Off-Season Burning Questions: Ike Taylor’s future, need to draft impact cornerback early lingers for Steelers

Cornerback is a significant position of need for the Steelers this off-season after the Steelers made the blunder of not offering Keenan Lewis a contract last off-season when Lewis wanted to return in the worst way to keep playing for Dick LeBeau.
The Steelers made the mistake of letting Lewis walk and keeping an older declining player in Ike Taylor.
Taylor graded out as one of the worst defensive backs in the league this season as no cornerback allowed more yards than Taylor who gave up 1,043 yards through the air.
The million dollar question with the Steelers is whether they value the cornerback position enough to go that route in the first round as one or even two enticing prospects could be there at No. 15. The Steelers philosophy under Kevin Colbert has been to draft cornerbacks in the middle rounds (3-5). The last time the Steelers drafted a cornerback in the first round was Chad Scott in 1997 when Tom Donahoe was General Manager.
There’s no question Taylor who has an $11.95 million cap should be released (Steelers would save $7 million) and he will be either released or asked to take a significant paycut, but due to the Steelers almost always being against starting defensive players right off the bat in their rookie years due to Dick LeBeau’s complex system, it’s likely the team would be banking on Cortez Allen improving/staying healthy and a second consecutive strong season from William Gay, which could be too much to ask.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gay ranked 8th among all cornerbacks this season, allowing just 493 yards through the air and one touchdown.
After Allen and Gay there’s no player on the roster prepared to step up for a significant role as 2011 third round pick Curtis Brown is looked at by the coaches as a lost cause and nothing more than a No. 4/No. 5 cornerback and special teams player.
Looking to the 2014 draft class, Oklahoma’s State Justin Gilbert is looked at by many as the top cornerback going into the combine. At 6-foot-1, 199-pounds, Gilbert has good size and terrific ball skills. NFL Draft expert Bucky Brooks calls Gilbert a “Natural ball hawk with exceptional range and awareness.” Brooks adds that Gilbert’s ability as a kick returner could make him a two-phase contributor as a pro.”
Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is also looked at as a first round talent who draft evaluators feel is ready to step in and play. Expect to hear his name a lot connected to the Steelers in the coming months.

Dennard has some speed deficiencies but has great fundamentals. Mel Kiper on Dennard: “Dennard is the most complete corner in the draft in terms of the overall skill profile to work in any kind of coverage, and he brings a great work ethic and competitive temperament to the field. Three words: Ready to play.”

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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