Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Such philosophical questions shouldn't be uttered on a sports website like BTSC, but as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft, they are finding themselves in a similar dilemma.
The Steelers have glaring needs on defense, and outside linebacker and cornerback are back-to-back in terms of team needs. The question which lingers among the Steelers' broad fan base is which position should be drafted in the first round as their prized selection in the draft?
Obviously the team will be selecting both pass rushers and cornerbacks in the upcoming draft, but the Steelers need to find an NFL ready player who can legitimately compete for playing time as a rookie and not be a detriment to the team is his first season as a pro. There is plenty of depth at both positions of need within this draft class, but in today's NFL which position is of more importance?
NFL offenses are moving into a comfortable setting as the West Coast offense continues to be the norm among NFL teams with a capable quarterback at the helm. Quarterbacks are diagnosing defenses, adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage and getting passes off in little or no time to avoid unnecessary hits. Such an offense negates an opponent's pass rush and forces their secondary to play near perfect coverage to stop the offensive onslaught.
Look at the Steelers' 2014 offense as an example. Think of all the quick screens to Antonio Brown, or the 3-step drops from Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller down the seam. Both plays leave pass rushers watching, rather than wreaking havoc.
With that said, should the Steelers then focus on bolstering the cornerback position with the No. 22 pick in the draft? As the New England Patriots displayed on their way to yet another Super Bowl title, if you have good cover corners you don't need stand out pass rushers. Forcing those quarterbacks who want to get the ball out of their hands quickly to go to their 2nd, 3rd and sometimes 4th reads gives even the weakest pass rush a chance to get to the quarterback and make a play.
When Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman essentially takes away half of the field with his exceptional coverage skills, it allows the Seahawks' defensive front to collapse the pocket, hurry a throw, cause an erratic pass or sack the quarterback.
On the other side of the debate is the simple fact of athleticism trumping scheme. When James Harrison was in his prime, it didn't matter who was in the secondary, if the quarterback went to even his second read there was a chance either he or LaMarr Woodley were going to have a one-on-one meeting with the signal caller in the backfield. Sometimes athleticism can overcome even the greatest scheme.
The Steelers have always been considered a quality drafting organization, but it certainly doesn't mean they haven't had their gaffes from time to time, even in the first round. Naturally, the players remaining on the board when the Steelers make their first round pick on April 30th will decide which position they lean towards, but under new defensive coordinator Keith Butler, the team will certainly have to figure out which comes first - the pass rush or coverage.