simply does not appear ready to contribute at the NFL level without refining his technique, hurting his fit in Pittsburgh, a team searching for immediate contributors in sub-packages. 

Late Day Two-Early Day Three Targets

At this stage of the draft, we begin to see two distinct prototypes of prospects.  First, the cornerbacks who have some combination of size, athletic tools, and coverage ability, but are substantially lacking in one of said areas.  Second, there are cornerbacks who may lack desired size or test time speed, but have displayed the ability to consistently stick with receivers and stay disruptive at the catch point.  Regardless, some of these targets will be coming off the board around pick 87, while others could potentially be in play with one of the Steelers two fourth round selections.

Aaron Robinson/Central Florida

Measurables: 5’11” 186
40 time: 4.38(1.58)
Arms: 30 ¼”
Hands: 8 ¾”
Wingspan: 72 ½”
Class year: Redshirt Senior
Scouting Report

While not quite matching his 4.38 forty time with his play speed, Aaron Robinson is a solid athlete, consistently showing the ability to match receivers off the line in press coverage, both on the outside and in the slot, displaying ability to carry crossing routes as well as any defensive back in the class.  While his turnover creation is less than ideal, Robinson’s ability to win through physicality at the catch point, both when in and out of phase, is evidenced by his 20 passes defensed in 22 games played for the UCF Knights.  Nonetheless, Robinson’s best contributions come as a run defender, playing with maniacal effort in pursuit of the football and finishing with violence as a tackler.  Robinson has also shown impressive timing  and instincts in limited tape as a blitzer.

In coverage, Robinson needs to improve his route recognition and instincts, seemingly always arriving a step late to contest passes effectively.  Moreover, Robinson, who provides significantly better work in press man than off man, is hindered by his lack of desired arm length, leaving him unable to bother receivers off the line with single arm jams.  Predictably, his lack of length hurts him at times in coverage as well, making it tough for him to contest larger framed receivers downfield on well placed balls, simply lacking the length to play the pocket.  In off coverage, Robinson looks lost at times, giving far too much cushion and appearing content with allowing uncontested underneath receptions, likely due to lack of confidence in his backpedal.  While his flaws in coverage leave me dubious of Robinson’s ability to play cornerback at the NFL level, I strongly believe that a team with a plan to use him as a third safety, big nickel, and dimebacker, allowing him to excel in the box as a blitzer and offer some man coverage ability, will be satisfied with their selection.  Moreover, Robinson profiles as an extremely willing and capable special teams player, and will be an interesting prospect on Pittsburgh’s radar at the slot position if names like Elijah Molden and Jevon Holland come off the board well before pick 87.

 

 

Paulson Adebo/Stanford

Measurables: 6’1” 198
40 time: 4.44(1.57)
Arms: 31 ½”
Hands: 10”
Wingspan: 76 ⅞”
Class year: Redshirt Junior
Scouting Report

One of the four fits in our Alex Kozora’s “what the steelers look for in a cornerback” study, Paulson Adebo was once considered a first round prospect before a 2020 opt out decision allowed various other corners to pass him on draft boards.  Adebo has the long speed and hip mobility to carry receivers vertically with ease out of press alignments, while his lengthy arms allow him to contest the pocket effectively from out of phase.  When in phase, Adebo, a former wide receiver, attacks the football with some of the best ball skills in the class, attacking the ball at its apex downfield.  While not the most agile athlete, Adebo uses a great T-step to break efficiently from off coverage, closing ground rapidly to undercut seemingly open passing windows and secure picks.  Moreover, showing great play strength for his slender frame, Adebo stays patient before rerouting receivers at the top of their routes, disrupting their timing and preventing them from reaching their landmarks.  Adebo simply has elite ball skills, evidenced by his 34 passes defended over two years as a starter to go along with a healthy eight interceptions.  An effective zone defender, Adebo shows great understanding of route distribution, sinking to occupy throwing windows before rallying to tackle underneath receptions with speed and physicality.  Moreover, Adebo is one of the best run defenders at the position in the class, serving as an effective crack and replace defender on the edge, as well as producing positive results as a blitzer from the boundary.

