NFL Draft

Cornerbacks On the Steelers And In the Draft

And now onto Cornerback, the final defensive position before we head on to the offense next week.

Summary: This is either the second or third strongest unit on the team, right behind Defensive Line and comparable to OLB, but there is room to improve it. The first way would be to add a legitimate star. Neither Haden (anymore) nor Witherspoon approaches the level of Heyward or Tuitt at DT, nor Watt at OLB. And Cam Sutton, the CB2, is no more than equal to Alualu or Alex Highsmith. A dominating Corner would improve the whole unit significantly.

There is also a lot of uncertainty. Pittsburgh’s group of CB’s will change drastically with the results of free agency. We don’t know how at this point, but will find out before draft day. There is also uncertainty from the players, since Haden is in his final stretch and Witherspoon comes with several question marks despite his impressive 6-week run at the end of 2021.

The situation gets still more complicated when you factor in the contributions to be expected from younger, still growing talents like James Pierre and Tre Norwood. Those late round picks have looked like they could be real gems. There’s plenty of reason to hope. But “expect?” That’s a bit much. Again, we just don’t know.

The Cornerback Position In A Modern Steelers Defense

I’ll go down each player down below. First we need to look at the big picture. It begins as it always has, with two full time starters at each side of the field. The better they are, the better the defense will be as a whole. But Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to put as high a priority on this position as other teams such as the Ravens and Bengals. Those front offices believe in sacrificing some strength on the defensive interior in order to have two excellent pass defenders. The idea is to prevent big plays, while pushing the opponent to test the more crowded middle of the field. The Steelers typically prefer interior strength, which generates defensive splash toward the line of scrimmage, while pushing the opponent to make harder throws on the far outside. It is a matter of taste.

NOTE: Please take that last paragraph with a certain amount of salt. Team builders obviously want to have equally strong stars at all locations, but that is a pipe dream. Sacrifices always need to be made somewhere. The reality is that coaches need to deal with what they’re given, adapting schemes to cover injuries, weaknesses, etc., while enhancing individual strengths and building on surprise contributions from players who do better than expected. “When you’ve got red paint, you paint the barn red.”

In any case, I cannot remember a time when Pittsburgh had two star Corners, but I’ve come to expect a roster with one. Joe Haden held that honor for the past several years, and Ike Taylor for several before him. The years in between those served to prove that the CB1 cannot be ignored in this day and age. But there’s no need to dig into unpleasant memories, right? Let’s just take it as given that Pittsburgh’s modern defense requires one very strong Corner, and would love to luck into a second star, but is built on the premise that things will go fine if the CB2 is only a competent pro.

  • CB1 = the dominant full time starter. A star on the outside.
  • CB2 = the other full time starter. A solid journeyman on the outside.

Modern football has changed things a bit because the team’s third Corner now plays as many snaps as the Buck ILB or NT. This creates a problem we’ve seen before. The snaps that used to require two starters now get divided among three part-timers; the opposing offense can effectively choose which of those defenders it wants to face; and thus the best of those three may actually play fewer snaps than the lesser two. Grrr. This modern division of labor forces professional and amateur team builders alike to discount picks at all three spots. All three may be important because the team will suffer if there’s a void, each other, but none of the three can deserve the same level of investment as the three down starters elsewhere on the team.

Corner gets even more complicated because five-WR formations effectively push both the Buck ILB and the NT off the field, requiring a Dime defense that requires the CB3 to play along side a CB4 (who will preferably be a hybrid Safety/CB type). That adds a fourth position to the equation, and arguably makes the CB3 a tiny bit more important than the Buck ILB and NT. Oh joy.

  • CB3 = the Corner who comes on when the team plays a sub package defense. He is typically a slot-Corner, since the CB1 and CB2 play outside in the base defense, but he could also be a boundary Corner if one of the full time starters can play inside. This was the Steelers’ situation in 2021. Cam Sutton, the CB2, moved inside when James Pierre (and later Ahkello Witherspoon) came into the game as the CB3.
  • CB4 = the Corner who comes on when facing spread formations with five receiving options and no RB. This player should ideally straddle the line between a Corner-who-hits and a Safety-who-covers. Pittsburgh brought on Arthur Maulet to play this role in 2021, but he was beat out by the end of the season by the rookie Tre Norwood. Mike Hilton’s unique value lies in his ability to be a CB4 that can cover like a CB3.

