PITTSBURGH -- Cornerback is the Steelers’ most pressing need and they are expected to take a pair of them in next month’s draft, something Pittsburgh did with mixed results in 2011.
The success of the world-champion Seahawks could enhance the value of bigger cornerbacks, and ESPN NFL draft analyst Kevin Weidl breaks down three players Insider who fit this prototype, one for each day of the draft:
> Day 1 (first round): Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State. The 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner could be the first cornerback drafted and he has been linked to the Steelers in a fair share of mock drafts. The 5-11, 199-pound Dennard plays bigger because he is so physical and, Weidl writes, he matched up well against bigger receivers in college. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert offers more speed and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby is more athletic than Dennard. But, writes Weidl, “(Dennard) is the most complete player of the bunch and should start drawing attention beginning with Pittsburgh at No. 15 in the first round.”
> Day 2 (second and third rounds): Stanley Jean-Baptiste. A converted wide receiver, Jean-Baptiste has excellent size, long arms and good ball skills. Standing nearly 6-3 and weighing 218 pounds Jean-Baptiste is still a work in progress, Weidl writes, but he has a lot of upside and could go in the second round of the draft. “His high ceiling in terms of size, length and playmaking ability has scouts intrigued as a Day 2 prospect,” Weidl writes.
> Day 3 (fourth through seventh rounds): Pierre Desir, Lindenwood. Excelled at the Division II school in Missouri -- he intercepted 13 passes in two seasons at Lindenwood -- and also played well when he faced better competition at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. The 6-1, 198-pounder does not have elite recovery speed, writes Weidl, and needs to improve on jamming wide receiver at the line of scrimmage. But Desir is an intriguing enough prospect that he could get drafted late in the third round. The Steelers have a compensatory pick at the end of the third round and they have had success in drafting developmental cornerbacks from smaller schools (Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen). Writes Weidl, “Desir has the skill set to develop into an early contributor and potential starter within one or two years of development for a heavy press-man or press-zone scheme."