I am sure most of you have noticed it by now, but I will nevertheless state the obvious as I open today’s post: The Steelers’ Secondary situation is a bit of a mess right now.
The unit’s best veterans have been hobbled by an assortment of injuries (Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor), and the current depth has been largely untested or inconsistent through the season’s first 14 games (Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Robert Golden, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Josh Victorian). But if those misfortunes were not hard enough to deal with, the Steelers also have some key starters and backups (Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy, Will Allen) set to become Unrestricted Free Agents when the 2012 season comes to a close.
With all four starting positions (FS, SS, CB #1, CB #2) likely to be in flux or even up for grabs by the 2015 season, it might behoove G.M. Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Front Office to begin to plan for some transition strategies to keep Pittsburgh’s back-end fortified during what appears to an arduous rebuilding experience ahead of them. With the rebuilding process in mind, and the pressing needs at multiple positions in the Steelers’ Defensive Backfield likely to open soon, I believe that Pittsburgh could definitely benefit from adding some young players with some versatility in the Secondary to their roster. So with positional versatility in mind, I thought I would discuss some 2013 Draft prospects who could intrigue the Steelers this offseason.
Prospects Who Can Help and Why
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State, Cornerback, 6’1″ 185 lbs.
Although Dee Milliner might have received most of the S.E.C. Cornerback headlines this year, Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State has emerged as one of College Football’s top Cornerbacks over the last three years. If the Steelers are in fact drafting anywhere from #14-#22 in the 1st Round, they would be a prime spot to select the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner.
A three and a half year starter with the Bulldogs, Banks has had himself fine 2012 season thus far. Overall, Banks has made 59 Tackles, 2.0 TFL’s, Forced 1 Fumble, Recovered 1 Fumble, logged 7 Pass Breakups, and picked off 4 passes. Banks possesses a great mixture of size, lankiness, and a physical nature to his game on the outside and proved that he could excel in both man and zone coverage at the college level against S.E.C. competition. In addition to his skill-set as a Cornerback though, Banks also has some versatility to his game. During his Freshman season, Johnthan played in 12 games (he started 7 of them) at Free Safety and managed to log 33 Tackles and 4 Interceptions which turned into two Pick-Sixes. Banks also was an accomplished Punt Returner during his Junior season as well and returned 16 Punts for 166 Yards and 1 Touchdown too.
A player like Banks would have the ability to come in right away for a team like the Steelers and provide depth at the Cornerback and Free Safety positions. And since he has a Punt Return background, it would not hurt to see Banks field a few instead of “Butterfingers” Brown, and given chances to contribute in the return game while he gets acclimated to whichever position the Coaching Staff would ultimately develop him at early in his career.
Jordan Poyer, Oregon State, Cornerback, 5’11″ 190 lbs.
In the Offense-happy Pac-12, Poyer has held his own nicely and become one of the Conference’s best Defensive Players during the 2012 season. In fact, one could argue that the Oregon State Beaver has been the best Cornerback West of the Mississippi River this year. Over his first 11 games, Jordan has been as shut-down as a Corner could get for Oregon State and the 1st-Team A.P. All-American recorded 46 Tackles, 4.0 TFL’s, 1.0 Sack, Forced 1 Fumble, Recovered 1 Fumble, recorded 7 Passes Defended, and picked off 7 passes (2nd in the Nation).
Like Banks, Poyer possesses quite the versatile skill-set. Poyer switched from Free Safety to Cornerback after his Freshman season (13 Games as a backup, 11 Tackles, 1 Fumble Recovered), and has definitely displayed enough physicality and Tackling ability the run game to at least be given reps at both positions at the next level. Where Poyer however really excelled during his career with the Beavers was as a Kick and Punt Returner. During his Sophomore season (2010), Poyer returned 33 Kickoffs for 917 Yards (27.78 YPR) and 11 Punts for 104 Yards (9.45 YPR). The following season, Poyer continued to do a fine job as he returned 30 Kickoffs for 680 Yards (22.67 YPR) and 10 Punts for 141 Yards (14.1 YPR) and 1 Touchdown.
Poyer is one heck of an athlete, and was actually a member of the Beavers strong baseball program as an underclassman, and played in the West Coast Baseball League during the Summer of 2010. Although his ultimate career choice was football, Poyer could definitely find some sort of niche with the Steelers as they are a team in need of help at Cornerback and Free Safety, and could definitely use some competition at both Return spots also.
Sanders Commings, Georgia, Cornerback, 6’1″ 216 lbs.