So… which of those positions does Pittsburgh have filled on the current roster, and what might it want going into the 2022 draft? It all depends on how free agency works out.

The current roster:

  • CB1, declining toward CB2 – Joe Haden, 5’11” 195 lbs. An outside-only Corner who will turn 33 in April. [Free agent]
  • CB2, hoping to be a CB1 – Ahkello Witherspoon, 6’2″, 195 lbs. An outside-only Corner who will turn 27 in March. [Free agent]
  • CB2 – Cameron Sutton, 5’11” 188 lbs. A versatile inside/outside talent who is signed for 2022, but will be a free agent in 2023. Very solid in every way, but not elite except in the sheer breadth of what he can do.
  • CB3, hoping to be…CB1? CB2? – James Pierre, 6’2″ 185 lbs. An outside-only Corner entering the final year of his rookie deal. He will be a restricted free agent next winter, and a full free agent after that.
  • CB4 – Arthur Maulet, 5’10” 190 lbs. Turns 29 in July. [Free agent]
  • CB4, hoping to be a CB3 too – Tre Norwood, 6’0″, 194 lbs. Going into Year 2.
  • Emergency CB – Justin Layne, 6’2″ 192 lbs. Final year of rookie deal.

Reserve/Future prospects:

  • Isaiah Johnson, 6’2″, 210 lbs. A journeyman going into Year 4. Round 4 pick in 2019 by the Raiders. Played several games in 2020, then stalled.
  • Linden Stephens, 6’0″, 193 lbs. A journeyman going into Year 4. A 2018 UDFA who has floated around five different teams, including two stints in Seattle.

The Free Agency Scenarios

  • In the worst case scenario, neither Haden and Witherspoon would be signed. That would leave Cam Sutton to start on one side with James Pierre on the other. The team would have no Nickel CB3 at all, but would be set with Tre Norwood as the CB4.

This situation would create genuine need at the position, made even worse by the fact that Sutton will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023, and Pierre in 2024. A Round 1 pick would be entirely justified. Maybe even mandatory.

  • In the best case scenario you would have much the same secondary as 2021. Haden and Witherspoon as the full time starters, with Sutton as a superb CB3, Norwood as the CB4/hybrid, and James Pierre free to grow or fade as he may.

This would make the Corner position almost as strong as the D-Line. It would be hard to justify any pick at all, except maybe a boom-or-bust Day 3 talent who could be stashed on the practice squad. OTOH, this situation could push Cam Sutton to explore free agency in 2023.

  • The most likely scenario would involve either Haden or Witherspoon leaving the team, with the other remaining to serve as the presumptive CB1. Sutton would be the CB2, and Pierre would be the CB3 fighting to take one of those starting spots. The CB4 would be Norwood.

This situation would result in a mid-level draft priority situation. The Steelers would have question marks at the important CB1 spot, with Witherspoon and Pierre competing to grow into Haden’s old boots. Things would be fine if they can, and even if only one of them can, but could get chancy if both of them turn out to be CB2’s instead. Note that some of those other teams might spend a Round 1-2 pick in this situation, and that will be the impulse of Steeler fans who place a similar priority on the Corner position. I would not expect the Steelers to agree, however. Our F.O. would be more likely to select a boom-or-bust developmental prospect who would fill the pipeline with a similar ceiling but much lower expectations. The pick would happen any time from Round 3 on, and could be spent on either an outside player or a slot-type.

In other words, no one can place an appropriate priority on the Corner position until we see what happens in free agency. It’s just like the situation at Safety in that respect. You and I can only speculate, as informed by our personal evaluations of the question marks surrounding Haden, Witherspoon, Sutton, Pierre, and the others. Speaking of which…

The Endless Question Marks, Player By Player

Joe Haden earned $15.575 Million in 2021, and I don’t think anyone had a complaint. He’s been our CB1 for several years, and he played like it once again. Moving forward? That may be a different issue.

