When the Pittsburgh Steelers chose linebacker Bud Dupree in the first round of the 2015 draft, plenty of fans were outraged that the team did not invest in a defensive back. It should be noted that Bud Dupree had a strong rookie season, and plays an important role in the team's efforts to develop a more effective pass rush.
We now have the benefit of hindsight. If the Steelers could go back and pick again, would it have benefited the team to take a defensive back? Let's take a look.
The first defensive back off the board in 2015 was Trae Waynes, a cornerback out of Michigan who was drafted 11th overall by the Minnesota Vikings. The Steelers would have had to trade up to draft Waynes, something the team is loath to do. Even if Waynes was available when the Steelers picked, he would not have been a better choice. He finished the season with a lone interception on January 10 against the Seahawks and thirty tackles.
Cornerback Kevin Johnson was drafted 16th overall by the Houston Texans. Coming out of Wake Forest, Kevin Johnson was touted as a versatile, savvy athlete. Johnson was not available when the Steelers picked, but it does not appear he would have been a better pick than Dupree.
The Kansas City Chiefs hit the jackpot with cornerback Marcus Peters. Like Waynes and Johnson, Peters was off the board before the Steelers picked, but in hindsight, he could have been a game-changing addition to the Steelers secondary. Again, the Steelers rarely trade up, and there was also no way of knowing, short of consulting Psychic Friends Network, that he was going to have such a monster season with 60 tackles, eight interceptions, and countless dynamic plays that were critical to the Chiefs success on defense. Peters was the pro football writers' Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Cornerback Byron Jones was still available when the Steelers drafted Dupree. Picked up in the 27th spot by the Dallas Cowboys, Jones had a decent rookie year, but was not nearly as strong a contributor to the Cowboys as Dupree was to the Steelers. Jones played both cornerback and free safety with the Cowboys, but did not have as smooth a transition to the NFL as other first-round picks. He frequently gave up big plays, and was not the immediate impact-maker scouts had predicted. If the Steelers had drafted Jones, he would have been a disappointment.
Free safety Demarious Randall out of Arizona State was the final defensive back drafted in the first round. The Packers 30th pick, Randall was not as productive as Peters, but still made immediate contributions to the Packers defense by racking up 58 tackles and three interceptions.
The Steelers did end up drafting cornerback Senquez Golson with their second-round pick, though he was unable to play due to injury. This year, the draft should be fraught with talent at both cornerback and safety, more so than last year. If the Steelers decide to improve their secondary through the draft, 2016 is the year to do it.