Do they, or don’t they? How early?
Those questions are asked and answered about every position, on every NFL team, every year. But for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there may be no position in 2017 where the answers to those questions are more contentious than at cornerback.
Those against drafting a cornerback would make the obvious point that the team just drafted a potential shutdown corner last year when they picked Artie Burns in the first round. They drafted another strong corner the year before when they selected Senquez Golson in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Those in support of taking a cornerback in the first round this year would counter that by pointing out that the team took linebackers in the first round of three consecutive drafts.
And both sides would be correct.
Thanks to a draft that is historically deep at numerous positions -- cornerback, EDGE, tight end and safety, with strong classes at inside linebacker, wide receiver and running back, as well — the first round is up in the air for the Steelers. That’s because there is a case to be made at every single one of those positions, since the team lacks either depth or a solid future starter at each.
Wait on EDGE and take a corner instead, because there is not much of a drop-off at EDGE from about the third through the tenth options.
Wait on corner and take a pass rusher, because there is one (and possibly two) potential, long-term starters at corner already.
Take a tight end, because O.J. Howard miraculously fell to the 30th pick.
Okay, that last one is a no-brainer.
The questions are easy. It’s the answers that are hard. So, it’s good to know your options.
There are two guys who are pretty much consensus first-round picks at corner: Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey and Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore. Ifit surprises you that the top two players at a defensive position are from those two teams, you haven’t been paying attention.
Washington’s Sidney Jones is just a tick or two behind those two, and will also likely be off the board by the time the Steelers are on the clock with the 30th pick. Behind him, it gets interesting.
Florida’s Quincy Wilson and Adoree Jackson of USC are both guys who could go in the top 15, or could fall to the early picks of the second round. Wilson is enormous for a corner, at 6’-1” and 213 pounds, while Jackson is built more like a typical NFL corner. Jackson’s best asset is his versatility: aside from being a top-shelf corner, he’s also a fine return man with two return touchdowns in 2016, and even has an offensive touchdown to his credit.
Looking back a little further, one name that could come up a lot in the first or the second round for the Steelers is Ohio State’s Gareon Conley. Ironically, Conley got the starting spot after the Steelers drafted former Buckeye Doran Grant in the fourth round in 2015.
A little lower down is UCLA’s Fabian Moreau, who has prototypical size (6’0”, 202) and had a great showing at the East-West Shrine Game. He’s big, he’s physical and he can keep up with NFL-level receivers. Keep an eye on him in the second or third rounds.
West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas could end up going on day two, as well. He is a press-man corner who could line up opposite Artie Burns and play physical football with just about any receiver or even tight end in the game today.
If Golson stays healthy and the Steelers are confident lining him up in man coverage on the outside despite his small size, that could make room for someone like Miami’s Corn Elder, who is a very technical corner who is most likely destined for the slot/nickel position. That’s perfectly fine, assuming he is take no sooner than the fourth round. Whoever selects him gets a top-notch tackler with a ton of speed and quickness, but not the best ball skills.
Finally, North Carolina’s Des Lawrence has the size to cover most receivers, but only makes sense if the Steelers intend to cling hard and fast to the idea of playing almost exclusively zone coverage.
Just as there is with EDGE rushers, there is talent to be found from the top of the draft to the bottom at corner. The Steelers will have their work cut out for them to determine the best use of their draft picks, because there are so may options. But look for both corner and EDGE to be addressed early, and don’t be surprised if either of those positions ends up being picked twice.