I originally started this by writing, “Haden is invaluable for his contributions in the locker room and as a team leader…,” but that isn’t exactly true, is it? He’s still valuable in that capacity – very valuable – but no longer “invaluable.” Our much loved Regular Joe has shown the first signs that he’s about to lose that important extra step between “aging vet” and “time to retire.” Will it happen in this coming year? The one after that? How gradual is the decline likely to be? Ike Taylor fell off a cliff when he lost that extra gear, but Haden has never relied on athletic genius so much as faultless technique and savvy. Still, he’s probably not a true CB1 anymore, and in a way it doesn’t matter. That looming cutoff point lowers his market value, and increases the risk that an extension just wouldn’t make sense. The value to Pittsburgh will probably be less than the value he can get on the open market, and there wouldn’t be the same friction about yielding snaps to the up-and-comers.

Lots of question marks that should be answered by draft day, but can only be guessed at here in February. We just don’t know.

Akhello Witherspoon is an exciting enigma wrapped in shadows and doubt. His career began as a 2017 Round 3 draft pick for San Francisco, where he quickly earned a reputation for severe ups and downs. The healthy version of Witherspoon looked like an ace cover corner in the making, whose main flaw came in the form of business decisions over tackling and run support. When healthy, Witherspoon proved that he could shut down passes to his side of the field. Decisively. But there is a big “if” hidden in there. Witherspoon’s high level play disappeared when he got dinged up, and that happened basically every year. He exemplified the old metaphor about Ferraris on the field. On the track you could only sit back and admire. When things turned bad and went off-road…? Not so much.

Ahkello Witherspoon left the 49ers after his rookie deal expired, signing a one-year, $4 Million contract with Seattle for 2021. This amounted to a “prove it” deal that both sides entered with very high hopes. It didn’t work out. By September the Seahawks were ready to punt. They traded Witherspoon to the Steelers in exchange for a 5th round pick in the forthcoming draft, and also agreed to absorb all but $1.5 Million in salary. Word on the street said that Witherspoon’s lack of physicality simply did not fit with what the Seahawks require of their CB’s. They wouldn’t change, he couldn’t change, and so everyone said farewell.

Pittsburgh saw that problem too. Witherspoon’s inability to play on special teams had him benchwarming behind James Pierre until Week 11, when Pierre’s play as a defensive starter began to slip. Then came Week 12, which was Pierre’s disastrous outing against Cincinnati. That was all she wrote. Coach Tomlin sat JP down, gave his snaps to Witherspoon, and Pierre never saw the field again. Witherspoon stayed healthy, played like a Ferrari, and is now first in line to be the CB1 next year if he and the Steelers can come to terms.

It won’t be an easy negotiation. The starting point is Witherspoon’s unquestionable on-field ability as a pure cover-Corner. Who doesn’t love a Ferrari? He prevents passes (Job #1) and makes INT’s (Job #3). Two big check marks in his favor. The issues come up with Job #2 (run support ability) Job #4 (availability), Job #5 (special teams), and Job #6 (position flexibility). Those points go against him.

What does that add up to from the coaches’ perspective? How does Witherspoon himself see things? Is there room for a compromise? Or will he insist on testing free agency for a better deal than the ever-cautious Steelers will offer? Again, we can only wait and see.

Cam Sutton signed a two-year contract for 2021 and 2022 that included three “void” years through 2025 to create cap savings. That makes it hard to figure out what the exact deal is, but no one will be surprised if he gets another extension this offseason to keep him hear for several more years.

No, Sutton has not matured into a true CB1. I am a big fan, and even I will agree to that. But he is a high quality CB2 when it comes to coverage, and he offers extra value in all of Jobs 2-6. He has great versatility, he tackles well for a Corner, and he can contribute on special teams if the need arises. Just as important, Cam Sutton has become a true Steeler at the level of character, team-, and city-level contributions. That matters too.

The only issue is that Sutton may want more and better snaps. He won’t be happy if he gets pushed into being a de facto CB3 behind either a developed Pierre or a hot rookie talent. I’ve no doubt he’ll suffer in silence and do his job during every snap that he sees the field. That’s a big part of why I’m a fan. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up his marbles and leaves thereafter. He’s not going to settle for being a superb CB3.

CB James Pierre is the mystery man in all of this. A 2020 Steelers UDFA entering the final year of his rookie deal, Pierre flashed impressive talents as a rookie but couldn’t put it all together. 2021 saw a Sophomore Leap that earned him essentially all the CB3 Nickel snaps in the first half of the season (playing outside, while Sutton into the slot).

