Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers retained two of their three free agent cornerbacks and brought in another from the outside, the strength of the overall group remains somewhat uncertain. None of their top three cornerbacks have ever functioned as a number one cornerback for any extended period of time, and never by intention, although the Steelers’ defense rarely designates a ‘number one’.
Still, the trio of Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace feels like a string of number two cornerbacks, lacking one top player who can really shut somebody down. Joe Haden had that in him for a time while he was here, though perhaps no longer.
So even though they have a full slate of cornerbacks—they also have Arthur Maulet, James Pierre, and Justin Layne—how do they view the position in the draft? In his recent chat for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ray Fittipaldo suggested that it may be a higher need for them than some on the outside might think.
When asked where in the draft he thought the Steelers would try to target a cornerback, he said, “Definitely first three rounds”, before adding, “and don’t discount the first round”.
In this era of the game, it’s never a bad idea to invest in the cornerback position. Chances are, your opponent is going to have a keep wide receiver group, and probably at least one tight end or running back who is a plus pass-catcher. Having three solid cornerbacks isn’t even enough anymore. You need at least four.
Presumably, few if any tears would be shed if any of Maulet, Pierre, or Layne were to fail to make the 53-man roster because the Steelers needed a roster spot to accommodate a new high draft pick at the position—even in spite of their checkered history.
Even though Mike Tomlin was a defensive backs coach, his history of drafting the cornerback position is spotty. He has had some high-profile early misses in 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns and 2015 second-round pick Senquez Golson. Sutton, a 2017 third-rounder, has been a rare, if minor success. Layne, a 2019 third-round pick, is their latest significant draft investment, and he’s shown little on defense up to this point in his career, going into year four.
Of course, the problem with the idea of the Steelers drafting a cornerback in the first round is the prevailing assumption that they are targeting a quarterback. Still, if they do intend to draft a cornerback, they might as well do it early, because what they need is quality, not depth.