Have Steelers finally found mid-round CB gems in Cam Sutton, Brian Allen?
There’s been a Burnett who never even became an Average Joe, plus an ordinary Terry and a forgettable Curtis. There also was a Crezdon, a Senquez and even a Shaquille who was anything but Shaq-like.
Names that were plain, names that were unique. Big schools and small schools. First-day draft busts and final-day misses.
But with a couple of small exceptions, the Steelers went a span of eight consecutive drafts swinging and missing in their attempts to land a stalwart cornerback. Though William Gay was a solid choice as a 2007 fifth-rounder, it took until the first-round pick of Artie Burns some nine years later before the Steelers appeared to find a reliable long-term answer at cornerback.
But not counting that first-round investment, the Steelers went through 10 cornerbacks in their attempt to find another diamond in the rough for their secondary.
But did they finally strike gold in this past draft — not only once but twice?
“The Steelers,” Gay said, “picked two capable guys who can play.”
Gay was referring to Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen. While it’s too early to declare Steelers’ 2017 picks in the third and fifth rounds, respectively, as future NFL stars — or even starters, for that matter — each showed in small doses that he has the potential to be better than the vast majority of the Steelers’ attempts to find a useful cornerback in the middle rounds.
Not that it’s too high of a hurdle to clear.
Of the cornerbacks the Steelers drafted between Gay and Burns, just three played more than 15 regular-season games with the team, and only two (Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen) started even one game.
Sutton did that as a rookie when he played all but two of the Steelers’ defensive snaps of the Week 15 game, holding his own against the mighty Patriots, no less.
Allen was relegated mostly to special-teams duty during the 10 games he played, but as a former college wide receiver, he likely was pegged for a developmental season in 2017.
“For my first year, I feel like I have definitely learned a lot, being around some of the guys,” Allen said. “Will Gay giving knowledge. Joe (Haden) coming in and bringing knowledge, even Artie and (safety Sean Davis), all those guys who have been here, teaching me the ropes and showing me everything about being a pro.”
Of the prior 10 middle-round cornerbacks the Steelers drafted, only Lewis, Allen and Joe Burnett made it onto the Steelers’ 53-man roster their second season. Four — Terrence Frederick, Terry Hawthorne, Shaquille Richardson and Doran Grant — were cut before their rookie seasons even began. Some weren’t even added to the practice squad. Senquez Golson didn’t appear in a game over three years after being a second-round pick.
It’s bad enough that the third-best of the forgettable group of 10 was 2011 third-rounder Curtis Brown (no starts, mostly special-teams duty in 34 games over three seasons in Pittsburgh).
Despite a preseason injury and 10 weeks on IR, Sutton earned playing time by the end of the season. Allen was viewed positively enough by the team that he not only secured a 53-man roster spot all season, he was activated for each of the final eight games — including the divisional playoff game last week, when the Steelers had plenty of options.
Though he didn’t play on defense, it was another token of the Steelers’ faith in him.
It’s too early to map out the projected division of labor in the Steelers secondary next season, but Sutton seems pegged for a role. At 6-foot-3 with 4.48 speed and only 31⁄2 years into his tenure as a cornerback, Allen has enough potential that he is someone worth watching, be it in 2018 or beyond.
No matter how it plays out, after years of mid-round misses, the Steelers seem to have legitimate reason to believe they have found some hidden cornerback gems in Sutton and Allen.
“Me and him spill our ideas off each other, how we would play certain things,” Allen said. “Just that constant communication, you can tell that he’s all in, and I’m excited to see him continue to grow, and me and him — obviously, because we came in together — continuing to grow and be ready to go for a long time.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.