His results that gradually started to fade as offenses gained more film on his habits and weaknesses. Then things bottomed out in Week 12 when he got gutted like a fish by Joe Burrow and the Bengals. Witherspoon took over late in that game, and Pierre could never get back on the field with the regular defense. He did continue to serve as a special teams ace.

The Bengals game hurt all of his fans profoundly, but time has given some perspective. Since then we’ve seen Burrow, Chase, Higgins, Boyd, and the rest of that crew gut even experienced Corners across the conference. So many that it earned them a Super Bowl run. How much blame does Pierre actually deserve? Has he recovered from the trauma? Will the 2022 version solve the flaws that made him vulnerable late in 2021?

I reached out to Alex Kozora for guidance on this, and he wrote as follows:

“I still haven’t gone back through James Pierre’s tape. I think a lot of his issues were just being a new corner in the NFL. For starters, he got targeted a lot as the new guy, teams throwing his way as opposed to Haden or Sutton, more veteran, savvy guys. Pierre had issues understanding down/distance situations and what routes could be run in those moments. And overall, his technique at catch points were poor. He may be in good position for much of the route but lose space and the receiver at the top/end of the route and give up a big catch.”

That sounds to me like the old, frustrating verdict that drives fans nuts every year: “He remains a work in progress who is still getting better, but could easily plateau and fail if things go wrong.” In other words, we can only wait and see.

James Pierre is signed for 2022 and will be a restricted free agent in 2023, so there is still time for a proper evaluation.

Arthur Maulet is a veteran slot-Corner the Steelers brought in at the beginning of 2021 to serve on an inexpensive 1-year deal. Paraphrasing Alex Kozora’s gif-supported January profile, Maulet is basically a veteran version of what Tre Norwood is trying to become; a solid CB4/Safety hybrid who can serve as a CB3 slot-Corner in a pinch. Maulet himself has proved to be stable, reliable, and aaaallllmost up to that task. But not quite. CB4, not CB3, which means he will probably be welcome on another 1-year deal, but could also be easily replaced with a higher-ceiling draft pick in the Round 3-5 range.

Tre Norwood makes for a nice bright spot to end on. A Round 7 pick in 2021, Norwood outplayed every expectation to became an important piece of the defensive puzzle even as a rookie. What a win for the front office!

It’s fair to say that everyone expects Norwood to develop into a fine Dime and Big Nickel defender moving forward. Even a small Year 2 advance would yield that result. And if he can surprise us again with a big leap, we may also have lucked into a legitimate CB3 slot defender.

He’s given us the right to hope, and I fully intend to do so. But dare I say it? When push comes to shove, we can only wait and see.

You may have noticed that Justin Layne didn’t get mentioned up above. That is because even I, an eternal optimist when it comes to homegrown draft picks, have finally lost hope for his ability to become a starting Corner in the league. Or at least in Pittsburgh. The Steelers selected Layne with their Round 3 pick in 2019. His predraft profile turned out to be pretty accurate:


CB Justin Layne, Michigan St. {Visit}. 6’1¾”, 192 lbs. A long Corner prospect with tremendous athletic talent, a good attitude toward tackling, and room to grow with his technique, football IQ, and overall physique. The Combine athletic testing put him in the 90th SPARQ score percentile and a very well rounded athletic profile that showed no particular holes. The coverage crew lauded his patience in coverage (“he never takes the cheese”) but suggested he was another “Carroll type” who might (not would, just might) have some system limitations. The question marks and potential are discussed in this BTSC article on this year’s CB/S hybrids. The Draft Network scouting profiles page projects him as you’d predict from the physical description: a potentially good press Corner who will struggle with other schemes. Also listed in this pre-Combine article on “prospects who deserve more buzz”. Here is a decent, gif-supported scouting report from late February. This pre-Combine, gif-supported and Steeler-oriented scouting report ends with a fringe-3rd grade based on some perceived athletic limitations like a stiffness in his game and worries about his recovery speed. Did the Combine answer those questions?

Layne has lived up to all the nice things in that description. He really is long, tall, fast, and very athletic. But he also has the limitations, and simply lacks the fluid COD skills to succeed as a starting Corner in Pittsburgh’s base defense. He may be able to do so in a Seattle Cover-3 defense that hides those weaknesses, but he cannot do it here. Which is a real shame, because he is one of the team’s best special teams players and by all accounts is a classy young man who does the uniform and the city proud.