While Adebo will need to improve his technique shedding blocks and work to keep his feet running upon contact as a tackler, an NFL strength program should help him reach new landmarks in both areas.  Similarly, Adebo must fix some major eye discipline issues, occasionally getting caught with his eyes in the backfield while breaking, but similarly, this is an issue which plagues many young defensive backs and can likely be eliminated with increased reps at the next level.  More concerning to most teams is the season ending injury Adebo suffered in 2019, as well as his decision to opt out in 2020, leaving scouts with limited, albeit impressive tape.  Thus, if he is available at pick 87, Paulson Adebo would answer a lot of questions for the Steelers secondary, providing the team with a solid option to play on the boundary in sub packages during the upcoming season, while potentially serving as a long term successor to Joe Haden down the line.

 

Robert Rochell/Central Arkansas

Measurables: 6’0” 193
40 time: 4.39(1.51)
Arms: 32 ½”
Hands: 8 ½”
Wingspan: 78 ¼”
Class year: Redshirt Senior
Scouting Report

Another cornerback who fit our Alex Kozora’s list criteria is Central Arkensas Robert Rochell, a freakishly athletic cornerback with an NFL ready frame and gaudy ball production, with 38 passes defensed and 10 interceptions throughout his collegiate career.  Rochell has great feet for a player of his size, allowing him to match receivers in press coverage with relative ease, locating their hip before showcasing his solid transition skills to carry receivers vertically.  Rochell is able to use his length to disrupt pass catchers from both in and out of phase, using his lengthy frame to box receivers out and beat them to the apex.  As a run defender, Rochell displayed both willingness, and effective tackling technique, occasionally using his playmaking skills to punch and rake balls loose, finishing his career with three forced fumbles, one of which he returned for a score.

In coverage, Rochell will need to refine his technique before contributing at the next level, failing to play with low enough pad level in his transition at times, leaving him susceptible to poor transitions.  Moreover, against more advanced route runners, Rochell fails to stay square, opening his hips prematurely, and allowing talented route runners to take advantage of his blind spot.  As a tackler, Rochell’s effort is always there, but at times, he fails to break down and will slip off ball carriers in the open field.  Although I value competition level less than most when evaluating film, I would be remiss not to mention that some teams will be scared off by his status as a four year FCS player.  Overall, Rochell is one of the top athletes at the position, with the necessary length, aggressiveness, and ball skills to become a solid starter at the NFL level, but will likely need a year or two to refine his technical flaws before reaching his true potential.

Thomas Graham Jr./Oregon

Measurables: 5’10” 192
40 time: 4.48(1.61)
Arms: 31”
Hands: 8 ⅞”
Wingspan: 74 ⅝”
Class year: Senior
Scouting Report

In searching for a replacement for Steven Nelson, where better to look that the prospect I compared to Mr. Nelson himself earlier this draft season.  Enter Thomas Graham Jr., a three year starter at Oregon who, before opting out of the 2020 season to prepare for the draft, was the active FBS leader in passes defensed(40) and pass breakups(32), all while finishing his career with 39 consecutive starts for the Ducks.  Possessing some of the most fluid hips in the class, Graham Jr. is at his best in press man, where he utilizes a variety of different press techniques including the off hand jam, two hand jam, mirror press, and stick and replace, patiently forcing receivers to declare before locating their hip and carrying downfield.  At the catch point, Graham Jr. plays the pocket with perfect timing and aggression, particularly when approaching from out of phase, where he is lethal at taking away what appear to be sure catches with perfectly placed punches.  When playing from outside leverage, Graham Jr. will re-route the receiver, using the connection to peek into the backfield and gain educated guesses at whether the quarterback is in a three step drop, signaling short to intermediate combinations, or a five step drop, signaling something vertical.

While Graham Jr. is a solid athlete, and his 4.48 time is pretty true to his play speed, he is not a top level athlete, which, combined with his lack of prototype height, limits his ceiling.  Moreover, when Graham Jr. allows vertical separation, which is a rarity on tape, he does not possess the necessary makeup speed to prevent himself from getting stacked.  While he is an above average zone defender, Graham Jr.’s work in off coverage is not yet up to par with his press coverage work, allowing too much cushion for easy receptions underneath, where is an extremely efficient tackler.  Finally, while Graham Jr. is an extremely effective wrap up tackler in space, he will struggle to get off blocks at times, particularly when forced to play in the box against tight sets.  Overall, while Graham Jr.’s ceiling is relatively low, he enters the NFL as a prospect ready to contribute on the boundary in sub packages immediately, where his press coverage acumen and elite ball skills at the catch point will frustrate NFL receivers.  Moreover, if drafted in Pittsburgh at pick 87, I strongly believe that Graham Jr. has the potential to succeed Joe Haden on the boundary ahead of the 2022 campaign.

