Depending on which fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers you spoke to, most would likely tell you the team's top draft need in the 2016 NFL Draft would be at either cornerback or safety. Sure, there might have been the occasional fan who suggested the defensive line, but the vast majority would have pointed to the defensive backfield.
Lucky for fans, the Steelers took a cornerback in the first round and a safety in the second round. Those were the only defensive backs taken in the draft process, but what are the odds these players see some playing time as rookies? Before we start that debate, we need to outline the depth chart with the new names on them.
Artie Burns +
Sean Davis +
For most of you, I bet you didn't know the team had this many cornerbacks or safeties on the roster, did you? Either way, a lot of these names are rather superfluous as there is a very thin chance they make the team as nothing more than special teams players, if at all. However, what you can see are the chances young Artie Burns and Sean Davis see the field in 2016.
Let's look at cornerback first. The Steelers are going to rely on William Gay to do what William Gay does, and that is play a trusted, consistent and solid brand of football. After signing a new 3-year contract prior to free agency he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. After Gay it becomes a little more dicey.
Ross Cockrell should be better equipped to play in 2016 than he was in 2015, coming in from the Buffalo Bills immediately after the final cut downs made by all 32 NFL teams. Cockrell, with a full year under his belt with Carnell Lake and in the Steelers' system, will likely be the other starting cornerback on the outside opposite of Gay. Although Gay is better suited for the slot, he proved he can also play the outside in 2015, and will likely be called upon for that duty again.
The mystery surrounding Senquez Golson is real. A second round pick in 2015 who missed the entire season with a torn labrum in his shoulder doesn't offer much hope for his sophomore season. But, the question surrounding Golson is what to expect in the first place. Golson will likely start in the slot as a red-shirt player, and hopefully bring his incredible ball skills along for the ride.
So, there are more names on the list, but most are simply players to take extra reps at minicamp, OTAs and training camp. The two names truly battling for the 4th cornerback position will be Doran Grant and Artie Burns. Grant has a year under his belt, but there has been a lot of talk around Grant transitioning to safety. Burns is a top pick, and if he can prove he understands the mental game, you can expect him to be that No. 4 cornerback on the team's depth chart. With Gay, Cockrell, Golson, Burns and Grant...the cornerback depth chart doesn't look as dire as it did in 2015.
As for safety, there are more names on the list who won't truly see the field in 2016, but there are still some battles to keep an eye on. Mike Mitchell is the unquestioned starter, and Robert Golden just signed his own new contract prior to free agency starting. Most would think this would be the sign he will start alongside Mitchell for at least the 2016 season, and if I were a betting man this is where I would put my money. However, where do Shamarko Thomas and rookie Sean Davis go?
Thomas will likely fill the same role he did in 2015 as a back up and special teams player, whereas Davis has a chance to be the next safety up, as well as a 3rd safety used in specific sub packages against teams like the New England Patriots who use a lot of shifting and tall tight ends to defeat the opposition. Is there a chance Davis could beat out Golden for the starting safety position? Possibly, but the Steelers don't throw too many rookies into the fire on the defensive side of the ball.
Either way, Mitchell, Golden, Davis and Thomas -- and possibly Grant -- will likely be the team's 4 safeties heading into training camp. Who makes the No. 2 position behind Mitchell will have to play out on the field.
All in all, the Steelers draft picks will make a big difference, and there is a chance these two defensive backs will see the field more than most expect in 2016.