Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: CB Shakur Brown
Stock Value: Purchased
Reasoning: Shakur Brown was one of nine players the Steelers signed as undrafted free agents following the 2021 NFL Draft, and is the most notable, both in terms of the attention he has received and in the proportional size of his signing bonus, the $25,000 he received being larger than they typically give out.
The Steelers paid little attention to the cornerback position, and particularly the slot, until the beginning of this month on the final day of the draft. They drafted Tre Norwood in the seventh round, and then signed three players as college free agents capable of playing cornerback or in the slot, those being Lamont Wade, Mike Gilbert, and the subject of this article, Shakur Brown.
A product of Michigan State, Brown was among the league leaders in interceptions in college football last season with five. He has generally been regarded as one of the best players to sign with any team as a college free agent this year, with outlets such as Pro Football Focus highlighting him; they ranked him as the fifth-best rookie free agent to sign this year. Many had a draftable grade on him.
But the 5’10”, 190-pound cornerback is not the first and will not be the last undrafted free agent to come in with hype, and history has shown mixed results. What does play in his favor is the fact that the Steelers are in a position where they are searching to replenish their depth, which is likely one of the reasons he opted to sign here.
Practically speaking, there is a realistic path for him to open the season as a starter in the nickel defense. Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton are your one and two at the cornerback position, but with both Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton gone, there are no incumbents, only challengers.
Aside from the aforementioned, and veteran Arthur Maulet signed after the draft, his two most significant challengers are Justin Layne and James Pierre, a pair of young cornerbacks entering their third and second seasons, respectively. Layne was a former third-round pick, while Pierre, like Brown, went undrafted a year ago. They will all duke it out for roster spots and maybe even playing time this Summer.