Cornerbacks big on confidence at NFL Combine

| Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 7:12 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — Forget the 40-yard time, the height, the weight or any other measurables that can be gathered at the NFL Combine.

When it comes to evaluating cornerbacks, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert asks himself one thing: “Can this guy cover Antonio Brown?”

If he thinks you can, then you are on high on the board. If he thinks you can't, you aren't.

Not very sophisticated, but effective.

“That's the standard we try to hold,” Colbert said.

Well, at least one cornerback at this week's NFL Combine thinks he can cover Brown — Colorado senior Ken Crawley.

“I've seen best receivers out of the Pac-12. Shifty guys,” Crawley said. “Not to take anything away from him, he's great guy. But I can cover him. I know I can.”

That's yet to be seen, at least from Crawley, who has been called a dark horse at the combine by many. However, there are many in this year's draft who played the college game at the highest level and will be drafted early in April.

Will the Steelers be one of those teams? That's yet to be seen.

The Steelers are in dire need of a shutdown, playmaking cornerback to add to a secondary that Colbert admitted earlier in the month that the Steelers have neglected over the years because of circumstance not necessarily philosophy.

“That's just how it broke over the years,” Colbert said.

Colbert has never taken a cornerback in the first round in 16 drafts, instead using the middle rounds to address the position.

Last year, they used a second-round pick on Senquez Golson and a fourth-rounder on Doran Grant, neither of whom played a defensive snap. Golson was injured during the spring and was placed on season-ending injured reserve in training camp.

This might be the year the Steelers finally get a first-round cornerback, mostly because of great need. The secondary struggled a year ago, allowing the third-most passing yards. Add to that, virtually the entire group are free agents — William Gay, Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin — as well as Cortez Allen's possible release as early as next week.

Picking at No. 25, the Steelers likely won't get their choice with Florida's Vernon Hargreaves and Florida State's Jalen Ramsey. But the rest of them likely will be in play, including Ohio State's Eli Apple and Clemson's Mackensie Alexander in the first round and Houston's William Jackson and Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller in the second.

Apple is one of the favorites on many mock drafts to go to the Steelers in the first round.

“That would be nice,” Apple said. “Any place would be a blessing for sure. Pittsburgh has always had a great history of defense and great secondaries, and that is something I can fit in well with.”

The Steelers never have shied away from going to Ohio State for draft choices. In the Colbert era (2000-present), the Steelers have drafted eight players from Ohio State, including three in the first round — Ryan Shazier, Cam Heyward and Santonio Holmes.

“It's physicality,” said Apple, who was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes before declaring following his junior year. “Just being able to come up and impact the run game and be physical (is why Ohio State players get drafted by the Steelers).”

Apple said he met with the Steelers at the combine.

Alexander also is an interesting prospect who could be around when the Steelers pick. He didn't put up any special numbers during his redshirt sophomore season at Clemson as he didn't have a single interception. He had only 11 pass breakups in two seasons.

“In a lot of my situations, I wasn't challenged very much,” Alexander said. “A lot of quarterbacks and teams stayed away from me, and that was their game plan.”

If the Steelers wait until the second round, Jackson could be a perfect fit. He was productive at Houston, leading the nation with 23 pass breakups last year and 40 in his three seasons. At 6-foot-1, Jackson would fill the need of a tall cornerback for the Steelers.

“I think I can match up with any big receiver on the outside,” Jackson said. “I am a press corner, press man. I feel that is my strength. My weakness is tackling — stop going for the big hit all the time. I need to get better.”

So does the Steelers secondary.

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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