Justin Layne will be a free agent in 2023. I expect him to test the market in search of a new home where defensive snaps may still be on the table. I will also wish him the best of luck in finding such a position. Go get’em J.L.! But for Pittsburgh’s defense in 2022? He doesn’t factor in.


All of the above boils down to this: a Cornerback pick could make sense at any point in the draft. A truly great prospect is in play even at 1:20; superior prospects could make a ton of sense at both 2:20 and 3:20; a promising CB3 would make sense at 4:comp; and developmental pipeline talent would make sense thereafter.

Here is the current Big Board for this position. Grades are tentative, and I would deeply appreciate any input you can provide on those grades. Even more thanks will go out for insight on particular prospects.

1:05 CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson. (Junior). 6’0”, 200 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. This kid loves football, including the hitting part that so many Corners disdain. And he does that with elite coverage skills to back it up. The problems come from an occasional need to say, “whoa boy,” which everyone knows is Tomlin’s favorite kind of problem to deal with. He won’t fall to the Steelers, but wouldn’t it be a dream if he did?
1:05 CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU. (Junior). 6’1”, 200 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. The pure physical prototype of a shutdown Corner, he has every asset you look for in man, zone, and off coverage. Period. The past two years of film have not been up to his personal standard, but they aren’t hard to excuse if you try. Has suffered from injuries, chaos at the coaching level, and lack of support around him. Has been accused of losing focus at times too, and his devotion to tackling has varied from superior down to lacking. Culture will matter. But it won’t be in Pittsburgh, because he’s just too good. This year’s target of draft second-guessers everywhere.
1:10 CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati. (Junior). 6’2”, 190 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A football player who happens to play Corner, Gardner is a flat out playmaker who loves to stick his face in the fan if it’s going to blow up some offensive scheme. Zone schemes allow him to do that best, but it’s not like he has many flaws in man coverage either, and his combination of speed, length, and athleticism are good enough to stand out against the Alabama passing game in the semifinal playoff game. A serious Round 1 target if the team has concerns about the position. Daniel Jeremiah’s top CB in the entire class. That may also be true for Steelers Depot if you go by Owen Straley’s gif-supported scouting report. “I have traditionally been skeptical of the modern NFL’s infatuation with size and length at the cornerback position, placing higher value into traits such as hip mobility, [COD] skills, and ball skills. Enter [this] refined technician in press coverage, equipped with fluid hips, agile feet, and elite ball skills despite his [6’2” frame]… I am higher on Sauce Gardner than I Was on either of last year’s top 10 CB’s, Pat Surtain II and Jaycee Horn.”
1:20 CB Roger McCreary, Auburn. (Senior). 5’11”, 189 lbs. with short 29¼” arms and 8⅞” hands. [Mtg. at Senior Bowl]. If Pittsburgh wants him it will need to be in Round 1, because McCreary is just that solid. As high a floor as you’ll ever see in a Corner who isn’t a miracle athlete. I was waiting eagerly for Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report, and it did not disappoint. “If you’re looking for a man cover corner, [this] is your guy. Some will question his size but it didn’t stop him from consistently winning against college football’s best… [T]here won’t be too many better corners in man coverage than McCreary is, especially knowing he wasn’t blessed with elite size or physical traits.” Paraphrasing the conclusion: “McCreary projects as a better and more athletic version of Cam Sutton.” How many more ways can I say it? He’d be a Top 5 lock if he was 2” longer and anything more than a “merely tremendous” athlete on the already-absurd NFL scale. The young man has a certain amount of chippy class, too. Look at this Senior Bowl TDN article/interview asking about the surprising measurements. “I’ve put it on tape [and] I’m gonna play the game the way I play the game.” Yep. No need to add that his results were dominant against the best opponents CFB could offer.
