Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Post-NFL Combine Look At Steelers Draft: Cornerbacks

“I don't think corners in our scheme are as unique as maybe the outside linebackers would be. You're looking for a guy who can cover and who can tackle." - Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert on cornerbacks

If you watched the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, you probably noticed two things that If it Ain't Steel has preached in social media and in our articles: defense wins championships and that, in order to accomplish that reality, you need speed and playmakers.

The trends and rules of the current NFL make it so that no one should even expect to have real success without them. Whether Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Bruce Irvin or Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, the list just goes on.

Now turn your attention to your Pittsburgh Steelers and who were their playmakers? Lawrence Timmons, Troy Polamalu, Jason Worilds and maybe Cortez Allen are basically the list. The dearth of speed and playmakers was an issue for the Steelers last season and could be one again next season if ones like Worilds are lost in free agency. Just as speed kills, the lack of it does also.

The Steelers, because of a pass-happy NFL, played their sub package defenses, Nickel, Dime or Quarters, approximately 60% of the time. With depth issues at cornerback and safety, this being a strong draft class in the secondary, especially in the first four rounds, is a needed blessing for the Steelers.

Let's take a post-Combine look, then, at the cornerbacks who could and/or should be on the Steelers' radar for the NFL Draft weekend:

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State - 5'11", 199 LBs, 4.51/40 (1st round) - (Assuming that Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert will already be gone) First-team All American, Jim Thorpe award winner and NFLDraftScout.com's top-ranked CB; official 4.51/40 time (best time of 4.42), 15 bench press reps of 225 LBs, likely a top-15 lock based on Combine workouts and his game tape.

Where I'm not sold is in the fact that he hardly ever pedals and there is little fluidity in hips. Not a question of whether he can learn/unlearn this given his ability, but there is a question of his fitting the Steelers scheme. Since he excels ("specializes"?) in press, man-to-man coverage, does that move him out of the Steelers radar range given that they play much more off-coverage?

Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech - 5'11 3/4", 190 LBs, 4.49/40 (1st round) - The position comes naturally to Fuller, as CBS Sports' Dane Brugler confirms. When commenting on Twitter (@dpbrugler) of his "natural" athleticism, he said that the position comes very easily to Fuller who "uses his length (32 7/8" arm length) well and shows tremendous anticipation." - parenthesis ours

NFL Media and Draft analyst Mike Mayock sees Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller as one of the most underrated players in the draft, saying that "he's a first-round player."

Marcus Roberson, Florida - 6'0", 191 LBs, 4.61/40 (2nd round) - While not as explosive or fast as others, he has good size and versatility, can play both on the outside (is used to being on an island) and in the slot, has an great motor and also plays the run very well.

Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida - 5'11 1/2", 190 LBs, 4.61/40 (2nd-3rd round*) - Very athletic, good size for a cornerback with great hips and agility - can turn and run on a dime and is also exceptional in tight coverage. The only two issues may be his ability to play the run and his hands. The former is a must for Steelers CBs, as they are expected to help in run support (see Colbert's quote above). Purifoy may have had only two interceptions and 11 passes defended in his career, one college season for a typical defensive back, but that could be because of the fact that quarterbacks didn't throw his way a lot.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska - 6'2 1/2", 218 LBs, 4.61/40 (2nd-3rd round*) - He isn't as fast as some, but uses his length well and also has tremendous instincts and anticipation. He is a mauling, bump-and-run guy who can also play off. Almost a safety, which means, if he doesn't pan out at CB, the Steelers would have a fallback plan.

Bradley Roby, Ohio State - 5'11", 194 LBs, 4.39/40 (2nd-3rd round*) - Had an up-and-down year, but still picked off three passes. Was expected to be one of the top CBs by this point in his career, but he simply never matched the expectations. Still he has very good upside and potential.

Keith McGill, Utah - 6'3", 211 LBs, 4.51/40 (3rd round*) - At the Senior Bowl, Mayock said that McGill reminded him of the Seahawks' corners. High praise. Has only one full season under his belt, but made the most of that time with an interception and 12 pass defenses. Has also played safety. (See Jean-Baptiste)

Pierre Desir, Lindenwood - 6'1", 198 LBs, 4.59/40 (4th round) - Because of being from a small school, Desir proved that he could do well against a higher level of competition by playing (well) in the both the East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl. He intercepted 13 passes in two seasons at Division II's Lindenwood University (Missouri) despite the word being that, like Purifoy, quarterbacks seldom threw his way.

Phillip Gaines, Rice - 6'0", 193 LBs, 4.38/40 (6th-7th round) - Size, speed and length. He could be a steal in the later rounds.


* - Steelers have no 3rd round pick at present, but we firmly believe they will get a compensatory pick for Mike Wallace
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TIDBITS: As far as we have been able to determine thus far, the Steelers' NFL Scouting Combine interviews were: Justin Gilbert, (CB) Oklahoma State; Karim Martin, (DE) North Carolina; Jalen Saunders, (WR) Oklahoma; Louis Nix III, (NT) Notre Dame; Eric Ebron, (TE) North Carolina; Trey Millard, (TE/WR) Oklahoma, Ka'Deem Carey, (RB) Arizona; Kelvin Benjamin, (WR) Florida State; Donte Moncrief, (WR) Mississippi (unverified); Allen Robinson, (WR) Penn State; Calvin Pryor, (S) Louisville; Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, (S) Alabama; and Kyle Fuller, (CB) Virginia Tech. Still digging for the other approximate 16 interviewees.