Cornerbacks, Time Machines and the Draft

Because I can’t help myself, a little Draft Day Time Machine: Cornerbacks Edition. In case you missed it, I did a comprehensive review of the offensive line last fall. Usual rules apply here (basically: only players available after the Steelers’ original selection are up for consideration), but this time we’re looking at which cornerbacks* the Steelers might have had with their previous first-round selections. Because the last time Pittsburgh drafted a CB in Round 1 it was 1997. And his name was Chad Scott.

(* I could have included safeties, but with Polamalu and Chris Hope, and later Ryan Clark and, ahem, Anthony Smith, this position hasn’t been at the top of the personnel to-do list for some time.)

Let’s get to it…

1998: Took Alan Faneca, 1.26. Could have had R.W. McQuarters (1.28).
Faneca wins.

1999: Took Troy Edwards, 1.13. Could have had Antoine Winfield (1.23), Fernando Bryant (1.27), Dre’ Bly (2.41).
Just about anybody would have been better than Edwards. Except for the guy the Steelers took at 2.57: Scott Shields. Moving on…

2000: Took Plaxico Burress, 1.8. Could have had Deltha O’Neal (1.15), Ahmed Plummer (1.24).
Even taking into account Plax’s first professional catch-and-spike, Burress is the guy here.

2001: Took Casey Hampton, 1.19. Could have had Nate Clements (1.21), Will Allen (1.22), Jamar Fletcher (1.26).
You could make a case for Nate Clements, but using Pro Football Reference’s weighted career approximate value (CarAV) metric, Casey gets a 66 and Clements a 55. (CarAV is explained in great detail here.) It’s not the end-all, be-all, but without a fat body anchoring the line we’d probably now be whinging about Pittsburgh’s inability to stop the run.

2002: Took Kendall Simmons, 1.30. Could have had Sheldon Brown (2.59).
The karma gods hosed Simmons. After a great start to his career, knee injuries and adult-onset diabetes turned him into Darnell Stapleton. Brown has a higher CarAV (44 to 31), but it’s a cumulative stat. I’d still take Simmons here.

2003: Took Troy Polamalu, 1.16. Could have had Andre Woolfolk (1.28), Sammy Davis (1.30), Nnamdi Asomugha (1.30), Charles Tillman (2.35), Rashean Mathis (2.39), Drayton Florence (2.46).
Hmm. Anybody take Nnamdi over Troy here? I wouldn’t but before I looked up the players selected after Polamalu in ’03 I almost just wrote, “T.R.OY. Nothing to see here, moving on…” Well, any other year and there would be some tough decisions. Asomugha clearly improves the Steelers secondary, and so would Peanut Tillman (added bonus: he’s Ike’s college teammate!). That said: you have to take Troy.

2004: Took Ben Roethlisberger, 1.11. Could have had Ahmad Carroll (1.25), Chris Gamble (1.28).
I don’t like to brag about it, but at the time, I was pushing for the Steelers to take a cornerback in the first round. I distinctly remember buying into the predraft hype on DeAngelo Hall, too. It’s not my proudest moment. It could have been worse: I could have been pimping Ricardo Colclough, the dude Pittsburgh traded up to get in Round 2.

2005: Took Heath Miller, 1.30. Could have had Stanford Routt (2.38), Corey Webster (2.43), Ronald Bartell (2.50), Darrent Williams (2.56), Justin Miller (2.57), Kelvin Hayden (2.60).
Here’s how I look at it: Heath’s one of the best tight ends in the league. Routt or Bartell or Hayden would upgrade Pittsburgh’s secondary, but then taking any of them over Miller would be the definition of reaching.

2006: Took Santonio Holmes, 1.25. Could have had Kelly Jennings (1.31), Jimmy Williams (2.37), Cedric Griffin (1.48), Richard Marshall (2.57), Tim Jennings (2.62).
Gimme Holmes, please. Primarily because Ted would kill me if I said otherwise. (Joke!) Plus, Holmes had a nontrivial role in the Steelers last Super Bowl win. Of the cornerbacks available, Griffin might be the best choice and he’s had issues with injuries. (And Williams, physically the prototypical Pittsburgh corner, needed just a few years to eat himself out of the league.)

