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Corners can be had in later rounds

Ray Fittipaldo 6 years ago

The 2015 cornerback class went through their workouts Monday at the NFL scouting combine. Michigan State’s Trae Waynes solidified his spot as the top cornerback in the draft, but questions remain about the others who are jockeying for draft position.

“I think there are NFL-caliber players that are going to be available through the first five rounds,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told our Gerry Dulac at the combine last week. “Not everybody is going to be 6-foot-1 and [run a] 4.3. If you’re looking in that area and have a couple spots you want to fill, you better be open to the fact guys are available that can help your team.”

If the Steelers don’t have a high enough grade on a cornerback at No. 22 they could look to find more value in a corner later in the draft. Plenty of other teams in recent years have done just that.

I know there are some skeptics when it comes to the positional rankings Pro Football Focus provides, but let’s take their top 10 cornerbacks from 2014 as a case study. Of their top 10, only two were former first-round picks. Two were second-round picks and three were fifth-round picks.

The fifth-rounders were Richard Sherman (No. 3), Corey Graham (No. 8) and Orlando Scandrick (No. 10). The top-rated corner according to Pro Football Focus was Chris Harris, who was an undrafted free agent in 2011.

Those corners ranked between 11 and 20 also came in rounds other than the first. Bene Benwikere also was a fifth-round pick. He was ranked No. 18 overall last season. K’Wuan Williams of Pitt was an undrafted free agent and ranked No. 13 overall as a rookie, although he played only 341 snaps as a part-time nickel back.

The Steelers haven’t done as well as other teams in recent years in identifying late-round corner prospects. They drafted two corners in the fifth round the past two years and neither made their 53-man roster.

Terry Hawthorne was selected out of Illinois in 2013 and he was cut in training camp. Shaq Richardson was selected in the fifth round out of Arizona last spring and was signed to the practice squad. He was cut about a month into the season.

Terrence Frederick, a seventh-round pick in 2012, also did not make the team. In 2011, the Steelers took Curtis Brown in the third round and Cortez Allen in the fourth round. Brown was out of the NFL last season after being cut by the Steelers, and Allen had to be benched after signing a $25 million contract before the season began.

In 2010, Crezdon Butler was a fifth-round pick. He never made an impact with the Steelers.

That’s not a good record over the past five years.

Too be fair, the drafting record was better in previous years. They found Keenan Lewis in the third round in 2009. He was a good player for the one season he was a starter before he signed a big free agent deal with the Saints. They found William Gay in the fifth round in 2007. He has proven to be a quality player for most of his career. Bryant McFadden, a second-round pick in 2005, was a good player for a short time. And say what you want about Ike Taylor, but he was a steal in the fourth round in 2003. He was a good player for a long time until Father Time caught up to him.

The good news for the Steelers is this is deep corner class with plenty of good, if not great prospects. If the Steelers don’t find one they like in the first round, they will try to find value elsewhere in the draft. The trick is finding the next Taylor in the middle of the draft and not the next Curtis Brown.

And it’s important to remember that corner, like any other position in the draft, there are no guarantees first-round picks will be impact players as rookies. 

Here are the Pro Football Focus rankings for the 2014 rookie class:

PFF ranked 108 cornerbacks

No. 8 pick Justin Gilbert 65th

No. 14 pick Kyle Fuller 107th

No. 24 pick Darqueze Dennard (Did not play enough to be ranked)

No. 25 pick Jason Verrett (Did not play enough to be ranked)

No. 31 pick Bradley Roby 60th