Steelers' draft message clear: We need interception help


The Pittsburgh Steelers' three defensive backs selected in the 2015 NFL draft combined for 29 interceptions last season.

That these players find themselves in Pittsburgh is no accident.

Rebuilding the secondary has been a major offseason theme, but the process runs deeper than replacing veterans Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brice McCain.

The Steelers need picks. No, not the eight picks used last week. They need turnovers, preferably from corners reading the eyes of a quarterback to microwave momentum for the offense. The Steelers have been one of the worst in the league at this, failing to crack the NFL's top 20 in interceptions in any of the past four seasons.

The message from the war room was clear: Go get whoever can go get the ball.

"We were just interested in tangible evidence," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin about opting for proven football commodities instead of projections.

This helps explain why the Steelers weren't scared off by height issues. The Steelers coveted 5-foot-9 Ole Miss corner Senquez Golson, the second-round pick general manager Kevin Colbert was willing to trade up to get. That wasn't necessary. Golson was available at No. 56 overall. Tomlin believes Golson, fresh off a 10-interception season with the Rebels, has "as good of ball skills as anybody in this draft." The Steelers want him playing in space, where his vision and reaction show up despite the height.

Ohio State's Doran Grant, the 5-foot-10 corner selected in the fourth round, is known as a solid tackler and finished last year with five interceptions. Safety Gerod Holliman fell to Pittsburgh in the seventh round despite leading college football with 14 interceptions. He has a rep as a poor tackler, but the Steelers can work with that. After all, Holliman can make breaks on the ball before a quarterback throws it, Colbert said.

By taking three playmaking defensive backs, the Steelers have enough invested where they can inject life into the backfield even if one or two of these guys don't pan out.

It's hard to blame them for that when you look at the numbers.

From 2012 to 2014, the Steelers produced 31 interceptions, never ranking higher than 25th in the league in this category. The only NFL teams with worse production during that span are Oakland and Jacksonville with 29 apiece.

The last time the Steelers recorded more than 11 interceptions in a season was 2010, when picking off 21 passes contributed to a 12-4 regular-season record and a Super Bowl appearance. Four seasons after that performance, it's still a bit shocking a franchise with such a defensive reputation has struggled in this area. Taylor and Polamalu were never volume ball hawks, combining for 46 interceptions in 24 years.

The Steelers wanted to use six of their eight picks on defensive players, which worked out according to plan last week, also adding depth in the front seven and a potential star in outside linebacker Bud Dupree.

If the Steelers have their way, those six picks will translate to at least six additional turnovers in 2015.

"Very good instinct football players," said Tomlin about his new defensive backs. "See a lot, capable of anticipating and taking the calculated risks associated with the position."