The 2021 NFL Draft is just about two weeks away. After last year’s draft was conducted virtually due to the COVID pandemic, the NFL got partially back to the in-person circuit this season. While the Combine was cancelled, an increased importance was placed on Pro Day workouts. The Steelers brass was able to get out and hit the Pro Day circuit again this year, with scouts and coaches traversing the country. The Steelers will once again be picking in the mid-20s in the first round.
Check out our Prospect Profiles on some specific prospects in the 2021 Draft class. Our positional Draft Preview series continues today, moving over the defensive side of the ball with a look at the D-line. Check out the previous previews:
- Quarterback Draft Preview
- Running Back Draft Preview
- Wide Receiver Draft Preview
- Tight End Draft Preview
- Offensive Line Preview
- Defensive Line Preview
- EDGE Rushers Preview
- Inside Linebackers Preview
Returning Players: Joe Haden, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne, James Pierre, Trevor Williams
New Arrivals: Stephen Denmark
The Departed: Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton
Draft Need: High (Starting Slot Corner and Future Starter)
The Steelers were able to re-sign Cam Sutton but lost slot corner Mike Hilton to the Bengals in free agency. Steven Nelson was released with one year remaining on his contract after he was not able to come to a contract extension agreement but remains unsigned. With Nelson gone, Cam Sutton figures to step into the outside corner role. Sutton can also play the slot but he is not as aggressive a tackler as Hilton was, which creates a need for a third corner to be found through the draft. Joe Haden is also in the last year of his contract so there is a need to find a future starter on the outside as well. The ideal scenario would be drafting a corner that could step into the slot this year and potentially take over on the outside next year.
Likelihood of Drafting: High
Cornerback has been somewhat slept on as a position the Steelers might take in the first round, but it is certainly in the mix. The Steelers won’t be in play for either of the top two corners – Alabama’s Patrick Surtain or South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. The Steelers spent a lot of time scouting cornerback prospects throughout the draft process. Teryl Austin attended Pro Days at Virginia Tech and TCU. Defensive backs coach Grady Brown went to Pro Days at Georgia and South Carolina. In today’s NFL with the proliferation of spread offensive sets and the ability for tight ends and running backs to run routes, teams need to view the third cornerback as a starting position and need four or five corners on the roster that are capable of playing significant defensive snaps. The Steelers currently have two corners capable of playing significant snaps while Justin Layne and James Pierre have shown upside but remain unknowns. They need to address the cornerback position in the draft and it would not be a surprise to see them do it early.
While Surtain and Horn will be taken in the top 15-20 picks, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley could potentially fall into the mid-20s. Farley opted out of the 2020 season and had another offseason back surgery to follow up from a prior injury. Depending on how his medicals check out, he could see a draft-day tumble from the top tier of corners. The second tier of corners saw the Steelers do some significant scouting with Tomlin and Colbert attending Pro Days at Florida State (Asante Samuel Jr) and Georgia (Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes). Additionally, the Steelers reportedly had meetings with Michigan’s Ambry Thomas, Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, UCF’s Aaron Robinson, Minnesota’s Benjamin St-Juste, and Michigan St’s Shakur Brown. The Steelers also had the opportunity to scout a number of small-school Day 3 prospects at the Senior Bowl such as Central Arkansas’ Robert Rochell, NC Central’s Bryan Mills, and San Diego St’s Darren Hall. Samuel and Campbell certainly fit the mold for Steelers corners and could hear their names called in the first round.