Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Top CB prospects solidify their standing
By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH -- Two cornerbacks who should interest the Pittsburgh Steelers cemented their standing as the top two players at their positions on the final day of the NFL scouting combine.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert posted blazing times of 4.35 and 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash Tuesday morning, while Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard checked in with times of 4.42 and 4.46.
The times are unofficial -- the official one for each player is likely to be higher -- but both Gilbert and Dennard showed that speed won't be an issue when it comes to their pre-draft evaluations.
The bigger question is did each help himself enough at the combine to move out of the Steelers’ range at No. 15?
At least one team ahead of the Steelers -- the Lions at No. 10 -- has a glaring need at cornerback, and the position has taken on even greater importance with teams increasingly using three cornerbacks to counter pass-centric offenses in the NFL.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Gilbert and Dennard ranked No. 16 and No. 18, respectively, on his list of the top players in the draft. Kiper has said the two should jockey for the top position at their position all the way up to the draft.
Dennard, who won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2013, which is given to the top college defensive back in the country, is the more physical of the two players. He recorded 62 tackles and intercepted four passes last season.
Gilbert intercepted seven passes last season while playing in the pass-happy Big 12, and he said playing in a conference where cornerbacks can do anything but hide should help him make the transition to the NFL.
“I think that Big 12 defensive backs are some of the best DBs in the country and college football,” Gilbert told reporters in Indianapolis. “Sometimes we're overlooked because we give up plays, but at the same time we have way more plays coming at us instead of say, for instance, the SEC. They have a lot of run attacks where the corners are not being a lot pressured. So we have a lot to live up to.
History says that neither Gilbert nor Dennard will be the Steelers' first-round pick in May.
The Steelers have not used a first-round pick selection on a cornerback since 1997, when they chose Chad Scott. Also, the draft appears to be a deep one at cornerback, and the Steelers should be able to fetch a couple of quality prospects in later rounds, something they did in 2011 when they picked Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in the third and fourth round, respectively.
On the flip side, if there is ever a year for the Steelers to take a cornerback in the first round -- this is it.
They only have three experienced cornerbacks on their roster, and 11th-year veteran Ike Taylor is going to have to accept a big pay cut to return to the Steelers. Allen is the only cornerback on the roster with any upside, making it a must that the Steelers add young talent at a position where general manager Kevin Colbert has said the team is lacking depth.
Dennard over Gilbert or Gilbert over Dennard?
It would be real interesting to see what the Steelers do if they are in a position to make that choice.