As I alluded to in my S.E.C. Championship post, I am a fan of Commings, and I believe that a “Swiss-Army Knife” type of player like him would serve the Steelers Secondary well. Although Cornerback is Commings’ main position, he has also seen time at Free Safety over his career in the Bulldogs’ Secondary.
Commings possesses a big frame and shown enough physicality the run-game (98 Tackles over the last two years, 43 this past year ) to make him a perfect fit as a Cornerback with the Steelers. Commings also displayed a nose for the football over his career and recorded 8 Interceptions to go along with 3 Fumble Recoveries over the last four years.
Although he would not bring the same type of Special Teams versatility to a team like others on this list, Commings’ versatility and experience as a Free Safety should serve him well and help to earn him at least a shot competing for time in Subpackages early in his career. Although he might be overshadowed by his Defensive Back mates like Rambo and Shawn Williams, Commings is definitely a player Pittsburgh could target to upgrade their Secondary in the middle Rounds of the Draft.
Melvin White, Louisiana-Lafayette, Free Safety, 6’3″ 191 lbs.
Like Ike Taylor, White is a bit of a raw prospect coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette and the Sun Belt Conference. Nevertheless, White’s versatility (he was a High School Quarterback) and overall size are what could make him such an intriguing option for the Steelers to bring him in and ultimately develop.
Although he played Cornerback during the 2009, 2010, and this past season, White started 12 games at Free Safety for the Ragin’ Cajuns during the 2011 season. White arguably had his best season as a Free Safety as well as he put up 59 Tackles, 8.5 TFL’s, 1.5 Sacks, Forced 1 Fumble, Recovered 1 Fumble, picked off 2 passes, and returned 1 Blocked Kick for a Touchdown. Even though White returned to Cornerback this year, he still was able to almost mirror his 2011 stats as he recorded 56 Tackles, 4.0 TFL’s, 7 Pass Breakups, and 1 Forced Fumble in 12 games.
Of all the prospects I will list today, White likely will take the longest to develop and adjust to the N.F.L. game as his competition was not the greatest during college. Despite his competition, one cannot teach size like 6’3″ 191 lbs. to a Defensive Back, and if Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake and Dick LeBeau are able to develop White similar to how they developed Taylor, Pittsburgh could get themselves quite the mid-late Round steal in the mold of an Ike Taylor.
Micah Hyde, Iowa, Cornerback, 6’1″ 190 lbs.
Although the Hawkeyes sagged to a losing record this year, Micah Hyde was one of the few bright spots for the team. In fact, Hyde was given The Big Ten Conference’s 2012 Tatum-Woodson Award for the top Defensive Back.
Over the 12 game season, Hyde logged 78 Tackles and 4.0 TFL’s this year after he recorded 72 and 2.0 the year before, and 82 Tackles in 2010. In addition to his work in the Tackling department, Micah was a Turnover-machine for the Hawkeyes as he Forced 2 Fumbles, Recovered 3 Fumbles and scored 1 Touchdown off of a recovery, broke up 14 passes, and made 1 Interception.
Like the other players I have listed in this post, Hyde played some Free Safety during his collegiate career (started 2 games as a Junior), and definitely possesses the type of size, physicality, and tackling technique to at least be given a shot at the position at the professional level if he is unable to adjust well enough to Cornerback or is better suited at Free Safety. In addition to Hyde’s ability to play multiple positions, he also returned punts during his last two years with Iowa. Overall, Hyde recorded 182 Yards on 27 Punt Returns (6.74 YPR) during his Junior and Senior seasons combined, and if he is drafted by the Steelers, he should at least be given a shot to prove himself in said department.
Although the Steelers need help basically everywhere on the Defensive side of the ball, I know that I am not alone in believing that the Secondary is a major cause for concern for the future. I know it might be a bit too early to look ahead towards 2013, 2014, and 2015, readers. But when you really analyze what the Steelers have on their roster right now, and try to project what lies ahead for the guys on their current depth chart, Pittsburgh would be wise to cover their collective bases’ all over their Secondary. Because of the fact that multiple positions could be open and up for competition, it would really serve the franchise well to acquire some players with some positional versatility during this upcoming offseason.
Readers: Should the Steelers target a Cornerback early in April (1st or 2nd Round)? Do they need to be extremely worried about the future of their Secondary? How dreadful do you believe their depth at Cornerback is? Share any and all thoughts on the state of the Steelers’ Secondary below.