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After a devastating loss in Denver, the Steelers secondary took much of the heat for an unexpected and embarrassing performance.
After making great strides all season—the high mark coming in frustrating Tom Brady and the Patriots with a sweltering tight man coverage scheme—the defensive backfield surrendered 31 yards per completion to Tim Tebow. Or, should Steelers fans have to call him "Te-throw?"
Actually, stating that the defensive backfield got torched is an overstatement. In reality, the corners got torched: The safeties were stacked so close to the box that their influence in the secondary was nill.
In other words, against a quarterback struggling to account for safeties and make tight throws, Pittsburgh took away the challenge. In doing so, one would expect pressure in the box, but Tim Tebow had six seconds to throw when converting the Broncos' initial first down on 3rd-and-12.
The truth is that the corners, while not having their best game, did what almost any NFL defensive back would do under the circumstances: very little. No better evidence exists than that of Ike Taylor, who went from a team MVP candidate to the focus of fans' ire after the performance.
Asking any corner to cover a receiver for six seconds is impossible.
With that said, the truth is that the team does need a more capable force opposite Taylor in the secondary, or at least to solidify the backfield's depth in nickel and dime situations.
William Gay, despite a few out of body experiences last season, is not the answer as a consistent starting corner. Still, why draft too high?
The team has more pressing needs.
Focusing on the corner position too early would ultimately prove to be premature. Nevertheless, for those camps that feel strongly in the need to draft a cover corner early, here are the candidates for both scenarios.
Round 1 Candidate
Surprisingly, there is a large contingent of fans who hope the team drafts a cornerback first, which I do not recommend.
Surely, those loyalists would love nothing more on April 26th than to say, "Joshua Hayes, we told you so!"
Drafting at the bottom of the first round, many fans have thrown out the name Janoris Jenkins, but I would be leery. With three arrests during his collegiate play, harboring another "Pacman" is too risky, whether or not Jenkins gets on the straight and narrow path.
While I think the Steelers would be loony to focus on corner atop their draft needs, one option in this circumstance would be South Carolina Gamecock Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore has good height, is aggressive at the line of scrimmage, not afraid to get physical with receivers and able to play man and zone coverage with aptitude. He is a fine blitzer and a sound tackler.
Take note of that final description as it fits the Steelers' mentality quite well. In fact, Gilmore was the Cocks' leading tackler two seasons ago.
Some analysts question his raw speed, but his pace is not far off the expected performance of elite NFL corners.
It's always a good play to focus on players moving up the prospective draft rankings than those losing steam. Candidates beyond the first round have been thrown around. In my opinion, drafting Alfonso Dennard would indicate a premature focus on corner. Likewise, Brandon Boykin has a lot of great intangibles, but a weakness in his game is a clear tendency to give up a cushion to avoid double moves.
Didn't Steelers fans scream about this tendency for years prior to 2012?
I think for the later rounds (three or beyond), a hard look should be given to Josh Robinson of Central Florida. He has fine speed, shows great skill in man coverage and scouting reports indicate he has natural instincts for the ball.
He needs work on fundamentals like lowering his tackle and speeding up his backdrop. However, with the discipline provided by professional coaching, he has great intangibles and natural skills, allowing him to focus on eradicating these correctable deficiencies.
In one of his best career performances, he highlighted his team's 2011 bowl performance by shutting down receiver A.J. Green. Duplicating that feat wouldn't be an unwelcome sight in the Steel City.