Steelers Stunned By Round 2 Pick

A Round 1 consideration by the Steelers in publishers' mock draft, Kyle Fuller is picked in Round 2. Here's the analysis:

It didn't take Kevin Colbert's proclamation about this being the deepest draft class in 30 years to convince me that a gem would fall to the Steelers in the second round at pick 46.

But I never expected to draft a player there whom I had considered at pick 15.

All I can say is hello, Kyle Fuller.

Yes, one of the best players at arguably the team's greatest position of need fell to my pick in the second round of last week's publishers' mock draft. And I e-mailed his name to the podium faster than anyone can say Jarvis Jones, David DeCastro, or even Mike Evans.

Fuller was a serious consideration over Evans for me in round one, and still might be after sweating out the picks preceding mine in round two.

Let me explain.

First of all, I was very happy with the publishers' choices in the first round. There really was only one pick I questioned, and even at that, guard David Yankey, at pick 32, plays one of the draft's thinnest positions and was selected by a Seattle team with few needs.

I also questioned the first pick of the second round, Jimmy Garoppolo, but, again, quarterbacks are a different and confusing breed every year in the real draft.

After Garoppolo, picks such as Kony Ealy, Derek Carr, Tre Mason, Jace Amaro, Jason Verrett and so on, through the early portion of the second round, were legitimate choices.

It was with Verrett, though, at pick 38, that I became nervous.

While I realize this draft promises a deep group of cornerbacks, the Steelers probably need two. And of those two, one needs to be a blue-chipper.

After Tim Lewis was fired as defensive coordinator in 2004, he told me that for the Steelers' defense to return to a championship level, it must find another Rod Woodson. Lewis said that one shutdown cornerback is an absolute must with all of the pressure Bill Cowher liked to bring.

Well, the Steelers never did draft that shutdown corner. Ike Taylor came closest throughout his peak years, but Taylor is also one of the reasons the Steelers rank dead last in the NFL over the last five seasons in interceptions by their cornerbacks (19).

That stat was passed along to me, so I couldn't tell you their rank over the last 10 years, a run that included similarly puny CB interception totals of 5 and 6 in the championship seasons of 2005 and 2008, respectively.

It has to be an aberration of historical proportion, and one that shouldn't be attempted again, in spite of the team's success.

So, the Steelers need a blue-chip cornerback opposite Cortez Allen for the long haul, and blue-chippers are usually gone by pick 46.

At least that's what I started to think after Verrett -- the small but technique-sound pit bull of a corner out of TCU -- was selected at pick 38. That left only one blue-chipper, Fuller, to survive the next seven picks.

Assuming he would be drafted, I tuned into to take another look at cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

Breeland, for all of his size, didn't seem to want to hit anyone. And Jean-Baptiste certainly is raw for a guy who'll turn 24 in a few weeks. Pierre Desir is another tall cornerback, but I got the feeling I was beginning to reach with so much talent left at other positions. And most of that talent played wide receiver.

After Verrett was taken, I jotted down my top 12 names, and six were wide receivers -- a position I had drafted in the first round.

I began to curse that pick of Evans as I developed a case of buyer's remorse. Here I was, awash in talented receivers, but there was only one blue-chip corner on the board and seven picks in front of me.

I didn't put any quarterbacks or safeties on my list of 12, so I didn't mind when three from those positions were taken.

Publishers from the remaining four teams did snag three from my list: Kyle Van Noy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Odell Beckham. So that left me with the following nine players:

Fuller, WRs Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews and Donte Moncrief, TE Troy Niklas, DE/OLB Scott Crichton, and T/G Brandon Thomas.

Again, because of the combination of blue-chip talent and team need, I rushed Fuller's name into Commissioner Jon Scott's hands as quickly as Jones' and DeCastro's names were rushed into Roger Goodell's hands the last two drafts.

While the Steelers likely have Darqueze Dennard rated ahead of Fuller, it's possible they have Fuller rated ahead of Justin Gilbert because while Fuller lacks the desired kick-return speed and skills of Gilbert, he's probably the better combination of a physical cover corner.

Fuller measured 5-11.7, 190 at the combine and ran his 40 in 4.49 with an impressive 1.50 10-yard split. He also posted an impressive 38 1/2 inches in the vertical jump.

A four-year player who just turned 22, Fuller started 14 games as a nickel corner (and hybrid linebacker/safety) before moving to the boundary corner his last two years. There, he showed off his physicality in the run game to go along with his coverage skills.

As a sophomore, Fuller led Virginia Tech with 14 1/2 tackles-for-loss and had 4 1/2 sacks. For his career, he has 6 interceptions, and also excelled as a gunner and jammer on special teams.

If you watch his tape of the Alabama game from this past season, you'll see Fuller's outstanding instincts and route-recognition skills. But he does lack top-end speed and gives up separation at the break point, something to which pro scouts pay close attention.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Fuller comes from a football family. His two older brothers, Vincent and Corey, played and play in the NFL, and his younger brother Kendall should start as a sophomore at Tech next season.

At the combine, Fuller was asked if he was surprised by analyst Mike Mayock's prediction at the time that Fuller would be drafted in the first round by the Steelers.

"If you asked me a team that I would want to play for, I would give you a team that was known for its defense," he said. "The Steelers were definitely in that conversation. I just like the way they play, as well as like the Ravens and Seahawks, defensive teams like that. Doesn't surprise me at all."

But it would surprise Steelers fans if Fuller were to find his way to Pittsburgh via the second round. That's probably not a feasible scenario, and perhaps this mock draft -- with this rush of anxiety from picks 39 through 45 -- might serve as a warning about drafting a wide receiver in the first round.

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