Matt Steel whittles down his 14-player, first-round list for the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers haven't drafted a cornerback in the first round in 19 years. Matt Steel whittles down his list and says it's just time.

In the past, I've numbered this list based on least to most likely. This year, the order is based on what I like, from least to most, rather than what I think the Pittsburgh Steelers will do.

I'm leaving out players who could drop due to medical or possible character issues, so while it would be a "wow" moment if they pulled the trigger on Myles Jack or Vernon Hargreaves, there's too much of an unknown for me to speculate whether or not the Steelers should draft that player.

Based on what should be available, along with their offseason signings, I'm ruling out offensive linemen, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and of course quarterbacks. It's going to be defense early and often, so, with that, let's look at the possibilities:

14. Vernon Butler - I have Butler here simply because several media outlets have him going in or near the end of the first round. I see more of a second-round guy. I like his size and movement skills, but too often on film he stands straight up off the snap. Butler is a low-floor/high-ceiling player. I don't want to spend a first round pick on a guy from a small school (Louisiana Tech) whom I hope I can to teach to play with better leverage.

13.  Vonn Bell - He's been described by some in the media as a great athlete. I see a solid athlete who's a bit undersized and isn't a great tackler. Not participating in the combine tests was a red flag, as was his vertical jump at his pro day (30.5 inches). But I think he will be a solid starter. Except in the first round, I'm not looking for solid, which is why I see him as more of a Round Two guy.

12. Keanu Neal - Neal is likely much higher on the Steelers' board than he is on my list. Part of me is concerned that this will be the pick. And I suppose that when I watch the highlights of his vicious hits, I will grow to like the pick. Neal is an explosive hitter, but not an explosive accelerator. In the first round, I want an explosive accelerator like a Troy Polamalu or a Ryan Shazier. Neal is on the other side of Bell in that he's good against the run and average against the pass. But I think he's slightly more versatile than Bell with better size and a higher upside.

11. Mackensie Alexander - Alexander might have the demeanor for the position, but I think he's a bit overrated. At 5-10, he needed to display some balls skills at the college level. With zero interceptions, it just never happened. I wouldn't exactly call Alexander a shutdown corner in college, either. He was good, but gave up some plays here and there when he was substantially fooled. The Steelers need a size corner not just narrow windows to larger receivers such as A.J. Green, but to also give them the versatility to occasionally cover receiving threats at the tight end position such as Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski was at times limited by Aqib Talib in the playoffs this year. One of the most successful games the Steelers ever had against Tom Brady and the Patriots was when Cortez Allen (remember that guy?) limited Gronkowski from making any big plays in a 2011 win.

10. Kevin Dodd - Dodd wasn't brought in for a pre-draft visit. There were no reports of him meeting with the Steelers at the combine. At 6-5, 277, Dodd has similar dimensions to Jason Jones, with whom the Steelers had a cup of coffee during the free-agency period. Maybe they plan to stay with their base 3-4 against twelve or twenty-one formations. In that case, a nickel specialist might not make much sense. Dodd will also be 24 in July. The last time the Steelers drafted an older productive college pass rusher, it didn't work so well. Or should I say yet?

9. A'Shawn Robinson - Alabama prospects scare me. The don't seem to play as well as they project in the NFL. They seem to battle injuries as well. Robinson was surrounded by a lot of talent, which can make a player look better than he actually is. Even though Robinson often plays too high, I still like his ability to stuff the run. I'm just not confident in his ability to apply pressure in the nickel and be athletic enough to be a viable rotational player in sub-packages. The concern I have is that they replace Steve McLendon with another Steve McLendon.

8. Kendall Fuller - Fuller was a player projected to be a mid first-round pick this fall before the meniscus injury. Even if the medical checks out, the word "microfracture" makes me wince. Ike Taylor believes Fuller is exactly what the Steelers want in their corners. But maybe Ike doesn't factor in that the Steelers seem to be transitioning from a predominately cover-three team to cover-two.  I've seen some projections of Fuller creeping into the bottom of the first round. Should the Steelers make this shocking selection, I can trust their judgement on his long-term health. With his NFL family pedigree, I can get on board with this selection. But as of now, because of the medical and because the tape doesn't get me fired up (unlike his brother Kyle), I still see Fuller as more of a Round Two option.

7. Artie Burns - Burns has gained late steam in the media mock hype machine. Charlie Casserly evaluated Burns to be his third highest rated corner in the draft. Daniel Jeremiah recently mocked Burns to the Steelers in the first round. Maybe this is why the evaluators and coaches have NFL jobs. They see things, football-wise, that a novice doesn't. I can see the potential. I like the ball skills (6 interceptions for Miami in 2015) and his long arms make him taller than his 6-foot frame suggests. But the inconsistent tape and his difficulty in changing directions have me questioning those first-round projections. However, Burns' skillset would seem to fit well in a cover-two defense.