2007: Took Juan Timmons, 1.15. Could have had Leon Hall (1.18), Aaron Ross (1.20), Chris Houston (1.41).
The name not listed: Darrelle Revis, selected by the Jets 14th overall. I’m guessing we’ll be talking about this forever. There was a time when I thought that Tomlin was so in love with Juan that he would have taken him even if Revis was on the board. JJ convinced me otherwise on the last podcast. I can’t imagine what this defense would look like with Revis Island located at the confluence, and playing opposite Ike, but that’s a secondary you’d line up opposite Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers and feel great about doing it.  It could be worse, though: at least Juan is good. Imagine if the Steelers had taken Jarvis Moss.

As for the players actually available, Leon Hall is the only legit candidate. Still not sure if he’s a better fit than Juan (CarAV gives Hall the edge, 31-23).

2008: Took Rashard Mendenhall, 1.23. Could have had Mike Jenkins (1.25), Antoine Cason (1.27), Brandon Flowers (2.35), Tracy Porter (2.40).
Jenkins is afraid to tackle, so he’s out (just in case the fact that he can’t cover failed to persuade you). Cason has been adequate, and I’d call Flowers and Porter above average. I’m forever beating the “Running backs are fungible” drum, so I might be willing to swap either Flowers or Porter for Mendenhall, even though I love what Rashard has done in two seasons as a starter. In terms of CarAV, Mendenhall’s 19 is slightly better than Flowers’ 18 and Porter’s 12. Make of that what you will.

2009: Took Ziggy Hood, 1.32. Could have had: Alphonso Smith (2.37), Darius Butler (2.41), Jairus Byrd (2.42), Sean Smith (2.61), Derek Cox (3.73).
Cox went to William & Mary so he’s the obvious choice. I liked Butler a lot leading up to the 2009 draft, mostly because I watched him in a couple episodes of “Prime U,” Deion Sanders’ preparatory school for aspiring NFL cornerbacks. Turns out, Butler hasn’t done much in New England. Jairus Byrd went nuts as a rookie, grabbing nine interceptions. He had one a season ago, although I have no idea if it was because teams threw away from him or he slumped. (I watched exactly one Bills game, for obvious reasons.) Smith also had a strong rookie season, but slipped in 2010.

After a quiet 2009, Ziggy played well in his second season. And while I might be willing to swap him for Byrd (CarAV favors Byrd 14 to 8), we’d then be talking about all the injury-prone geriatrics on the Steelers’ d-line.

2010: Took Maurkice Pouncey, 1.18. Could have had: Kareem Jackson (1.20), Devin McCourty (1.27), Kyle Wilson (1.29), Patrick Robinson (1.32), Javier Arenas (2.50).
Wow. This is tough. McCourty was phenomenal as a rookie. He had the type of performance you pray that just one of the Steelers’ young players — Lewis, Crezdon … anybody — could put together. As it stands, Ike’s the last cornerback to pull it off. So is swapping McCourty for Maurkice worth it? Part of me says “hell yeah,” since the Steelers’ had won a Super Bowl with Hartwig. I know a lot of people were ready to see him off, but I still remember those heady Sean Mahan days; consequently, I was willing to Hartwig the guy some slack. One obvious drawback: think about what Pittsburgh’s o-line would have looked like with no Pouncey to go along with all the injuries. I’d really, really love McCourty, I just don’t think I’d be willing to trade him for Maurkice.

Alright, folks, your turn. Have at it.

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  • Randy Steele

    Thanks for doing this, Ryan. As you proved while doing this exercise with the offensive line, a lot of our second guessing is nonsense. The Steelers’ front office performance during the drafts in the past decade has been pretty solid, at least in Round 1.

    • Anonymous

      Well said, Randy. And correct, to boot.

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  • Thatguy

    I don’t mean to be that guy, but it’s Lawrence Timmons. I think you called him Juan in another post. Your thinking of his adopted mexican brother (Juan Pedro Timmons). Solid post.