While it is not a pressing need at the moment, the Steelers could have issues at the cornerback position as early as next year. Thus, I totally understand why Colbert & Co. made Terry Hawthorne their 5th round pick.
Long-time starter Ike Taylor will be an Unrestricted Free Agent after the 2014 campaign, and Ike could be released next spring if Pittsburgh’s brass needs to shed payroll. Taylor might have to stick and stay through the duration of his contract though, because the depth behind him and Cortez Allen is suspect at best.
Veteran William Gay is a serviceable nickel-back, but is too often burned and manhandled by bigger slot receivers and tight ends. Behind Gay exists a glut of young, somewhat unproven, and inconsistent players in the forms of Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian, and DeMarcus Van Dyke. Brown and Victorian definitely had their issues over the final four weeks of the 2012 regular season, and Van Dyke was mostly a special teams performer until he sustained a shoulder injury against the Cowboys.
I for one believe that it was a smart move by Colbert & Co. to take a player like Hawthorne for depth and developmental purposes. He fits the prototypical mold (6′ 195 lbs., 4.44 speed) of a starting outside cornerback in Pittsburgh’s defense, and Terry will definitely stick his nose into the fray to tackle ball-carriers and wide receivers. Overall, the former Fighting Illini cornerback racked up 105 tackles over the last two seasons to go along with 9.0 tackles for loss, but he will likely need to add a little bit of weight to his overall frame and some added strength to fight off blocks. Hopefully though, Hawthorne can keep himself out of harm’s way, because he sustained a scary injury last year after an open-field hit.
While Hawthorne’s hands are not the greatest, he still recorded 6 over his four-year career including 3 during his productive junior campaign. But hey, it’s not like Ike, Gay, or Keenan Lewis possessed the most reliable hands either. While Terry can play press-coverage, he should be at his best on the outside in a zone-heavy scheme due to his speed and tenacity to react and make plays on the ball.
Outside of adding depth at the cornerback position, Terry also has the ability to chip in with kicks and punt returns. Last year, Hawthore returned 12 kickoffs for 255 yards, and the Steelers would definitely be wise to take their starting wide receivers off of the return units for injury-purposes.
Overall, this is a solid value pick made by Colbert & Co., because this team needs some insurance at the cornerback position. Hopefully Hawthorne can contribute on special teams early, then move to some sub-package work by the middle of his second year.
Final Grade: B
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