Since Mike Tomlin became coach in 2007, the Steelers have alternated defense with offense while hitting a new position group each year:
2007 – linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
2008 – running back Rashard Mendenhall.
2009 – defensive end Evander Hood.
2010 – center Maurkice Pouncey.
If we are to follow these trends – and it's a solid plan for a stable organization – we can expect the Steelers to return to defense this draft, and defensive back in particular.
With Ike Taylor and William Gay able to test the free-agent market this off-season, it would follow that cornerback is the precise position of need. And according to early draft lists, it would appear there'll be value at the bottom of the first round.
Of course, the stopwatches this week will play an important part in the grading process, but, prior to the combine, these are the likely cornerback prospects at pick 31, with their estimated heights, weights and 40 times courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com:
* Jimmy Smith, 6-2, 205, 4.49, Colorado. Size and leadership skills are quite apparent on tape. He played plenty of press man coverage but should fit the Steelers' eternal search for a physical zone corner. Chances are good he'll be gone by pick 31, but as with all big corners there are questions about his hip flexibility. He'll turn 23 in July.
* Brandon Harris, 5-11, 195, 4.45, Miami. A cover man who'll hit you, but one whose stock fell after being shredded by Notre Dame's Michael Floyd in the Sun Bowl. Harris looked like just another small cover corner up against a bigger and better pro receiver that day. No age available on the net, but Harris did come out after his junior season and was not redshirted at Miami.
* Aaron Williams, 6-1, 195, 4.49, Texas. A tall corner with questionable coverage skills. Physically, he looks like a Steeler, or a polished Ike Taylor without the blazing speed, so Williams's combine time will be important. An honor-roll student who came out after his junior season (no age available/no redshirt), he fits the Steelers' prototype at the position. But, do you draft a prototype or a player?
* Rahim Moore, 6-1, 196, 4.5, UCLA. Just turned 21, so Moore would fit the Steelers' trend of drafting very young in the first round. There are also scouts who wonder whether Moore will be a better cornerback in the pros than a free safety, which he played at UCLA. Could be the surprise pick here.
* Davon House, 6-0, 184, 4.46, New Mexico State. If you've seen him play, you're a bigger draft geek than I am. I only know of his size, speed and reputation, so he's a player to watch at the combine and to follow at his pro day. Age is unknown, but Wikipedia says "21 or 22."
* Curtis Brown, 6-0, 180, 4.42, Texas. The "other" Texas corner looked better than Williams in the two Texas games I watched closely. Brown's not as big as Williams, but appears to be the better cover man. He's also physical enough (and looks heavier than the listed 180), but isn't it about time the Steelers prioritize pass coverage over run-stopping skills from their cornerbacks? Brown is my favorite sleeper, but no one else agrees. Maybe there's something in the other 9 or 10 game tapes that I should be aware of, but Brown looks like the real deal to me. He'll turn 23 in September.
* Brandon Burton, 6-0, 185, 4.49, Utah. When this guy blanketed Jonathan Baldwin in the opener, my antennae went up. But after Burton got torched by TCU and Notre Dame, I figured the opener was more indicative of Baldwin's problems than Burton's skills.