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Steelers position review - Cornerback

March 23, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

Well, it’s almost April.  The NFL Scouting Combine is  over.  The owners have locked the players out.  I guess it’s time to start talking about the draft.

Before we start talking about who the Steelers should draft, it’s important that we first evaluate how the team currently looks.  Specifically, we need to define their strengths and weaknesses.

Despite the fact that the Steelers participated in the most recent Super Bowl, they are actually a team with quite a few glaring needs.

I’m going to start on the defensive side of the ball, because that’s where I believe the team’s greatest needs lie.

Lot’s of people are saying that the Steelers’ greatest need is offensive linemen.  I don’t agree with that.  In my opinion, the greatest need on the team is at cornerback.

Ike Taylor was the only cornerback on the team who even played at an average level.   Ike has been the Steelers’ stopper for years now.  He’s a big, fast cornerback who can handle any receiver in the league.  Despite that, Ike is limited.  Steelers fans all know that Ike can’t catch.  So he’s never going to generate a lot of interceptions.  Ike has never had more than 3 interceptions during a season, and he’s averaged about 1 interception per season throughout his career.

While being a solid cover corner is great, Ike’s inability to create interceptions is kind of like a 3-4 rush linebacker who doesn’t generate sacks; he’s failing at an important part of the job.

Ike will be 31 years old this year, so he’s not getting any younger, and he’s going to start losing a step or two soon.  Moreover, Ike is a free agent this year.  The Steelers didn’t sign Ike to a new contract, and they seem to be content to let Ike hit the free agent market.  If that happens, it could be a potential nightmare for the Steelers, since they really don’t have any other weapons in their cornerback arsenal.

Bryant McFadden was brought back last year, and by midway through the season, most Steelers fans probably wished he was still in Arizona.

If you’ll recall McFadden’s first stint with the Steelers, he was being platooned with William Gay.  McFadden was viewed as being stronger against the run, but Gay was better in coverage.  Well, that’s pretty much how things still are (which is a scary thought, considering how poorly Gay covers).  McFadden is strong in run coverage, but he can’t cover anybody.  Not even my grandmother.  And she’s 89 years old.

If the Steelers cut McFadden today, I don’t think there would be a single fan who would miss him.

In 2009, William Gay proved that he is not a viable starting cornerback.  He was much better this year when he didn’t have the pressure of being a starter on him.  Gay’s performances ran hot and cold.  He made some really great plays at critical moments.  But he also got burned badly at critical moments.  I think most fans are content to see Gay utilized in nickel and dime packages, but not as a starter.

2010 was supposed to be the year that Keenan Lewis made himself a valuable member of the Steelers’ defense.  But sadly, that didn’t happen.

Lewis has all of the physical attributes that Dick LeBeau could possibly hope for.  He’s big (6’0″, 208 lbs), fast, and athletic.  When he was drafted, I envisioned him playing opposite Ike Taylor, giving the Steelers two cornerbacks who were big and athletic enough to handle even difficult receiving tandems like the Arizona Cardinals old duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  Unfortunately, that vision has never materialized.

Sadly for Steelers fans, Lewis’ mental abilities don’t seem to match his physical talents.  He can be counted on to make a silly mental mistake at the most inopportune times.  Even worse, he often loses control of his emotions and draws penalties that are due entirely to immaturity and hot-headedness.

Did anyone else find it odd that in a season where the Steelers clearly struggled at the cornerback position, Lewis wasn’t able to earn any increased playing time?  That says all that needs to be said about what the coaches think about Lewis’ development.  Next year will probably be a make or break season for Keenan Lewis.

The Steelers drafted Crezdon Butler in last year’s draft.  Like most rookies playing in the Steelers’ defense, Butler didn’t get much playing time.  So the jury is still out on him.  But I’ll expect to see a lot more out of him in 2011.

Those are the players who will likely battle for the starting cornerback positions next year.  Now imagine what the competition will look like if the Steelers lose Ike Taylor to free agency.  The starting cornerbacks would likely be Bryant McFadden and William Gay.  Yikes!  The mere thought of it is enough to bring you to tears, isn’t it?  With those two as the starting cornerbacks, the Steelers would likely go 0-16.  That’s why I say that cornerback is the single greatest need for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Frankly, all other needs pale in comparison.

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13 Comments to “Steelers position review - Cornerback”

  1. I agree completely. Some “experts” have the Steelers going OL. But they seem to forgot how injured they were on the OL by the end of the season. Sure, there is some work to be done at OG, but Starks would be hard to replace, and Tomlin has always been big on Colon.

  2. Fortunately, this draft is loaded at the CB position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers double dipped and brought in two new guys (not necessarily in consecutive rounds, of course). Ike is the only one worth anything right now.

    Of course, it depends on who is available. The Steelers aren’t known for reaching for guys. (fingers crossed for Brandon Harris)

    I’m gonna go ahead and guess that your next preview is the DL. Lots of good prospects there, too.

    OL is third on the needs list.

  3. Jim,
    Exactly. The offensive line will be getting Max Starks back. Willie Colon should also be back (assuming he doesn’t leave in free agency). Flozell Adams has another year on his contract. Kemo is back. Ramon Foster is back. And so is Pouncey.

