Pittsburgh Steelers: Chad Scott

The lesson Marvin Lewis learned when he left the Pittsburgh Steelers to become the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator spawned a philosophy he continues to embrace as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

That explains why five of the six cornerbacks on the Bengals' 53-man roster are former first-round draft picks, including Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati's top pick last May.

"I always tell people that when I left the Steelers in 1996 that I underestimated how good we were in the back end [of the defense]," said Lewis, who coached the Steelers' linebackers from 1993-95 when Pittsburgh had Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake in its secondary. "When I became the coordinator there in Baltimore I didn't quite enjoy the luxury of that. I got my head beat in a little bit until we started drafting some guys in the first round. We drafted one in 1998 and 1999 in the first round and we got a lot better in a hurry. We've continued the same thing here."

Indeed they have, and it is no coincidence that the Bengals have allowed the fewest touchdown passes (11) in the NFL while the 6.3 yards they are yielding per passing attempt is tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the third-best in the NFL.

Given the state of the Steelers' cornerbacks maybe it is time for Pittsburgh to look into using Lewis' model.

The Steelers haven't drafted a cornerback in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997.

Of the six cornerbacks on their roster, three (Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and B.W. Webb) were fourth-round draft picks. One was a fifth-round draft pick (William Gay) and the other two (Brice McCain and Antwon Blake) were undrafted free agents.

Throw Webb in with Blake and McCain and half of the cornerbacks on the Steelers' roster were released by other teams before signing with Pittsburgh.

The Bengals offer a striking contrast to the Steelers' approach in regard to acquiring cornerbacks with two first-round picks starting in Leon Hall and Terence Newman and another first-rounder, Adam Jones, playing nickel back.

The Bengals are so stacked at cornerback that Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick, another first-round pick, have had struggled to get on the field beyond special teams.

Think the Steelers would like to have that problem?

"I have to sometimes pick their lip up off the ground because they're not getting to play as much on defense," Lewis said of the Bengals' two young cornerbacks. "They're going to be very, very good NFL corners. We obviously have tried to continue to develop our guys in the back end through draft picks and some of the guys we've acquired. We've been fortunate that way."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft. This is the ninth in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in a week.

Our final look is at cornerback.

Added: Brice McCain

Lost: Curtis Brown

Skinny: The Steelers have twice taken a pair of cornerbacks in their past five drafts (2009 and 2011) and their need at the position is such that they are likely to do it again this year. Cornerback is one of the deeper positions in the draft though it is not as strong as wide receiver. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard would be an ideal pick for the Steelers as he is tough, physical and regarded by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. as the most complete cornerback in the draft. The biggest question with Dennard is whether he will be available at No. 15 as several teams picking ahead of the Steelers, including the Lions and Rams, could take a cornerback. The Steelers hosted Dennard as well as projected first-round picks Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech and Bradley Roby of Ohio State for pre-draft visits. One small-school prospect to watch is Pierre Desir of Lindenwood. Desir showed excellent ball skills at the Division II school in Missouri, and he held his own against better competition at the Senior Bowl. Desir has good size and the Steelers have had success taking cornerbacks from smaller schools as they drafted Ike Taylor out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2003 and Cortez Allen out of The Citadel in 2011. Both were fourth-round selections though the Steelers might have to take Desir in the third round if they really like him.

Draft likelihood: High

Extra points

Last CB drafted by the Steelers: Terry Hawthorne, 2013, fifth round

Last CB drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Chad Scott, 1997

Last CB taken 15th overall in the draft: Tye Hill, Rams, 2006

CBs drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Eight

CBs drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Two

Top CB prospects solidify their standing

February, 25, 2014
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.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' needs, especially on defense, are such that they could go in a number of different directions with their first-round draft pick.

ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider each have the Steelers taking Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III with the 15th overall pick, and that hasn’t changed from their initial mock drafts.

What is incumbent upon general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin is addressing pressing needs later in the draft, something that the Steelers have done with mixed results in recent years.

Two positions that stand out as ones where the Steelers should be able to find good players later are cornerback and wide receiver.

"Cornerback has turned out to be a pretty decent position overall," Kiper said Thursday during a conference call. "There’s probably only going to be two to three first-round corners, a lot of second- and third-round corners so you can wait a little bit on that spot maybe."

That is what the Steelers have historically done. They haven’t drafted a cornerback in the first round of the draft since they took Chad Scott in 1997, but maybe this is the year to end that streak.

Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay are the only experienced cornerbacks on the roster and with Allen the only one of the three who possesses any kind of upside.

Kiper said the Steelers should have their choice between the top two cornerbacks in the draft, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert. He projects Gilbert going to the Detroit Lions at No. 10 with the Bengals taking Dennard No. 24 overall.

Wide receiver, unlike cornerback, is top-heavy in talent. But it is also deep in large part because of the nearly 100 underclassmen who have declared for the draft. Almost a fifth of those players are wide receivers.

"There’s going to be an opportunity I think at wide receiver to see guys in the third, fourth and fifth round get done," Kiper said. "That’s going to be a very deep position."
Here is the latest edition of the Steelers' mailbag. Any questions that I received but did not answer here are at the top of the list for next week. Great questions again, and please keep them coming. Send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with hashtag #steelersmail.