In 2015 the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up a cornerback who was released by the Buffalo Bills when rosters were trimmed, and the Pittsburgh fan base wondered just who this Ross Cockrell was, and what he brought to the table?
A Duke graduate, Cockrell certainly does’t lack between the ears, and it wasn’t long before he was making plays on the field, making the Steelers’ look like geniuses for picking him up off the Buffalo dump heap.
Two years later, Cockrell is the team’s starting cornerback opposite Artie Burns, and is a year away from a major pay day as an unrestricted free agent. But is he recognized for his quality play by the Steelers’ broad fan base, and among his peers in the NFL?
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he isn’t recognized, and is why he was listed as the Steelers’ Secret Superstar in a recent article. See what they had to say about this designation:
CB Ross Cockrell
2016 snaps: 1,025
Key stat: Allowed just two catches for 38 yards on six targets against A.J. Green in Week 2, while breaking one up.
Surrendered just .87 yards per coverage snap.
A fourth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2014, Cockrell didn’t make it in Buffalo before playing 1,953 snaps for the Steelers over the past two seasons and starting all 2016. He didn’t record an interception in 2016, but did break up 10 passes and allowed just two scores over 93 total targets including the playoffs. Cockrell has size and range, and didn’t allow a reception longer than 37 yards all season, despite facing some elite receivers.
Regardless of your personal opinions of Cockrell are as a player, it is hard to argue his importance to the defense. Without Cockrell, you would see someone like William Gay or Cameron Sutton be forced into duties outside, when that might not be their bread-and-butter.
Cockrell might not be a genuine shut down cornerback, but he has more than proved his worth in his time in the Steel City. Will he be in black and gold next season? A lot of that depends on his performance in 2017, but he certainly has shown he is more than capable of being an every game starter who is clearly more than a “secret superstar” to a team in desperate need of starting cornerbacks.