Steelers Draft 2013: Secondary

In a deep crop of cornerbacks, value can be found in the first round. But the Steelers need more help at safety, and the options are plentiful.

The last we heard from Bert Reed he was chattering at the Steelers' defensive backs the week of practice before the second Baltimore Ravens game.

A rookie receiver last year out of Florida State, Reed had just been signed by the Steelers and was playing the role of Anquan Boldin for the scout team. And he was mocking the Steelers' starting cornerbacks – and catching multiple touchdown passes as they seethed.

Reed made quite an impression that day and remains a part of the roster. Reed had made quite an impression a few years ago with another defensive back, who's wondering today if Reed has helped him become a first-rounder.

Xavier Rhodes was a freshman cornerback at Florida State in 2010 and he had just been switched from wide receiver. He was unhappy about it, and he was a lousy cornerback, too. Reed was killing him in practice that day, embarrassingly so.

"And he wasn't quiet about it," Rhodes told the Palm Beach Post. "The last time, Bert said, ‘Get out. I need a real corner.' When he said that, it hit me in my heart. I took that very seriously."

A month later, Rhodes said, "I came back and I jammed the crap out of Bert. Bert didn't even get an inch off the line. And everybody else that came up, I jammed them. Ever since then I gained confidence."

Rhodes (6-1.4, 210, 4.43) is one of the most physical cornerbacks in this weekend's draft and a possibility to re-unite with Reed by being picked by the Steelers at pick 17.

Of course, cornerback isn't necessarily a need for the Steelers. They lost Keenan Lewis but signed William Gay to become the slot corner between starters Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen. The Steelers still have Curtis Brown and late last season signed former St. Louis Rams and Penn State starting cornerback Justin King.

But the Steelers are always on the watch for value, particularly from big corners such as Rhodes or recent visitor Blidi Wreh-Wilson (6-0.6, 195, 4.53), whose achievement of winning the UConn team MVP last season might not have surpassed his achievement of never having missed a day of school from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"I thought I was a nerd for it at first," Wreh-Wilson told The Chronicle of Willimantic, Ct. "But looking at it now, I know that when I come in every day I know it's time to work regardless of how I feel."

Wreh (pronounced Ray)-Wilson's parents emigrated from Liberia to the Boston area and moved to Edinboro, Pa., where his father became the head of the Edinboro University philosophy department.

Wreh-Wilson didn't begin playing football at General McLane High School until his senior season, but was a quick learner and a few years later had his college defensive coordinator raving about his intelligence.

"Blidi understands splits and where to line up so it puts him in an advantageous position," Don Brown told The Chronicle last August. "You talk about dividers and spots on the field where receivers are going to align and he just gets it."

It's little wonder the Steelers have taken an interest in Wreh-Wilson, but their bigger need is at safety. Kenny Vaccaro (6-0, 214, 4.63) of Texas specializes in covering slot receivers, and is a physical box safety, but will likely be gone before pick 17.

Perhaps the Steelers would prefer more of a center fielder anyway, like Eric Reid (6-1.2, 213, 4.53). The LSU junior is coming off a down season, but he's remembered for his terrific sophomore season that was highlighted (highpointed?) by his leaping interception in the end zone to preserve a win over Alabama.

Reid or Jonathan Cyprien (6-0.2, 217) are first-round options, particularly if the Steelers trade down to acquire an extra pick.

The Steelers have also shown interest this draft season in:

USC free safety T.J. McDonald (6-2.2, 219, 4.59), who's comparable physically and in style to former Steelers third-round pick Chris Hope.

Fresno State ballhawk Phillip Thomas (6-0.4, 208, 4.65), who led the nation with 8 interceptions.

• California Pa.'s Rontez Miles (5-11.5, 203, 4.62), who was the talk of his combine workout because of the Steelers logo tattooed on his shoulder.

The Steelers would prefer a ballhawk type of safety to help with their anemic turnover totals of the last few seasons. They'll also be on the lookout for raw prospects with speed and upside later in the draft since they feel DBs coach Carnell Lake has become an organizational asset.

Wexell's Value Board for the Pittsburgh Steelers

First Roud – Kenny Vaccaro (FS) Texas; Xavier Rhodes (CB) Florida State; Eric Reid (FS), LSU.

Second Round – Johnthan Banks (CB), Mississippi State; Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB), UConn.

Third Round – Will Davis (CB), Utah State; T.J. McDonald (FS), USC; Leon McFadden (CB), San Diego State; Jordan Poyer (CB), Oregon State.

Fourth Round – Phillip Thomas (FS), Fresno State; Tharold Simon (CB), LSU;

Fifth Round – Earl Wolff (SS), North Carolina State.

Sixth Round – Jahleel Addae (SS), Central Michigan; Terry Hawthorne (CB), Illinois; J.J. Wilcox (SS), Georgia Southern.

Seventh Round – Rontez Miles (FS-SS), California Pa.

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