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The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for a few of these defensive backs in this month's draft

The Steelers need both cornerbacks and safeties, and maybe more than one of each. SCI publisher Jim Wexell breaks it all down.

A benefit of participating in a 32-city mock draft, like the one held for its publishers recently, is the experience a selector gains from getting what he wished for.

In this case, for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the choice was University of Houston cornerback William Jackson, an unheralded player throughout most of his career, but one who built himself into a first-rounder in 2015 after his status skyrocketed in the post-season.

First, there were Jackson's two interceptions (of Florida State third-string freshman J.J. Cosentino) to win the Defensive MVP award at the Peach Bowl, and then Jackson measured 6-0 3/8 and ran a 4.37 40 at the NFL Combine. A few weeks later he had dinner with the Steelers the night before a reportedly impressive pro day performance.

While opinions vary on Jackson -- ("He was a polarizing discussion on our room," one scout told author Nolan Nawrocki) -- the Steelers are apparently enthusiastic.

"They can't hide their love for him," was a text written by a scout to reporter Dane Bugler, who made the text public on Twitter.

Yet, one moment from the Combine is gumming up the works, at least for me.

"I was a knucklehead," Jackson said of his rebellious teen years.

Jackson spoke from the heart that day at the combine, and seemed like a great guy; honest and self-deprecating. But the line sticks as symbolic more than a month later.

There are other question marks beyond one reporter's take that Jackson isn't bright enough to help as a rookie. There was his junior-year scorching by Tyler Boyd and Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl, and also a pro day 20-yard shuttle time of 4.32 that nearly matched his Combine 40 time. It indicates stiffness in an athlete who otherwise runs very fast in a straight line.

There are questions with Jackson, to be sure, so perhaps the grass is greener over in Clemson, where cornerback Mackensie Alexander could be available at pick 25 as well.

The Clemson redshirt sophomore took the combine podium by storm and spoke of relentless tape-watching, and also displayed -- for admittedly easy-to-fool reporters -- a true understanding of the game.

Alexander comes off as smart, if not a bit too confident, or cocky. And who doesn't want that at the cornerback position?

But teams also want tall, and that's a problem for Alexander, who checked into the combine at 5-10 3/8.

In the last five drafts, only one of 19 cornerbacks selected in the first round was shorter than 5-10 1/2, and the Steelers passed on 5-9 1/2 Justin Verrett.

Alexander started two seasons at Clemson and didn't intercept a pass, another potential flaw. But he did, according to Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar, allow only 19 catches on 57 targets for 258 yards, no touchdowns and a QB rating of 48.7.

Is the grass greener at Ohio State, where potential first-rounder Eli Apple started the last two seasons?

Apple has first-round height and speed -- 6-0 5/8, 4.40 40 -- but his tape is conflicting. While Apple can "stay in the hip pocket of receivers," as scouts say, his instincts for the ball are lacking (one interception, seven pass breakups last season) and his play against the run has been curious, at best. Some analysts have Apple graded as a top-15 prospect and some have him in the third round.

Cornerbacks over the years have proven to be com-BUST-ible, and the above three candidates to land at pick 25 certainly have their question marks.

Perhaps it's the reason the Steelers are meeting this month with so many mid-round cornerback candidates, most of whom are listed below on the value board.

Some of my personal favorite mid-rounders in this draft are LSU's Jalen Mills, Notre Dame's KeiVarae Russell and Minnesota's Eric Murray in what's considered a deep crop at the position.

Also to be considered is Mississippi State's Will Redmond, who suffered a torn ACL late last season.

The Steelers have a need for a playmaking strong safety as well, and, in going back to the mock draft, it appears that most of a solid group of second-round candidates will be drafted before the Steelers pick at 58.

Could the Steelers surprise the draft experts and reach for a safety in the first round?

Well, WVU's Karl Joseph is the cream of the crop. However, Joseph's recovering from a torn ACL suffered last October, and strong safety isn't the same position as running back, where Todd Gurley recovered from his torn ACL in time to rush for over 1,100 yards as a rookie last season.

Joseph would miss the foundation set in the spring, and even a healthy Troy Polamalu needed a season on the bench to understand the position.

If not Joseph, another possible first-round safety is Florida's Keanu Neal, with whom the Steelers have met frequently and are said to be considering in the first round. The 21-year-old junior is more of a run-stuffer at this point in his development, but at 6-0 1/2 would offer more height in pass coverage than anyone else in their secondary outside of Cortez Allen.

Vonn Bell is another first-round possibility for the Steelers, who like his Ohio State pedigree, his coverage skills and the upside of the 21-year-old junior.

After Joseph, Neal and Bell, Darian Thompson is the top ballhawk, Sean Davis is the most athletic, and K.J. Dillon of WVU is the best cover man.

There's also Jeremy Cash, who rarely, if ever, played deep safety at Duke and is considered more of a linebacker than a strong safety.


1. Jalen Ramsey (CB-S), 6-1 1/4, 209, Florida State.

2. Vernon Hargreaves (CB), 5-10 1/2, 204, Florida.

3. William Jackson (CB), 6-0 3/8, 189, Houston.

4. Karl Joseph (S), 5-9 5/8, 205, WVU.

5. Keanu Neal (S), 6-0 1/2, 211, Florida.


First Round -- Jackson (CB), Houston; Joseph (S), WVU; Neal (S), Florida; Alexander (CB), Clemson; Apple (CB), Ohio State; Bell (S), Ohio State.

Second Round -- Thompson (S), Boise State; Artie Burns (CB), Miami; Dillon (S), WVU; Davis (S-CB), Maryland; Cash (S-LB), Duke.

Third Round -- Cyrus Jones (CB-RS), Alabama; Xavien Howard (CB), Baylor; Deon Bush (S), Miami; T.J. Green (S-CB), Clemson.

Fourth Round -- D.J. White (CB), Georgia Tech; Jonathan Jones (CB), Auburn; Tavon Young (CB), Temple.

Sixth Round -- Ryan Smith (CB-S-RS), North Carolina Central; Trae Elston (S), Ole Miss;  Brandon Williams (CB), Texas A&M.

Seventh Round -- Lafayette Pitts (CB), Pitt.



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