The NFL Draft is still about two months away, but, between now and then, it remains clear the Steelers top priority in Round 1 (save for some severe, irrational reaching) should be to take a cornerback.
There's a time and a place for everything, and much like when Maurkice Pouncey was drafted in the first round in 2010, ending Pittsburgh's seven-year neglect of the offensive line in-terms of high-end draft talent, this could finally be the year for some aspiring cover-corner to come to Pittsburgh with high-hopes.
With that in mind, here are five reasons the Steelers should select a corner in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft:
No. 5: The Steelers secondary is aging, unproductive and lacks high-end talent
There's no news on any possible retirement or release with regards to the legendary Troy Polamalu, which means he'll more than likely be back next year manning the strong safety position. But even if he comes back for yet one more season, how good will No. 43 really be and how much can he help the defense at this stage of his career?
Along with Polamalu's advancing age and deteriorating skills, is the question mark that is Mike Mitchell, the free-safety Pittsburgh signed as its top prize in free agency last March. Mitchell's lackluster play a year ago could have been due to getting used to a new defense, a new team or trying to play with the often unpredictable Polamalu. Or, Mitchell may just be a bust of a free agent signing and cashed in on one good year with the Panthers in 2013.
If Polamalu and Mitchell are huge unknowns heading into next season, why not invest high in a safety in the draft? For one thing, Mitchell isn't going to be cut right now, and, also, maybe it's time to find out about Shamarko Thomas, the safety Pittsburgh traded a third round pick in-order to move up in the fourth round to draft two years ago.
Also, Brice McCain is an unrestricted free agent, and Antwon Blake is a restricted free agent, placing a bit of doubt about their immediate future with the Steelers. You might be saying, "Well, nobody is going to sign either of those guys, so they'll be back next year." That's kind of the point. Having two corners who played significantly last year but still aren't valuable commodities to other organizations should tell you something.
Also, Ike Taylor almost certainly won't be back, and William Gay may have turned himself into a pretty decent corner, but decent isn't going to cut it for a secondary with so many problems.
No. 4: Cortez Allen
That's right, Cortez Allen, a cornerback who had such a bad year in 2014, he's worthy of his own ranking in an article about reasons why the Steelers should draft a corner in the first round. After signing a contract extension in the offseason, Allen didn't even come close to fulfilling his end of the deal, as he only started seven games and was on the bench and an afterthought by the time the postseason rolled around.
Obviously, since Allen's new contract is for five years, $26 million, there's still hope the once-promising fourth round pick can get it together and be a solid and dependable corner. But words like "solid" and "dependable" aren't what you're looking for from a top corner, and Allen hasn't shown he can even approach that territory yet.
No. 3: The Steelers defense finished 27th against the pass last year
After finishing first in the NFL against the pass in both 2011 and 2012, the defense slipped to a very bad 27th in that category last year. And how many pass plays of 40 yards or more did the team surrender? Easily over a dozen. That's just not going to cut it.
Maybe that's a product of a once potent pass-rush averaging roughly 35 sacks a year since 2011, but a secondary can either hide or expose a weak pass-rush, and for Pittsburgh last year, we saw the latter far too often.
No. 2: The Steelers haven't drafted a corner in the first round since 1997
Heading into last year's draft, the first-round neglect of the corner position over many years was well-known and well-documented. But when it came time for the Steelers to pull the trigger on the much-rumored selection of cornerback Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan St., they, instead, pulled a bit of a surprise by taking Ryan Shazier, an inside linebacker out of Ohio St., with the 15th pick in last year's draft. While excitement over Shazier's potential and athleticism soon grew, initially this pick was a bit of a head-scratcher.
Despite his injury-riddled rookie campaign, there's still a good deal of excitement for Shazier's play-making ability. As for Dennard, he mostly rode the bench last year for the Bengals, who picked him in the first round, and his critics that opposed the possibility of Pittsburgh taking him may be proven right over time. However, sooner or later, the cornerback position must be infused with high-end talent.
We saw how the neglect of the offensive line over many years manifested itself in the late 2000s, when Pittsburgh had arguably the worst unit in the NFL, and talented defensive studs such as Haloti Ngata regularly had their way against the likes of Chris Kemoeatu and Justin Hartwig. In today's NFL, with the rules so heavily in-favor of quarterbacks and receivers, the nearly two-decades-long neglect of the corner position by the Steelers could get even uglier than it was last year.
No. 1: Art II said the secondary must be improved
During his now annual post-season press-conference in January, team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers need to "add some people in the draft" as it pertained to the secondary. Now, he didn't necessarily say the first round, but the fact that he went out of his way to address the problems with the defense giving up big plays should be an indication that the time might be now to invest high in the secondary in-general and corners in-particular.