How do the Steelers cornerbacks measure up? Let's take a look.
Senquez Golson is 5'9", 176 lbs. The rookie out of Mississippi is on PUP, but back in the spring, he generated a lot of distracting banter about his small stature after the Steelers drafted him in the second round. Also 5'9", Antwon Blake attended UTEP and was initially signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Picked up by the Steelers in 2013, last season was his most productive with 42 tackles, six passes defensed, and one interception.
Brandon Boykin is not tall either. At 5'10" 185 lbs, height was a huge factor in Boykin's ongoing drama with the Philadelphia Eagles before they eventually traded him to the Steelers last week. Given his performance in the first preseason game, it appears he is able to play effectively both in the slot and outside. 247 sports reported, "Kelly seemed to think Boykin was too short to play (outside) and kept him in the slot." CSNPhilly reported something similar in January: "The speculation has always been over his height. Since Chip Kelly's arrival as head coach, the Eagles have put an emphasis on taller, longer, more physical cornerbacks outside the numbers." A 2012 New York Times draft report addressed his height: "Brandon Boykin doesn't have great size. His height doesn't necessarily preclude him from playing outside but there's a solid chance he will start as and remain a nickel cornerback in the NFL."
Also 5'10" are Doran Grant, William Gay, and Kevin Fogg. Measuring taller are Cortez Allen at 6'1", B.W. Webb at 5'11", and Jordan Sullen at 6'0".
Does height matter at this position? Tall cornerbacks are on-trend right now in the NFL, As wide receivers become taller, teams are seeking out taller cornerbacks as well. Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman is 6'3" and Brandon Browner is a towering 6'4". The Jets only have two cornerbacks on their roster under 5'11, and six are over 6'0". None of the Panthers eight cornerbacks are under 6'0".
In the slot, height really doesn't matter much. And, in general, it is possible to be an outstanding cornerback without being tall. Though added bulk helps when it comes to tackling, physicality at the line of scrimmage, and overall durability, smaller players are often able to switch directions, backpedal, flip their hips, and mirror opponents' routes more easily than their larger counterparts.
Since the NFL has become more dependent on passing than the run game, an effective pass rush and competent cornerbacks are more important than ever. Do cornerbacks need to be tall to be productive? Even outside, I'd argue that extreme height is not as important as ninjaness-- in other words, fancy footwork, flippy hips, and and overall fierceness.
Does the Steelers roster of short cornerbacks have those qualities? Boykin certainly does. The ones who don't can depend on Carnell Lake and the rest of the coaching staff to progress in their careers. Bottom line: The Steelers cornerbacks are short, but short does not need to mean "close to worst in the league."