    If you ask me, the offensive line sounds like they’re in much better shape than the cornerbacks. :-)

  4. Guys - we all know that the Steelers are committed to choosing the highest rated player on their board. Most people would say that strategy has worked well for them. I have stated that on deeper analysis our drafts of the past 5-6 yrs have been largely unsuccessful or mixed from the 3rd round on. That is why we find what I believe are serious needs on the OL (yes - we have bodies as mentioned above but what last year showed is that we have one blue chip player- Pouncey) CB (enough said) and DL (old and aging before our eyes!) We need to come out of the draft with 3 prospects in those positions who are or become difference makers.

  5. John21-

    I agree with your positional assessment. But I see way too many people putting OL as the top need when it isn’t as great. I’ve lost some faith in Kemoeatu after seeing him getting blown up in several games, but he’d still be hard to improve on.

    However they need another starter at CB (or two if Ike leaves) and that is not the case at the other two positions. But if what Dan said it true - a deep crop of CBs - then we’re all going to be right!

    Maybe all coaches love competition at each position, but Tomlin talks about it a lot. I expect to see it at most positions.

    Dan - you beat me to it - I too expect more than one CB to be taken.

  6. I would love to see us take a CB early - Rnd 1 or 2. It is frustrating when we wait to take a need position until later. Remember we drafted Burnett & Lewis a few years ago-both look to be busts. We need impact players (ones that can contribute in 2011) in Rnds 1-3. If we are fortunate enough to succeed there and they are a CB, OL & DL-we will have the luxury to add depth at those same positions in the late rounds.
    Does anyone see us drafting Alex Henery K/P from Nebraska in either Rnd 6 or 7? Please don’t draft a late round QB like some mocks show - that would be a waste!

  7. I agree with all of your assessments. You’ve gotten a little bit ahead of me, but you know that I’m going to talk about the aging DL and the sub-par OL. ;-)

    As far as “best player available”, we all know that that has been the Steelers’ philosophy for a very long time. It’s not likely to change. So if the top rated safety or tight end happens to drop to them, you know that the Steelers are going to take him, regardless of their needs at other positions. That has proven to be both a good thing, and a bad thing.

    Most of the mock drafts have us taking Mike Pouncey. I just don’t see that happening. But I’ll talk about why later when I get to my suggested draft picks. Stay tuned. :-)

  8. Walter’s draft has them taking an Ilinois ILB. That was puzzling. THe other guy on that site had them taking a corner and a safety in the 1st and 2nd. I think the Miami guy may be there for them. but I do know if they don’t go corner i will scream.

    If Flozell stays a year then there is no reason not to stick Colon in at right guard. Starks is back at Left tackle and Scott is adequate backup. Line can wait until the third round. Take a NT in the second. Casey and Hokey Pokey can get more breathing time.

    I concur with the Keenan Lewis debacle. BIG DISSAPOINTMENT aka… Anthony Smith the Second. Next up I suppose is Butler. They do need to squeeze another year or two out of Ike Taylor though. There is no one else who can take that slot right now unless Coach Lake has some speed left in those old legs of his.

  9. Mike Pouncey won’t be there when we pick. I was puzzled by Walterfootball’s pick in rd. 1 for the Steelers as well. Of course I already talked about it on those forums. I’m there quite a bit.

    If Colon is heallthy, why not go with Adams at guard?

    Also, I’d love it if Phil Taylor, the NT from Baylor, was there in the first.

  10. Doug Kearney says:

    I agree wholeheartedly! Having a one-on-one CB on best WR allows the D to hv a man free to blitz from ALL angles-which we do a lot! Go 6burg!

  11. Interesting points! Martez Wilson ILB from IL had a disaster of a pro day. No way is he a #1 for anyone. I think if Pouncey (FLA), Carimi (WI)or Sherrod (MissSt) are there - don’t be surprised if we go OL. At CB Smith (Colorado), Harris (Miami) & Williams (Texas) are ranked around that #32. On the DL- Heyward (OSU) Paea ( Ore St) ) Wilkerson (Temple) and Taylor (Baylor) are also in that 30-44 rankings according to CBS Sports.
    If we could only get a peek into the Colbert-Tomlin Big Board! And we are about to be educated by our host over the next few weeks.
    BTW - will we take a kicker in the late rounds - I say yes if Alex Henery is there in round 6. I think we take him.

  12. we need a corner who can go one-on-one with the #1 WRs so that troy can roam around and do his thing

  13. I mostly agree with Don and John #21 (i.e., Steelers try to draft best player and CB, OL, and DL are our priorities) but I would like to add a few points.

    1) Most people are going to point to either CB or OL as the overall top priority but, unlike past years, we have the added uncertainty of Free agency occurring after the draft (due to no CBA). This makes projections in the early rounds even more difficult because we don’t know the Steelers opinion of who they want to resign and whether they think they will be able to resign them. If they plan to resign Ike and think they will lose Colon, maybe they target CB later in the draft - and vice versa.

    2) Even if the top TE falls to them, they will not take him. Best available player only goes so far.


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