1:20 CB Trent McDuffie, Washington. (Junior). 5’11”, 195 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. There’s something really likable about tough, physical football players who simply “get it.” McDuffie is one of those. His skill set looks better on the inside than as a boundary CB, but he isn’t limited to that role. Think of a bigger, more physical Cam Sutton who needs to develop some extra polish. That isn’t fair to either young man, but it will get you into the ball park.  Came in at #13 overall in Daniel Jeremiah’s first big board
1:25 CB Kyler Gordon, Washington. (RS Junior). 6’0”, 200 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A fiery, explosive football player who happens to play the CB position. Has exceptional athletic talent and wiring, including the agility to succeed on the inside just as well or better than he does outside. A very fine tackler too, who’s often been used as a blitzer.  Came in at #22 overall in Daniel Jeremiah’s first big board.
2:01 CB Kaiir Elam, Florida. (Junior). 6’2”, 193 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. His father was Abram Elam, a 7-year NFL Safety, and his Uncle is the Ravens’ Matt Elam. Kaiir is a long, athletic, cover Corner who’s equally adept in both press and zone. Needs to be more consistent and physical, but he excels at job #1: coverage.
2:24 CB Derion Kendrick, Georgia. (Senior). 5’11½”, 202 lbs. with 30¾” arms and 9⅛” hands. How much has Georgia’s overall defensive excellence concealed the shortcomings that Kendrick has flashed? The good film is very good indeed. The lapses and the raw technique are equally concerning. A player who is quite likely to rise or fall as the process moves forward. Departed from Clemson due to an event where he was “discovered by police asleep in his girlfriend’s car at 3 a.m. with a 9-mm handgun in his lap and marijuana in the vehicle. He was charged with unlawful possession of a gun and simple possession of marijuana.” The same article notes that the charges weren’t just dropped, they were expunged. It will require some due diligence, but at this point it’s remembered smoke, not an actual issue.
3:01 CB Marcus Jones, Houston. (Senior). 5’8”, 185 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Overheard at Cornerbacks Anonymous: “Hi. My name is Marcus Jones, Slot Corner, and Mike Hilton is my hero, role model, and goal in life.” You could do worse.
3:12 CB Martin Emerson, Miss. St. (Junior). 6’2”, 200 lbs. with ___” hands. Projects as a really good zone corner who may struggle if asked to go beyond that skill set.
3:12 CB Alontae Taylor, Tenn. (Senior). 6’0”, 196 lbs. with 31⅞” arms and 9” hands. A former receiver who became a CB in 2018 and has improved in every season ever since. Still gets beat by exceptional routes or over-the-top physical assets, but improved technique could solve those lapses. Probably limited to being a boundary player because pure agility is his weakest area.
3:12 CB Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska. (Senior). 5’10½”, 200 lbs. with 31¾” arms and 9⅝” hands. An impressive all-around athlete (former HS QB) who converted to Corner and then became team leader with a diverse skill set. He even enjoys playing on special teams, and is known as a fine tackler! Here is a nice looking pre-Senior Bowl scouting profile. The questions go to whether he has any particular athletic genius to lean on as the foundation for everything else.
3:12 CB Mykael Wright, Oregon. (Junior). 5’11”, 178 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Want a slot Corner? You’ve found him. Would rank higher if he wasn’t limited to that role and didn’t have questions about whether his lack of pure size and strength may overwhelm his outsized heart at the next level.
3:24 CB Sevyn Banks, Ohio St. (Senior). 6’1”, 200 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. His brother (Marcell Harris) plays Safety for the 49ers. This is the Buckeye CB who outplayed Shaun Wade so significantly in 2020. A tremendous and physical player who should test out with special explosion numbers and speed, his issues have been all on the technical side. He can be maddeningly inconsistent and indecisive. Interviews will matter because his future is very bright if the football IQ is there and it’s just a matter of hard work and good coaching. Not so much if he simply doesn’t grasp the complexities of a modern passing game. This goes to a decent January scouting profile.
3:24 CB Coby Bryant, Cincinnati. (Senior). 6’1⅜”, 191 lbs. with 30½” arms and 9⅛” hands. [Mtg. at Senior Bowl] A very well schooled CB with NFL-average athletic skills. He can be beat, and will be beat by superior NFL talent from time to time, but he won’t lose, none of it will be cheap, and he can be trusted to play within the larger defense at all times. Good ball skills. A willing tackler, but a poor one.
