With the 2021 NFL Draft in the books, we’re turning our attention to the eight undrafted free agents signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. These will be scouting reports on the players signed we didn’t have any pre-draft profiles on.
#28 Mark Gilbert/ CB / Duke – 6’0 1/8”, 186lb
-Has the speed (4.48 40) and the explosiveness (36” vert, 130” broad) to play on the outside and hold up in man coverage
-Decent arm length (31 2/8”) combined with height aid in ability to contest passes
-Has experience playing both on the boundary as well as in the slot
-Can track the ball well in the air and can get position to play the ball deep downfield
-Does a great job anticipating the pass and jumping the route in zone or in off-man coverage
-Has proven ball skills with production in the INT department
-Isn’t afraid to stick his face in the fan as a tackler and will play physical as a run defender
-Strong wrap up tackler on the perimeter
-Can run with receivers in-phase down the sideline
-Smaller hand size than you would like to see (8 3/4”)
-Boasts a thin frame that can result in difficulty shedding blocks on the outside and struggle to handle size on the perimeter
-Doesn’t have great deep speed and can give up a step to receivers when covering vertically downfield
-Played just four games and 226 snaps over the last three seasons due to major injuries to his hip and foot
-Questions linger if he’ll be able to flip his hips to transition and run with receivers trying to stack him after injuries
-Isn’t overly twitchy and will give up inside releases too often with his eyes locked into the backfield
-Will turn 24 years old in his rookie season
-Redshirt Senior Prospect from Fayetteville, NC
-Nephew of former Pitt and NFL defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, who was the No. 3 overall pick in 1992 and played in the league for 11 years
-Cousin of former Pitt cornerback and four-time All-Pro Darrelle Revis
-Lettered in basketball and led Terry Sanford to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A state crown as a junior and earned title game MVP honors
-Enrolled a semester early after earning all-state honors in football his senior year at Terry Sanford High School
-Started as a true freshman in 2016, notching 18 tackles, two for loss, and two PBUs in 12 games
-Started 13 games as a sophomore, tying for third in the FBS with six interceptions and ranking eighth with 15 PBUs, posting a school-record 21 passes defensed in total while throwing in 35 tackles (three for loss).
-Suffered a severe left hip dislocation in the second game of 2018, finishing with four tackles in two starts and missed the rest of that season along with the 2019 campaign as he underwent multiple surgeries
-Started the first two games of the 2020 season, recording eight tackles and one interception but had to miss the rest of the season remove loose bone fragments in his right foot
After the surgery, he opted out of the rest of the year due to COVID-19 and to prepare for the NFL draft
– First-team All-ACC in 2017, 2016 second team freshman All-ACC
Mark Gilbert was signed as a UDFA following the 2021 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but his status as an undrafted player falls less on lack of talent and more on circumstance. Gilbert is a good athlete with a great athletic background as an all-star high school basketball player with family ties to the NFL. His uncle was a long-time NFL defensive tackle and his cousin is actually Darrelle Revis. With both family members having played for Pitt, signing with the Steelers is kind of a welcome home for the Duke product.
Gilbert started out his tenure with the Blue Devils with a bang, earning the starting role at CB in his true freshman season and then posting a season for the record books as a sophomore in 2017. His six INTs and 21 total passes defensed paced the NCAA and set Duke team records. When watching Gilbert’s ape, you see a defender with good height and length to contest passing lanes and play the ball well in the air as it travels to its intended target. Here against Baylor, we see Gilbert undercut the route near the boundary, knocking he ball away from #15 Denzel Mims, a WR I was particularly high on in the last draft cycle.
His size and length make him a good player to have when playing the ball in the air and challenging at the catch point against the receiver. On this play we see Gilbert carry Mims up the sideline and attacks the ball at the high point to force the incomplete pass while on an island.
Gilbert does a great job using the sideline to his advantage with working vertical with receivers, staying sticky on their back him and being able to run in-phase with them throughout the route.
He does a good job tracking the ball in the air and can position himself on vertical passes to place his body in-between his man and the football in the air. This can lead to a PBU or allow him to play the ball for the INT as he does here on this takeaway vs Wake Forest.
While having the skills and size to run with receivers in press man coverage, Gilbert may be at his best in off-man or zone coverage looks where he can rely on his instincts and ability to play off of the QB’s eyes to jump the route underneath to make splash plays. We see that here as Gilbert gets hands-on the receiver on the snap, but them lets him run up the sideline to be picked up by the safety as Gilbert undercuts the route for the easy interception.
One thing that sticks out about Gilbert was his hip tightness and lack of twitchiness in terms of click-and-close. He tends to give up inside releases pretty easily, not being able to open up his hips laterally and turn-and-run fluidly to the middle of the field. We see the receiver get a step on him inside, but Gilbert is still able to makeup ground and force the incomplete pass at the catch point.
However, this can lead to instances where Gilbert can get beat deep on long developing routes due to a lack of elite deep speed on tape and lack of hip fluidity. We see that here versus Denzel Mims as Gilbert gives him an inside release playing in a side shuffle technique rather than in a backpedal and committing to opening up his hips. Mims catches the post concept and angles away from Gilbert who can’t catch up, leading to a long TD.
After the injury, Gilbert hardly played over the last three seasons, only recording four starts in that time frame. The lack of confidence in that hip as reared its ugly head in his most recent tape, not looking as fluid as he did in 2017. Here we see Gilbert at the top of the screen where he again gives the receiver an inside release and the WR runs the corner route to the sideline, putting Gilbert in a spin cycle as he tries to run around in a circle rather than flipping his hips, trailing the pass catcher and allowing him to haul in the catch.
His eyes can get stuck in the backfield at times trying to read what the QB is doing rather than staying committed to covering his man. We see on this rep Gilbert literally get spun around and the receiver get wide open inside for the long TD bomb.
Normally a willing, consistent tackler for a DB, Gilbert’s size isn’t only concerning from a durability standpoint giving his weight at his respective height, but also his lack of being able to fight off blocks as a run defender. He will have no problem coming up and playing the run unblocked, but he’ll have a tough time fending off blocks to make an impact.
However, there are moments in 2020 that Gilbert showcases what made him a highly regarded prospect coming off of a stellar sophomore campaign. Here in the same game, we see Gilbert pick up the receiver in the slot and carry him vertically up the seam, attacking the ball in the air and coming up with the turnover on the deep pass.
Overall, I came away very intrigued with the signing of Gilbert. His first two seasons of film had him squarely in the Day Two/ Early Day Three range for a corner of his height, length, production, and competitive nature. However, the hip and foot injuries derailed those aspirations, leading him to sign a FA deal with Pittsburgh after going undrafted. Should he still struggle with the hip concerns moving forward, it will be tough to see him make the regular season roster. However, if he is healthy as he has declared at his Pro Day, the has the traits and intangibles to be in the mix to play on the boundary for Pittsburgh and potentially contribute in the nickel and on special teams.
He appears to be happy with his decision to sign somewhere he has strong ties to in Pittsburgh and is motivated to show his injuries are a thing of the past. Personally, I’m routing for this guy and think if he is indeed past his previous adversities, he should be able to challenge the likes of Layne and Pierre in training camp in hopes of earning a roster spot.
Games Watched: vs Boston College (2020), vs Baylor (2017), at Wake Forest (2017)