The NFL Draft is officially over and attention will shift to OTAs and off-season camps. The 90-man roster is set and the team will be looking at their depth chart for every position entering training camp. This series will examine who has the inside chances to be higher on the depth chart come August. For this edition, we will look at cornerbacks.
Pittsburgh Steelers Cornerback Depth Chart Projections
1. Artie Burns
Artie Burns emerged as the top cornerback for the Steelers last year after tying for the team lead in interceptions with Ryan Shazier. Burns began the year as the third cornerback behind William Gay and Ross Cockrell, but soon he was in the starting lineup behind Cockrell, with Gay playing the nickel cornerback position. Expect Burns to continue to improve as a defender and to solidify his spot as the top cornerback for the Steelers.
2. Ross Cockrell
Cockrell signed his restricted free agent tender before this year’s draft, guaranteeing his return to the Steelers in 2017. This may be why the Steelers decided not to take a cornerback with one of their earlier picks because Cockrell was arguably the most improved player on the Steelers defense last year. Cockrell helped shut down opposing receivers like A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals and Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants. It will be interesting to see how Cockrell performs this season since he is playing out the final year of his contract.
3. William Gay
Gay has been up and down for the Steelers over the past few years. Fans remember his big-play interceptions that were followed by ridiculous dances that usually earned him a penalty, but they also remember him getting beat on numerous occasions last year. Gay was “demoted” to the nickel cornerback position, but the switch seemed to benefit his performance. Increasing age and decreasing speed have plagued Gay, but his veteran experience and intelligence make him a great fit as a slot cornerback for the Steelers.
The Steelers signed former Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants cornerback Coty Sensabaugh to a two-year deal this off-season. Prior to being signed to a three-year, $15 million contract by the Rams, Sensabaugh played for the Tennessee Titans and actually intercepted Jameis Winston’s first career pass and returned it for a touchdown. The Rams cut Sensabaugh a few months after signing him to a three-year contract, and he was then signed by the Giants. The Steelers are hoping to use Sensabaugh in zone coverage a lot, which is where he excels. He’ll likely share time with Gay as the nickel cornerback, as well as helping on obvious passing downs.
5. Senquez Golson
Senquez Golson has been plagued by injuries since being drafted in the second round of 2015. Even though he’s missed virtually two full seasons, Golson is still only 23 years old. The Steelers are taking no chances with Golson’s health this year, signing Sensabaugh in the off-season and drafting two more cornerbacks in the draft. Golson will surely be determined to earn his spot on the Steelers in 2017 after failing to see much playing time over his short career.
6. Cameron Sutton
The first cornerback the Steelers selected in the 2017 NFL Draft was Cameron Sutton. Sutton has good size for a cornerback and his highlights from Tennessee show a lot of promise. Sutton will likely be competing with fellow rookie cornerback Brian Allen and Golson for a spot on the active roster. The Steelers will likely keep at least six cornerbacks on their active roster, but could even keep seven depending on how the rest of the roster pans out.
7. Brian Allen
Speaking of good size for a cornerback, Allen is huge at 6’3″. Drafted in the fifth round out of Utah, Allen has a great chance of making the active roster even though he’s listed at seventh on this list. Sensabaugh has shown to be inconsistent and Golson’s health is always a concern. By the end of 2017, the Steelers could be playing with two rookie cornerbacks along with Burns, who was a rookie in 2016. The Steelers pass defense that has been their “Achilles heel” recently seems to be headed in the right direction.
8. Greg Ducre
Greg Ducre was signed to the Steelers practice squad last season and signed a reserve/future contract this off-season. He’ll likely spend most of, if not all of 2017 on the practice squad, but he adds solid depth to the Steelers secondary.
Brandon Dixon was also signed to the Steelers practice squad before signing a reserve/future contract this off-season. Similarly to Ducre, Dixon will likely be kept on the practice squad and was added to give the secondary more depth. With question marks arising from Sensabaugh being a new addition, Golson’s health and the addition of two rookie cornerbacks, Ducre and Dixon are nice backups to have in case anything goes wrong or anyone doesn’t work out.