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In confounding crop, surprise CB could rise onto the Pittsburgh Steelers' radar

With question marks surrounding the elite corners, players such as William Jackson, Jalen Mills and Kendall Fuller could find a way to Pittsburgh.

Mike Mayock wrapped up the Combine media interviews late Saturday evening but the draft expert didn't have much more of a handle on how the cornerbacks would fall in the first round than did the basic media schlub.

Jalen Ramsey, of course, is the elite cornerback of this class, but after he's drafted in the top 10 the pecking order remains in question.

Vernon Hargreaves III was measured at only 5-10 with short 30 1/2-inch arms after coming off a disappointing season at Florida.

Mackensie Alexander also checked in at 5-10. He has longer arms than Hargreaves but fewer interceptions. In fact, Alexander had no interceptions in approximately 110 targets over the last two seasons at Clemson.

Eli Apple has that first-round frame at 6-1 with 31 3/8-inch arms, but his knock is that he frequently loses the ball in the air. His stats attest to a lack of ball skills as well. The redshirt sophomore had only one interception and seven pass breakups last season, four and 17 respectively in two seasons at Ohio State combined.

"Apple's borderline (first round)," said Mayock, who was asked about all three potential candidates.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, at pick 25, could have any or all three of them fall there.

"(Hargraeves) has the best feet in the draft," said Mayock, who was once drafted as a safety by the Steelers. "His change of direction, his feet, he's got special abilities and he's not going to get pushed down too far."

And Alexander?

"One of the things I’m concerned with is lack of ball production, and with Mackensie Alexnader you’ve got to do a lot of work," Mayock said, adding. "I thought he was longer than he actually measured."

It's a conundrum for a Steelers organization working under Art Rooney II's post-season mandate that "We need to be better in general as a pass defense."

When Rooney has made these post-season mandates the last four years, GM Kevin Colbert has responded in the first round. Accordingly, Colbert was asked a few weeks ago how he intends to improve the pass defense.

"Production," he said. "Obviously we want to see more interceptions."

If that rules out Alexander and Apple, perhaps it ushers in William Jackson, the 6-0, 189-pound cornerback from Houston with the long 31 3/4-inch arms.

Jackson, a senior, led the nation with 23 pass breakups this past season and he intercepted five passes. In three seasons, after transferring from a junior college, Jackson had 40 pass breakups and eight interceptions.

Jackson's not generally considered a first-rounder by the media. Yet. That may have had something to do with him missing the Senior Bowl with a sprained MCL. But Jackson was named Defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl after intercepting a pair of passes, breaking up two others and making 10 tackles against Florida State.

Any knocks?

"I was a knucklehead," Jackson told Combine reporters about his high school days.

What turned him around?

"Guys I was close to were going to jail," he said. "I didn't want that for myself. I wanted to play ball. I knew I needed to get on the right track."

The Steelers, of course, will look into Jackson's character, but to reporters at the Combine he came off as a likable, humble and honest -- perhaps to a fault -- young man who's indeed turned himself around.

The Steelers will also no doubt look into the character of another cornerback who's flying under the first-round radar, Jalen Mills from LSU.

Mills checked into the Combine at 6-0, 191 with 31 1/8-inch arms. His 16 reps in the bench press were more than any of the aforementioned cornerbacks, but they also didn't spend the last two seasons as a starting safety.

"Cornerback, for sure," Mills said of his best position. "That's just the position I love to play. That's my first, natural position, and that's what I'm good at."

Mills came to LSU as a cornerback but was moved prior to his junior season because the position was so thin.

Mills intercepted six passes his first three seasons but none last year because a fractured fibula and damaged ankle ligaments held him out half the season, and his return came as a surprise to the LSU staff.

But Mills was fully healed for the Senior Bowl and he excelled as a cornerback throughout the practice week and in the game. He not only drew raves from media covering the event, but from Mike Tomlin as well.

"Coach Tomlin talked to me at the Senior Bowl," Mills said at the Combine. "He was there. He watched me all week. He said he was impressed with how I played, how physical I was, but also at the same time how finesse I could be at times."

No doubt Tomlin has looked into Mills' legal trouble after Mills allegedly punched a woman in the spring of 2014 after she had knocked on his door at 1 a.m. Mills claimed he wasn't guilty, that his girlfriend punched the woman, and the misdemeanor charge was dropped. He was allowed to attend the Combine in spite of its new rule against those accused of domestic violence.

"That incident was resolved way last year," said the soon-to-be 22-year-old. "I don't have any charges pending against me. I never was convicted of anything. It was a process I had to go through."

His next process -- perhaps the key step in the process for all in this confusing cornerback scenario -- is today's 40-yard dash. Perhaps at no other position are the times so important.

Mills guaranteed he'll run a 4.4, which would prove he's truly 100 percent healthy.

Kendall Fuller, the 5-11, 187-pounder from Virginia Tech, will also need to prove he's over his injury (torn meniscus) with a quality 40 time.

The just-turned 21-year-old had eight interceptions in his career, but none in his three games last season. Depending on his 40 time, Fuller could be moved to safety.

As for Jackson, rumors circulate that he could run in the 4.3s today. That would lock up first-round status for him, but he wasn't about to make a prediction.

"I'll let it speak for itself," Jackson said.

And that it will.


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