Perfect CB is a rare find in draft
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INDIANAPOLIS -- When he talks about what he looks for in a cornerback, Kevin Colbert sounds as though he is ordering a pizza with all the toppings. He doesn't leave out an item.
"We always want size, we always want speed, we always want athleticism, we always want toughness, we always want ball skills and productivity," said Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations.
"You put it all together and you're going to have a great player. Sometimes they're going to be faster and not have great ball skills. Sometimes they're going to be slower and have great ball skills."
Alas, not many of those cornerbacks exist in the 2011 NFL draft, or any draft, for that matter. Maybe a Rod Woodson in 1987 or Deion Sanders in '89 or even Charles Woodson in '98.
But, if there is such a cornerback in this year's draft, he would be LSU's Patrick Peterson, the top-rated corner at the NFL Scouting Combine who has a chance to be the first defensive player selected in April. He is just about everything Colbert describes in the perfect corner, and then some.
He is 6 feet, 219 pounds, has been timed at 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash and gave up just one touchdown pass in 2010 (to Alabama's Julio Jones). He is also the cousin of Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden.
"I'm an all-around cornerback and that's what I wanted to do coming out of college," said Peterson, who left LSU after his junior season. "I definitely want to continue that trend going into the NFL."
No cornerback has been the No. 1 overall selection in the draft, but Peterson has a chance to tie the two corners who were the highest selected -- Bruce Pickens by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991 and Shawn Springs by the Seattle Seahawks in '97. Each was the third overall pick.
Not far behind Peterson is Nebraska's Prince Amukamara, who is rated the second-best corner at the combine because he can cover, tackle and is chiseled better than Herbie Husker. Like Peterson, he should be among the top 10 players selected, even though he did not have an interception in 2010.
Both those players will be well out of reach for the Steelers, who have the No. 31 pick in the draft. But, with a lot of quantity and quality at the position, the Steelers might have a shot at any number of other good cornerbacks in the first round, even if the rest of the crop is not as highly regarded as Peterson and Amukamara.
"Patrick Peterson is an amazing player," said Amukamara, a converted running back who measured at 6-0, 206 pounds. "Whatever attention or notoriety he's getting, he deserves it."
There are a number of other good cornerbacks who could fall to the Steelers as low first-round or early second-round selections, depending on their grades at the combine. Among them are Brandon Harris of Miami, Jimmy Smith of Colorado, Aaron Williams of Texas and Ras-I Dowling of Virginia.
Like Peterson, Harris and Williams are juniors who will get a long look at the combine because they couldn't compete in the Senior Bowl. And, like Peterson, Harris gave up only one touchdown pass in 2010 -- to Notre Dame's Michael Floyd in the Sun Bowl.
Like Amukamara, Williams did not have an interception last season with the Longhorns, raising questions about his ball skills.
"I try to mimic my game as close as possible to Charles Woodson," said Harris, referring to the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl cornerback and the 2009 NFL defensive player of the year. "I do a lot of things that he does as far as playing the outside corner position and busting inside in the nickel on certain packages and coming off the edge to blitz the quarterback and stick your nose in the run game. As a defensive back, that's a quality you have to have in the NFL."
That is something defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau demands of his corners in the Steelers defense.
LeBeau likes bigger, physical cornerbacks who can play the run -- one of the reasons the Steelers annually rank at the top, or near the top, of the NFL in run defense. But, as the Packers showed with their four-wide receiver sets in Super Bowl XLV, being able to defend the pass has become, or should become, the top prerequisite for a Steelers cornerback.
In the past two seasons, Steelers cornerbacks have combined for only seven interceptions -- the same number safety Troy Polamalu had in 14 games in 2010.
"There are a lot of good names out there," Peterson said. "Looks like I'm leading the class right now, but there's a lot of good guys who are definitely deserving to be No. 1."
First Published February 28, 2011 12:00 am