3:24 CB Akayleb Evans, Missouri. (RS Senior). 6’2”, 198 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. A player the Steelers will seriously consider in the middle rounds if he isn’t limited to the Seattle Cover 3 scheme. He’s got surprising agility for his size, great length, surprisingly fluid movement skills, and he loves to tackle. Long speed is the biggest issue, but the length makes up for that. Also more of a coverage guy than an interceptor. This goes to a good, thorough, pre-Senior Bowl scouting profile. Transferred from Tulsa to Missouri in 2021 rather than entering the draft too soon, and it was a good move. Has suffered a variety of not-too-serious injuries.
3:24 CB Mario Goodrich, Clemson. (Senior). 6’0”, 190 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Transferred from Missouri after 3 successful years in both football and basketball, only to run up against a down year for the bigger program. Oh well. Projects as someone who’s very likely to become a valuable part of the defensive unit, without the special athletic “extra” to be the guy that everyone avoids. Outside CB3 with decent odds of becoming CB2, but long odds of CB1. Excels at run support, which suggests he’ll be a fine special teams gunner if all else fails.
3:24 CB Josh Jobe, Alabama. (Junior). 6’2”, 190 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Turns 24 in early April. Age is the biggest issue, particularly at this position for the youth-loving Steelers. Everything else spells “fringe-1st”, from the exceptional physical assets to the run support, special teams talent, and what’s said about his football character.
3:24 CB Nehemia Pritchett, Auburn. (Junior). 6’1”, 179 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Built of wire and whipcord, you’ve got to worry about whether he’d end up getting big-boyed by some of the grown NFL men he’ll face. But you won’t worry much about players speeding by or tossing him off with a sudden break.
3:24 CB Jermaine Waller, Va. Tech. (Junior). 6’1”, 180 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Looked great in 2019 as a Freshman, lost 2020 to injuries, and then flashed a lot in 2021 but also displayed some real inconsistency. Could easily grow into being a quality starter, but will need good coaching to get there.
4:01 CB Josh Thompson, Texas. (Senior). 5’10⅞”, 199 lbs. with 31⅛” arms and 9¼” hands. Projects best as an off-man and zone CB that will make use of his aggression, solidity, and tackling prowess. A savvy, multiyear starter with lots of good college experience. The main questions go to doubts about his recovery speed, and his long speed in general.
4:16 CB Kalon Barnes, Baylor. (RS Senior). 5’11½”, 183 lbs. with 31¾” arms and 9⅝” hands. Owen Straley called him the West team’s standout defensive back during the Shrine Bowl practices, and then wrote in his gif-supported Depot scouting report that Barnes has world class speed and other assets worth a Round 4 grade. A 3-year starter in a four man rotation, Barnes is a basically solid all around Corner who simply needs to improve across the board. Showed good hand fighting skills off the line, and excels in press-and-mirror coverage, but isn’t particularly physical when competing downfield. Will tackle, but doesn’t seem to enjoy that part of the game.
5:01 CB Montaric “Busta” Brown, Arkansas. (RS Senior). 6’0”, 190 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. An SEC seasoned, multiyear starter who reportedly has a professional build, good speed, and sweet feet. Definitely one to learn more about.
5:01 CB/S Kyler McMichael, N. Car. (Senior). 5’11⅞”, 205 lbs. with 31” arms and 9¼” hands. Not bad at press man, he showed remarkable consistency in his technique that continued to stand out during the whole of Shrine Bowl week. The question marks go to whether he has the native athleticism to play read-and-react football at an NFL level. If so he’d have the position flexibility to be a good FS backup as well.
5:01 CB Damarion Williams, Houston. (Junior). 5’10”, 180 lbs. with short 29¼” arms and small 8⅞” hands. A good looking slot Corner who can maneuver with anyone in tight quarters, plays much bigger than he is, tackles well, and enjoys the physicality of the game. The only issue in any report is the obvious one: lack of size and length. This admiring gif-supported January scouting report from a Jets POV loves the physicality, tackling, and COD skills. This January scouting profile is more critical, expressing worry about a tendency to play too high in his backpedal. No such backpedal concerns appeared in the Shrine Bowl practices.