 

Benjamin St-Juste/Minnesota

Measurables: 6’3” 202
40 time: 4.52(1.57)
Arms: 32 ⅝”
Hands: 9 ⅜”
Wingspan: 78 ⅝”
Class year: Redshirt Junior
Scouting Report

While nightmares of Artie Burns may scare off Steelers fans from the thought of another raw, lengthy cornerback, Benjamin St-Juste represents something different entirely.  Unlike many lankier cornerbacks, the freakishly large St-Juste is a surprisingly effective player in off coverage, staying patient in his pedal before clicking and closing ground with his massive strides.  A noticeably fluid mover in space, St-Juste is able to play extremely aggressively in press man coverage, staying patient and daring receivers to beat him vertically before transitioning smoothly, and using his length to squeeze pass catchers toward the sideline.  When targeted, St-Juste uses his length to his advantage, particularly when playing from out of phase, where his length allows him to disrupt the catch point from distance.  When closing downhill from off coverage, St-Juste delivers violent hits to the body while playing the pocket, often separating receivers from the football, and making him a particularly effective player in Cover 3 zone schemes.  As a run defender, St-Juste is extremely willing and active, using his length to shed stalk blocks and finishing with textbook wrap and roll tackles to cut down ball carriers.

While St-Juste did produce solid ball production, with 13 passes defensed in 18 games played, his lack of a single interception on his collegiate resume has led many scouts to question whether he will ever become a legitimate playmaker at the next level.  Moreover, he is overly physical both in press coverage at the line of scrimmage and downfield when contesting vertical targets, often failing to turn and locate the football, instead opting to faceguard the receivers.  Moreover, while it is easy to categorize St-Juste as an inexperienced cornerback, he is already 24 years old, and will be 28 years old by the time his rookie deal ends, begging the question of how much further potential he has for development.  While he may not be ready to contribute outside of special teams as a rookie, St-Juste has the necessary traits to develop into a starter level player on the outside, although he would be best served in a single high scheme, highly reliant on Cover 3 Match.

 

Late Day Three-UDFA Targets

If the cornerback position has not yet been addressed by the fourth round, I, among others, will be scratching my head and wondering what Kevin Colbert and company have up their sleeve.  Nonetheless, there is a solid crop of late round cornerbacks in this year’s class, with a good variance between raw players with world class athleticism, and more technically refined players who are viewed by scouts to have limited ceilings.  Sidenote, don’t discount the possibility of the Steelers double dipping later in the draft after making an earlier, more established selection, particularly with a guy like Avery Williams, who provides unmatched special teams value.

Kary Vincent Jr./LSU

Measurables: 5’10” 185
40 time: 4.38(1.59)
Arms: 30 ¼”
Hands: 8 ⅞”
Wingspan: 74 ½”
Class year: Senior
Scouting Report

A track athlete who consistently appears notably faster than anyone else on the field, Kary Vincent Jr., who finished 11th in the nation in 2018 with a 10.05 100 meter dash, makes up for his lack of size with world class athleticism and solid coverage ability.  Showing his versatility, Vincent Jr. played primarily in the slot for the LSU Tigers, but also provided some impressive reps as a post safety, including a rangy interception of Jalen Hurts in the college football playoff.  At his best playing catch man coverage over slot receivers, Vincent Jr. will dare receivers to beat him vertically before transitioning rapidly, accelerating, and often beating receivers to the catch point.  Against Oklahoma, Vincent Jr. carried Ceedee Lamb vertically with ease on numerous occasions.  Vincent Jr. possesses elite ball skills at the catch point, attacking the ball at its apex as if he were the intended target, while also showing the ability to play the pocket from out of phase with proficiency.  As a run defender, Vincent Jr. can use his speed to generate powerful hits when he squares up his target, although he is admittedly an incomplete player in this facet of the game.

