Despite turning a corner under first-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler, the Steelers pass defense finished dead last in the AFC.
With Antwon Blake, William Gay and Brandon Boykin heading to free agency and Cortez Allen’s ridiculous contract still on the books, the Steelers must find secondary help in this year’s draft. One player that could provide instant impact in the mangled pass defense is Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.
Hargreaves is easily the most decorated corner in this draft, possessing a pedigree that Steeler fans yearn for. A five star recruit coming out of high school in 2013, Hargreaves was a standout in the Gators secondary during his three years in the Swamp. The Tampa, FL native was first team All-SEC in each season while being voted to All-American squads by multiple outlets.
Though some scouts scoff at his height, 5’11, Hargreaves’ instincts immediately jump out at you. The junior has proven his versatility by playing in the slot as well as showing the capability of jamming receivers on the outside. While holding in check the top receivers in the country, his tremendous ball skills have victimized some of the college’s best signal callers. Hargreaves tallied 10 interceptions over his career to go along with 27 pass break ups.
Not only is Hargreaves a factor in the pass coverage, he can be a presence in the run game. His rare combination of physicality, quickness and toughness allows him to bring the wood in the open-field. On a team that has a legacy of having a hard hitting defenses, Hargreaves would fit right in with the Black & Gold.
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It has been nearly two decades since the Steelers selected a cornerback in the first round. That honor belongs to Chad Scott, who was selected out of Towson with the 24th pick in 1997. Scott played 7 seasons with Pittsburgh recording 19 interceptions in 86 starts including 9 in his rookie season.
Though it is uncommon for the Steelers to start rookies, Scott was brought in to replace the Hall of Famer Rod Woodson who left for San Francisco. If Hargreaves falls to the Steelers at 25, you could see him in the starting lineup Week 1.
In last year’s draft, the Steelers used three picks in this secondary on two corners and a safety. Combined those players saw zero regular season snaps in a Steelers uniform this year.
Second round pick Senquez Golson spent the whole season on injured reserve while 4th rounder Doran Grant dressed for the last three games of 2015, but did not see the field. Gerod Holliman, who was drafted in the 7th round, is now on the Buccaneers practice squad after being released during roster cuts.
The selection of a player like Hargreaves could provide the same impact that Marcus Peters played for the Chiefs this past season. Peters led the NFL in interceptions with eight and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. To expect Hargreaves to have a season like that is a lot to ask for in a rookie, but it is not out of the question.
Hargreaves has a bright future wherever he lands in April even if it’s Cleveland. The last great corner to play for the Steelers was Woodson.
If drafted by the Black & Gold, Hargreaves will be the great cornerback this team desperately needs.