6. Shaq Lawson - I don't think the Steelers are looking for an outside guy. With all the visits from the quick interior types, part of me is hopeful that Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt will eventually take some snaps off the edge. It was reported that there is a wide disparity of opinions among the scouting community on Lawson. I am someone who's on the pro-Lawson side. I might be biased because of the performance he had against Alabama in the national title game (two sacks and flashed often) when the kid wasn't expected to play because of a knee injury. I like Lawson's athletic ability (4.70 speed at 269 pounds is much better than 4.9 at 245 that Jarvis Jones gave them before a draft), but even if Lawson isn't a guy who has the speed to beat tackles around the corner, I still like a guy with a high motor who can consistently collapse the pocket. Not sure if he's in the plans, though, if the Steelers still want their edge players dropping into coverage.

Jarran Reed - I think Reed projects better athletically into the nickel than Robinson. But I'm not 100 percent on that. Reed would fit well as a nose tackle, or shade nose tackle should the Steelers transition to a 4-3. What I love about Reed is that when he locks onto a player, it's like he's hitting his opponent with a stun gun instead of with his hands. He stands people up and stifles them.

4. Karl Joseph - Joseph would be number one on this list if he wasn't coming off an ACL injury. Since I believe Jalen Ramsey will play more corner in the NFL than safety, Joseph is the top safety in the draft. He can tackle, hit, cover and has ball skills. He's a bit undersized but I love his passion and football character. A future leader. I just don't know about drafting anyone in the first round coming off an ACL injury. Still, I look at the success T.J. Ward has had after all of his knee injuries and part of me thinks this would be the best pick from this list.

3. Andrew Billings - Assuming the top three players on this list are gone, I would be looking to trade down to the bottom of the first round if I could pick up an extra third round pick. I don't see the Steelers trading out of the first round and losing their fifth-year option on a first-round player. That said, Billings seems to be losing steam late in the draft process. Gil Brandt has Billings rated as the 54th best player in the draft. Projections to the Washington Redskins at pick 21 have faded. Still, I like the pick. I think he'd be a great fit in Pittsburgh. Something tells me the Steelers do, too. You don't send a kid to dinner with Joe Greene unless you're serious about him. Hey, some also projected Heyward as a late second-round talent, but the Steelers understand talent that fits them. And maybe unlike Brandt, they understand Billings wasn't quite the same player after his ankle injury last season at Baylor.

2. Eli Apple - It's just time, isn't it? If the Steelers do plan to transition to a four-man front in which Heyward and/or Tuitt play end opposite of Dupree, than I'm on board with Billings as the selection. But I would rather fill the biggest hole on defense with a player who is going to play 100 percent of the snaps. Apple has the ideal size/speed ratio to fill the No. 1 corner role. He also has the Ohio State pedigree that the organization seems to covet. While I do I see Apple as more of an early second-round guy, a year from now he projects to a top 10-15 talent if he had decided to stay in school. On tape, he lacks some ball skills, but I believe those might be attributed to youth as Apple showed good balls skills in drills at the combine. I've left Apple just shy of the top spot due to his tackling. In the tapes I watched, Apple did a decent job of redirecting runs back inside, but rather than attacking the ballcarrier after securing the angle Apple would wait for the back to get even with him before making the less physically impactful tackle. Hopefully Apple's weaknesses can be attributed to youth. But at nearly 6-1, 200 with 4.40 speed, there's plenty of talent there to develop.

1. William Jackson - Jackson's tackling leaves something to be desired, but he seems to be more willing than Apple. And he seems more ready to play Day One than Apple. It's possible Jackson even has the better upside (though I do like Apple's thicker frame in case he needs to cover tight ends). At least Jackson has already displayed in-game ball skills. Guys 6-0 tall who clock electronically in the 4.3s aren't easy to come by. Jackson appears to have to best combination of man or zone capabilities as well as ball skills. His 4.32 20-yard shuttle is a little concerning, but Jackson coming off of an MCL injury in his bowl game might have been part of the reason. Jackson still showed well in position drills at the combine. While I can't get overly excited about a college player who apparently gave up 40 catches last season for over 600 yards, he does possess unique qualities. It's likely Jackson won't be there when the Steelers select at pick 25. Though almost as many mocks have Apple going ahead of Jackson as vice versa. If Jackson gets past the Raiders at pick 14, I think he has a good chance of falling to the Steelers. Regardless, if one of these corners is available when the Steelers are on the clock to select, it's just time.


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