Steelers Draft Series: Defensive backs

A new chapter in Jim Wexell's draft series on the Pittsburgh Steelers' options will run every other day throughout the three weeks leading up to the draft. Here are his defensive backs.

Kevin Colbert believes this year's crop of cornerbacks is deep. He should know, because the Steelers hosted at least half a dozen of them this draft season.

The Steelers already have four veteran cornerbacks, but Deshea Townsend will be 33 on opening day and No. 3 man Bryant McFadden is in the final year of his contract.

There's also a problem at free safety. Ryan Clark is a physical question mark and Anthony Smith fell apart late last season. Tyrone Carter is also slowing down.

There are two free safeties who are regarded as late first-rounders: Kenny Phillips (6-2¼, 212, 4.51) of Miami and Tyrell "Tank" Johnson (6-0, 217, 4.44) of Arkansas State. Phillips is perceived as falling out of the first round.

"In all fairness to Phillips," said's Tom Marino, "they didn't play him conventionally this past year. I'm guessing their corners couldn't tackle or weren't very good so they kind of inverted everything. So you didn't see him play the ball, but he's a good player. Johnson I just really love. He can play the slot guy, he can play corner, smart as heck, fast as heck.

"Here's a local sleeper for you," Marino said. "Ryan Mundy (6-1, 208) was so important to that West Virginia defense. He got those guys lined up and put them in position. They had two smurf corners and another safety who couldn't get them lined up. This guy's pretty darn good. He's not fast, but he just did some nice stuff. Boy, he's a good player."

The Steelers visited with Mundy, as well as another safety who could land with them late in the draft: UCLA back-up Matthew Slater (5-11, 195). The son of former Ram Jackie Slater is a special-teams star. He's a sprinter who made the all-Pac 10 first team as a kickoff return man, but may have been a better gunner this past season. The Steelers need help at both spots.

My personal favorite free safeties are Cal's Thomas DeCoud (6-1 ½, 207, 4.56) and Boston College's Jamie Silva (5-11, 204, 4.86) of Boston College. The latter is a ballhawk with special-teams skills, while DeCoud is a converted cornerback with run-stopping skills.

Another cornerback who projects to free safety is Charles Godfrey (6-0, 207, 4.47) of Iowa. The Steelers hosted him as well.

The Steelers visited with cornerbacks Aqib Talib of Kansas and Mike Jenkins of South Florida. Neither appears to fit, because Talib tested positive for marijuana three times in school. Jenkins might be the best cover man in the draft, but he has character issues.

Of the other corners who visited the South Side, Justin King (5-11, 192, 4.37) of Penn State has the speed but is coming off a season that was inconsistent at best; Tracy Porter (5-11, 188, 4.49) of Indiana is a cover corner who would play the slot but struggle against the run; Orlando Scandrick (5-10, 192, 4.35) of Boise State is a junior with upside; and Antwaun Molden (6-1, 198, 4.43) of Eastern Kentucky transferred from Toledo.

The player who fits the Steelers' cover 3 scheme best is Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers (5-9¾, 189, 4.59), who plays the run like no other corner in college football.

"I wouldn't mess with Flowers," Marino said. "He's less than 5-10 and he's slow. You can't take 169-pound receivers in the first round and you can't take a slow, short corner.

"The guy from Connecticut intrigues me," Marino said of Tyvon Branch (5-11½, 208, 4.35). "He's a little stiff in the hips but he's explosive and he'll rock you. He could also be a safety."

One final prospect is Arizona's Antoine Cason (6-0, 191, 4.55). The Steelers like his character and leadership. The Jim Thorpe Award winner might also project to safety.

Value Board

1st Round – S Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State.

2nd Round – S Kenny Phillips, Miami; CB/S Antoine Cason, Arizona; CB/S Tyvon Branch, UConn; CB Justin King, Penn State.

3rd Round – CB Tracy Porter, Indiana; CB Antwaun Molden, E. Kentucky; CB Orlando Scandrick, Boise State.

4th Round – CB/S Charles Godfrey, Iowa.

6th Round – S Ryan Munday, WVU.

7th Round – Gunner/KR Matthew Slater, UCLA.

UFA – S Jamie Silva, Boston College.

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