This past week was a busy one in the world of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only were there eight selections made by the team in this year’s NFL Draft, but after the fact, the Steelers found themselves in the middle of signing some impressive undrafted free agent prospects. A position of need was addressed not only through the draft process but the UFA pool as well. With the 245th pick in the 7th round, the Steelers selected cornerback Tre Norwood out of the University of Oklahoma who Mike Tomlin described as a “Swiss Army Knife“. Many thought there was a possibility the Steelers might address the secondary a little bit earlier in the first three or four rounds of the draft; instead the Steelers stuck to their guns addressing the offense first, then put their focus on other more pressing needs.
The undrafted free agent process, however, has gone in the completely different direction. Out of the eight undrafted prospects that the Steelers signed this past week, four of them were defensive backs. This would lead us as fans to believe that the Steelers don’t necessarily feel comfortable with who they have on the depth chart at the position as of this moment — and if that’s the case, I’m not sure I blame them. This off-season, we saw cornerback Joe Haden’s running mate Steven Nelson ask for a release due to contractual issues. Now that he is gone, the Steelers assume that newly extended Cam Sutton can step up and fill the role just as good, if not better. Assuming Haden and Sutton will be the number one and two corners lined up this year, after that the depth chart seems to be wide open. That’s where the questions start.
That being said, the Steelers recently signed undrafted rookie cornerbacks Shakur Brown (Michigan State University) , S Lamont Wade (Penn State University) , S Donovan Steiner (The University of Florida) and CB Mark Gilbert out of Duke University , who just happens to be the cousin of future Hall of Fame cornerback, Darrelle Revis. It doesn’t seem to be much of a secret that the Steelers secondary will be going through a change in the next couple of years, building around two-time All-Pro Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, with a lot of new faces seeing the field on Sundays. These singings, although small, don’t really tell us any different. We know the track record for undrafted free agents actually making the 53-man roster, but we did see it happen last year when cornerback James Pierre went undrafted out of Florida Atlantic University, then found himself on the Steelers 53-man roster for the full 16 game season.
Watch Mark Gilbert’s highlights here:
Speaking of Pierre, there has been a lot of hype this off-season surrounding the young inexperienced cornerback. He won a lot of people over last season with the way he had played on the special teams unit, being one of the guys closest to the ball at all times — building that “tough guy” mentality the city of Pittsburgh thrives on. From the fans prospective, it seems as if Pierre is going to have a more vital role on this defense for the upcoming year, as he was used more in the latter half of the 2020 season. I say this, not only because of the vocal confidence the coaching staff seemed to have had in Pierre himself last season, but also the sense of urgency that was put on upgrading the position this off-season. If the Steelers did not have confidence in any of the other corners besides Haden and Sutton, the team would have addressed that need much sooner in my opinion.
Justin Layne is another name that many people see some potential in. Layne, a 3rd round pick of the Steelers in 2019, has not been able to see much of the field since being drafted a few years back. We have seen him make a few appearances here and there, getting the majority of his snaps with the special teams unit. His build is an intriguing one standing at 6’2″, 175 pounds, giving him the natural height that enables him to pinpoint the ball at its highest point with the best of them at the receiver position. Whether or not Layne’s potential is something that will keep him on this team for the foreseeable future is still left in question, and with the signings of the four undrafted rookies at his position, the competition level is going to be high and that position is definitely one that will have all eyes on it for the upcoming year.
I think the best case scenario for the Steelers is that there will be an active competition throughout camp that will enable these players to keep giving it their best each and every time. The motivation? That is to make the 53-man roster with the possibility of having a big impact on one of the best defenses in the NFL. If that doesn’t get the best out of a player, then I don’t know what will. The risk is low, the reward is high. I’m willing to bank that one of these guys will find themselves putting the black and gold on each Sunday.
Who do you think will end up making the final 53-man roster amongst CB position? Comment below!