5:01 CB/FS Tariq Woolen, UTSA. (Junior). 6’3⅜”, 205 lbs. with long 33½” arms but small 8⅝” hands. Will be a 23 year old rookie. This is one loooong drink of water, and that’s a big part of the appeal. The natural assets can be dreamed into almost any shape, including the one you most desire. It isn’t just length, either. He’s got excellent speed, good balance and reaction time for playing in zone, wonderful athletic wiring, and great hands. He’s even a willing tackler, albeit a lousy one. What he lacks is high level experience, and refined technique. Combined with the inherent agility limitations for someone that tall, the team that picks him will be looking at a mandatory redshirt year.
6:01 CB Tariq Castro-Taylor, Penn St. (RS Senior). 6’0⅜”, 194 lbs. with 31⅛” arms and 8¾” hands. A fast CB with lots of starting experience at a premier program, TCT is a prospect with many assets held back by a few distinct holes. He is agile enough reactively, in zone, but is supposed to have issues flipping his hips for COD in man coverage. A willing tackler but a poor one, which limits his utility in zone as well. Here is a Bleacher Report pre-Senior Bowl scouting profile.
6:01 CB Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston St. (Senior). 6’2”, 202 lbs. with 31⅛” arms and 9⅛” hands. Size, speed, and ball skills: check. Zone coverage: check. Tackling: he tries. Man coverage? Not so much. The biggest issue will be the vast projection required since he’s coming from such a small program.
6:16 CB Decobie Durant, S. Car. St. (RS Senior). 5’9⅜”, 174 lbs. with 30⅛” arms and 8⅝” hands. Stood out during all of Shrine Bowl week for exceptional movement skills and technique.
6:16 CB Dallis Flowers, Pittsburg. St. (RS Senior). 6’0¾”, 195 lbs. with 31¾” arms and 9½” hands. Came out of nowhere to be a week long stand out during the Shrine Bowl practices. That, combined with pro size, earns him a solidly draftable grade. This goes to a long Shrine Bowl interview with Steeler Depot’s Owen Straley.
7:01 CB Gregory Junior, Ouachita Baptist. (Senior). 5’11¼”, 202 lbs. with 31¼” arms and 9” hands. Dominated his extremely small-school competition with physicality and athleticism they could not match. Played well enough at the NFLPA Bowl practices to get an invite to the Senior Bowl, no reports have been found on how he did against the better LOC.
7:01 CB Chase Lucas, Ariz. St. (RS Senior). 5’10”, 181 lbs. with 31¼” arms and 9¼” hands. Will be 25 on draft day. If only he was four years younger! Projects as a solid Slot CB who tackles well enough despite a slender build. Showed tremendous short area quickness at the Shrine Bowl practices. Also excels as a team leader and spark plug. But the Steelers love youth, and that’s the asset he’s missing.
7:01 CB Jaylen Watson, Wash. St. (Senior). 6’1½”, 197 lbs. with 32⅝” arms and 9½” hands. A long, tall drink of water who struggles with agility. A developmental talent on the outside.
7:01 CB Josh Williams, Fayetteville St. (Senior). 6’2½”, 193 lbs. with 32¼” arms and 9¼” hands. A small school titan with ideal measurements, he projects as a developmental outside CB prospect for the NFL. He’s got the measurements you want, but invincible against obscure D-II opponents doesn’t always translate 29 steps up the ladder to NFL competition.
7:16 CB Shaun Jolly, App. St. (RS Senior). 5’8⅝”, 177 lbs. with 30⅜” arms and 9” hands. An undersized slot Corner with good movement skills and technique who stood out several times during Shrine Bowl week.


We will not know how to prioritize the Cornerback position until free agency occurs and we have some idea about the status of Joe Haden and Ahkello Witherspoon. Even then, both of those starters will come with question marks, and are limited to playing on the outside. We will have to wait and see.

Cam Sutton is the only known factor, but he is signed only through 2022, he is the only proven slot-Corner on the squad, and he’s said that he’d like to play more on the perimeter if circumstances allow. We will have to wait and see.

James Pierre is waiting in the wings, and could be the Steelers’ ace in the hole as an outside-only Corner. Or not. We will have to wait and see.

Tre Norwood and Arthur Maulet firm up the CB4 depth, but probably not the CB3 slot duties. Though we can hope in the case of Norwood. We will have to wait and see.

This looks like a good class overall, with particular strength in Rounds 1-3. Will the Steelers pull the trigger on a Corner if some bargain appears in their sites? We will have to…

No. I just can’t say it. Not again. Fill in the blank on your own.

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