By Jeremy Hritz
The two positions on the Steelers defensive side of the football that raise the most questions in terms of depth, are outside linebacker and cornerback. While we have examined all of the edge rusher UDRFAs, we have not yet finished our profiles of the corner position.
The Steelers are with their outside starters, with veteran Joe Haden, and the newly anointed Cameron Sutton, who has bided his time and developed and is now finally getting his opportunity following Steven Nelson’s cut. Beyond those two, James Pierre and Justin Layne round out the depth, as the Steelers look for a replacement to what now Bengal Mike Hilton brought to the team as the third corner. While the Steelers drafted Tre Norwood who played some cornerback at Oklahoma, he is penciled as a safety for the Steelers, and there are hopes that undrafted rookie free agent Shakur Brown out of Michigan State can be a pleasant surprise and make some noise at CB.
Prior to Brown’s Pro Day, he was touted as a potential 2nd or 3rd round selection, but following a pedestrian 40-time for the position, his draft stock plummeted, and he went undrafted. Our very own, Andrew Malkasian, was high on Brown and included him in a mock, as did several other draft pundits. However, to the Steelers good fortune, he was available to sign with the team as a UDRFA.
At 5’10, 185, Brown is not the biggest player, but what he doesn’t have in size he makes up for with his tenacity, aggressiveness, and refusal-to-lose. This past season, Brown recorded 5 interceptions in 7 starts, showing he has a nose for the football. Scouts indicate he is an instinctual player with a natural feel of where he needs to be on the field to make a play, which aligns with his interception total last season. Brown is also strong and physical, and is energized by competition, especially when matching up against upper-level talent, something that is essential to be an effective player in the NFL where there are top-talent match-ups every week.
The concerns surrounding Brown center on his speed, as he tested at a 4.64 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, which is below average for a professional corner. Whether or not this was just a bad day for Brown, the impact on his draft stock was tangible. Brown has also struggled covering vertical routes against larger receivers, something he will need to address as he competes for a roster spot for the Steelers.
Despite his areas of growth, there is something to be said for his production in the Big 10 against quality talent. Quantitative tests get all the attention when it comes to draft prospects, but there are many cases in the NFL where workout warriors don’t amount to anything of significance, and instances where prospects who test poorly go on to have successful NFL careers. The reason to be excited about Brown is that he has instinctual game-understanding that results in big plays. If this can carry over to the Steelers, what a steal it would be.
There is a vacancy left behind by Mike Hilton, and maybe Shakur Brown is the man to fill the role. There is definitely a reason to be excited about his potential, and he could be the next successful UDRFA to join the likes of Willie Parker, James Harrison, Nate Washington, Steve McClendon, and Ramon Foster.