They do exist. Cornerbacks who can make plays on the football, that is. They do exist, and the Steelers got one on the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
When the second day of these proceedings began, actually some time before the actual 7 p.m. kickoff of Day 2, there were reports that the Steelers were looking to trade up in the second round, and the assumption – as it has been for quite a while – was that the move was for the purpose of strengthening a secondary that was less than mediocre in 2014 and had lost Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brice McCain since then.
How close the Steelers got to completing a trade is unknown, but what became obvious right away was that the price for this kind of maneuver was going to be high. To start off Friday's picking, the New York Giants traded up seven spots in the second round, and the price they paid to the Tennessee Titans for the 33rd overall pick was the 40th pick, the 108th pick (fourth round), and the 245th pick (seventh round). And that was to move up only seven spots. The Steelers, by contrast, had the 24th pick in the second round, which meant moving up was going to be even more expensive for them.
But for teams not having as far to go, the lure of moving up to get a player they wanted was too tempting to resist. Following a first round in which only the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos traded up for a specific player, the second round included six such moves, and the fifth of those may have impacted the Steelers' decision with their No. 2 pick.
The Baltimore Ravens went from 26th in the second round to 23rd in the second round to pick Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams, a player who had been linked to the Steelers during the pre-draft process by analysts. Whether the Steelers had designs on Williams at that spot is conjecture at this point, but what is not is the team used its second-round pick on a cornerback who is the definition of productive.
Coming out of high school Senquez Golson had a chance to become a centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox, but instead he opted for a football scholarship to Ole Miss where he developed into a ball-hawking cornerback who finished his college career with 16 interceptions, 10 of which came in 2014. And one of those 10 in 2014 preserved Ole Miss' upset win over Alabama.
"I really believe at this point in the draft, we are looking for someone with exceptional skills, and Senquez has exceptional ball skills," said defensive backs coach Carnell Lake. "Every year at Mississippi, he had an interception. Anytime you can get a guy like that who can pluck the ball out of the air, he has real value in the league. The league is a pass-oriented league, it's been transitioning for a while. It requires multiple formations, multiple personnel in the secondary on the field, a lot more personnel on the field than usual. A lot of times five defensive backs but sometimes six, and the more defensive backs you have on the field who can defend the pass, especially take the ball away, it's really going to help us a lot."
Interceptions have been a problem for the Steelers over the past several seasons. Since 1933, a span of 83 seasons, there have been 11 Steelers defenses to post 12 interceptions or fewer, and included in that group are the units from 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
To put it into perspective, Golson's 16 career interceptions in four seasons at Ole Miss are two more than Ike Taylor finished with during his 12 NFL seasons, they're seven more than Will Gay has in his eight professional seasons.
View photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 2nd Round Draft Pick, defensive back Senquez Golson.
"If he had been two inches taller (than his 5-foot-9), we probably would not have gotten him. He probably would have gone high in the first round," said Lake. "He has unusual ball skills and unusual production, especially when it comes to interceptions. And if you look at the corners who have been selected before him, they can't match his level of productivity in terms of interceptions, especially when you look at last year. If he were taller, people would have jumped on him right away."
But he's 5-9, and so Golson was available when the Steelers' turn came in the second round, and yet if he continues to be productive when it comes to interceptions he'll come to be perceived as 10-feet tall.
"It's just understanding the game," said Golson of how he puts himself into position to intercept passes. "The first three years I kind of got a slow start just because I was just taking my time perfecting my game and understanding football. It just had a lot to do with a lot of film watching (and) a lot of just understanding what's going on out on the field. I think that definitely had a big role in it. Just me understanding the game and getting that experience in."
SAMMIE COATES RELATED
When the third round got underway, or when the time came for the Steelers to make their third-round pick, the pool of defensive backs had been picked over. Eleven defensive backs, including Senquez Golson, had been selected on Day 2 when the Steelers surveyed their options for the 87th overall selection, and so they determined the best value to be in a player who can help them torture opposing defensive backs.
Sammie Coates is something of a work-in-progress as a receiver, but what he has going for him right now is toughness, on-field courage, difference-making speed, and a knack for tracking a thrown football deep down the field.
"The thing that really impresses me is that when he did get thrown the deep balls, there was no question," said wide receivers coach Richard Mann. "He's very competitive. Those 50/50 balls, which means either he catches it or the defensive back catches it, he came down with it. I'm talking about deep contested catches. That was very impressive to me."
Coates never was a full-time starter during his four seasons at Auburn, but he was a full-time playmaker. He finished his college career with 13 touchdown catches, and nine of them covered 56, 34, 68, 68, 43, 67, 36, 88, and 39 yards. Maybe Coates didn't get into the end zone as often as some other college receivers, but when he did it usually was from long distance.
"My goal is to be an all-around receiver for my team," said Coates. "I want to be one of the best at everything, not just the deep route. One of my go-to things is running the deep route, and I'm going to stick to that."
View photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 3rd Round Draft Pick, wide receiver Sammie Coates.