The Steelers haven't had a Pro-Bowl cornerback since Rod Woodson made it for the seventh time after the 1996 season. The only other cornerback to consistently make the Pro Bowl since the NFL merger in 1970 was Mel Blount, who made it for the fifth time after the 1981 season. J.T. Thomas made it once, after the 1976 season and that's it for Steelers Pro-Bowl cornerbacks.
They believe Ike Taylor is of that quality, but he's now 30 and he's an unrestricted free agent. Taylor wants to return and they want him to return but that remains to be seen. He has the size they prefer in their corners and he's also their best coverage man. He has good ball awareness but has no hands as his 11 interceptions in eight seasons will attest.
Even if Taylor does return, they need a cornerback badly. Bryant McFadden returned to start on the left side for them last season but he has severe shortcomings and was picked on aplenty, especially in the Super Bowl. William Gay lost his starting job from 2009 to play nickel last season and is below average. After that they have Keenan Lewis, a third-round draft pick in 2009 who has done little in two seasons. Crezdon Butler has some promise after playing sparingly as a rookie.
If Taylor signs elsewhere, the Steelers would be in dire straits at the position. Their whole defensive scheme relies on them getting pressure on the quarterback and they are among the best at it. It's why they succeed. But a quarterback with a quick release can kill them, as Tom Brady and Drew Brees did last season. An injury to Taylor would also be devastating.
So they need to draft a cornerback and that likely will be done in the first round this year. But who? Director of football operations Kevin Colbert says this draft is deep at the position and a good one should fall to them at No. 31.
The best might be Jimmy Smith of Colorado but the Steelers may already have taken him off their draft board because of character issues and what is seen as a poor attitude.
Patrick Peterson of LSU and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska will be long gone, probably in the top 10 for both.
That leaves Brandon Harris of Miami and Aaron Williams of Texas. Both have the qualities the Steelers covet in cornerbacks - good in coverage, good against the run. One may be drafted before the Steelers' turn at No. 31 but they're not both likely to go.
So, which one? Harris is the more physical of the two but they are both aggressive. Harris is a couple inches shorter at 5-10 but stockier and with excellent speed. The Steelers won't have to move up in the round to take one or the other and then they can get their offensive lineman in the second round and still have a third-rounder to perhaps go for another cornerback.
You can't have too many corners and the Steelers right now don't have enough.
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