Vincent Jr. struggled mightily tackling in space, where he would fail to track the back hip and allow sizable cutback lanes.  Moreover, his size limits his ability to shed stalk blocks in space, as well as making it tough for him to cut down larger framed backs in the box, hurting his value as a slot defender.  Vincent Jr.’s lack of press coverage reps will also likely slow down his transition to the NFL level, as most teams, even with their slot defenders, will include press coverage as a piece of their greater defensive scheme.  Finally, in coverage, Vincent Jr.’s eye discipline wavers far too often, leaving him susceptible to whips and pivot routes, where receivers can create horizontal separation and force him to make tackles in space.  Overall, Vincent Jr. is an extremely intriguing late round option, with the athleticism and natural ball skills to match any slot receiver in the NFL, and the versatility to rotate and man the post safety role post snap.  If selected in Pittsburgh, Vincent Jr. would serve a role on special teams, while competing with Justin Layne(we’ll see how that goes following arrest) and James Pierre for sub package snaps as a rookie, with the goal of assuming the role as the team’s permanent slot defender moving forward.

 

Rodarius Williams/Oklahoma State

Measurables: 6’0” 189
40 time: 4.52(1.56)
Arms: 31 ½”
Hands: 9 ⅛”
Wingspan: 75”
Class year: Redshirt Senior
Scouting Report

The older brother of Cleveland Browns cornerback Greedy Wiliams, Rodarius is an average athlete for the position, playing very true to his forty time, yet possessing some of the most refined coverage skills in the draft.  Possessing great footwork in press coverage, Williams is able to match receivers, opening to carry them vertically, locating the football, and staying calm to make plays on the football. Whether rallying downhill from off coverage or trailing from out of phase, Williams competes with relentless effort and physicality at the catch point, making receivers work through the ground for contested catches.  As a run defender, Williams was more than willing to get involved, showing great tackling technique, and generating some solid hit power at times.  Finishing his career with a school record 48 starts, Williams produced 33 passes defensed in his career, a figure good for fifth in Oklahoma State history, also allowing only 40.9% completion when targeted in 2020.

At the NFL level Rodarius will need to continue improving as a zone processor, as particularly in Cover 2, he would fail to gain proper depth, allowing room for hole shots at times.  Moreover, he did not see any work as a slot defender in college, potentially hurting his value as a late round cornerback searching for any way to contribute.  Overall, Rodarius lacks the athleticism to be viewed as a top cornerback, but when placed on an island in the competitive Big-12, Williams displayed lockdown coverage ability in press man, even if he was overly physical at times.  If selected in Pittsburgh, Williams could compete on special teams while potentially helping out as a boundary cornerback in sub packages, with potential of developing into a quality starter down the line.

 

Avery Williams/Boise State

Measurables: 5’8” 187
40 time: 4.40(1.55)
Arms: 28 ¾”
Hands: 9”
Wingspan: 70 ⅛”
Class year: Redshirt Senior
Scouting Report

A no star recruit exiting high school, Williams entered Boise State as a running back before eventually being moved to cornerback and return man.  While extremely undersized and lacking NFL quality tape in his 44 career starts as a cornerback, Williams has unique value as a special teamer, with nine career touchdowns on special teams(five punt returns, three kick returns, and one blocked punt return).  Additionally, Williams recorded five career blocks(three punts, one field goal, one extra point), while also collecting a forced fumble on the kickoff coverage unit.  Nonetheless, while Williams may never see snaps as a cornerback at the NFL level, he projects as a four phase special teamer with Matt Slater/Steve Tasker level potential.  Moreover, his ability to serve as a dangerous return man makes him as valuable as any special teams player could be on a roster.


 

While it is certainly possible that none of the fifteen players I have listed above wind up Steelers following this week’s draft, if the Steelers exit the week having added nothing to the cornerback room, it should be viewed as nothing less than an organizational failure.  As Cam Sutton possesses the unique ability to start on the boundary with versatility to play the slot, the Steelers have the unique ability to draft the best player available at the position, regardless of which round they select.

While I tend to believe that the best route to attack from is grabbing a talented mid round prospect, such as Paulson Adebo, Thomas Graham Jr., or Kary Vincent Jr., one of either Greg Newsome II or Caleb Farley falling to pick 24 would certainly add intrigue for Pittsburgh.  Regardless, I hope this preview will give you guys a healthy list of names to look for ahead of the draft, and I can’t thank you guys enough for supporting me, and the rest of the teams content this draft season!

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