Ross Cockrell: a quiet and underrated corner
To say Pittsburgh’s cornerback unit is in complete disarray is not one hundred percent true. In 2016, the Steelers used their first round selection (pick 25) to draft Artie Burns from the University of Miami, to hopefully take over the role as a top secondary player; with a goal of starting every game and making splash plays when his team needed him the most.
All of that came true as Burns exceeded expectations in his rookie campaign, registering three interceptions, 13 pass breakups, and 64 total tackles.
On the other side of the field, you have a cornerback in Ross Cockrell who also had a decent 2016 season, registering zero interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and 62 total tackles. That outside corner position is in question by many Steelers fans who just can’t seem to get to like Cockrell, who for the longest time in 2016 had only surrendered 0.25 yards per coverage snap according to Pro Football Focus:
Since Week 6, Ross Cockrell has surrendered 0.25 yards per coverage snap, the best mark among CBs.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 12, 2016
Another quick assessment from Pro Football Focus on Ross Cockrell was his outstanding defensive coverage performance. Some may forget that Cockrell shut down star Bengals receiver A.J. Green in week two, only allowing two receptions for 38 yards and zero touchdowns. The entire season he covered the opposing team’s top receiver.
No cornerback from the 2014 draft class has allowed fewer yards per coverage snap than Lions CB Nevin Lawson.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 8, 2017
Cockrell has the third-best yards allowed per coverage snap, a minimum of 500 snaps for third-year cornerbacks in the league. Detroit Lions corner Nevin Lawson leads with 0.92 yards per coverage snap while Cockrell allowed 1.05.
But wait there’s more! Check out this tweet from PFF analyst Eliot Crist highlighting Jason McCourty, after the Browns signed him to a two-year contract. If you see at the very top, Cockrell is in third place with 2.30 yards allowed after a catch.
Jason McCourty is meeting with the Browns today. He was top 10 at corner in the NFL at limiting yards after catch pic.twitter.com/NVH7Oq3Yah
— Eliot Crist (@EliotCrist) May 16, 2017
Not too bad for an athlete that is about to be run out of town by the fans of this organization.
Depending on how the incoming rookies, third-round pick Cameron Sutton and fifth-round pick Brian Allen, perform in the preseason, Ross Cockrell’s future could be interesting. He just signed a one-year tender this offseason. While he is not a true lockdown corner, he knows the Steelers defense and in 2017 will be starting alongside Artie Burns. However, Sutton could push Cockrell for playing time as the boundary corner as stated in a film room where I focused on the rookie corner.
While these statistics from Pro Football Focus may not grab your attention, I hope these next few clips will. As I mentioned above, Cockrell covered an opposing team’s top receiver in almost every game last season. There were exceptions when, for example, Mike Tomlin and company decided to throw rookie Artie Burns on Dez Bryant in Week Ten against the Dallas Cowboys. but other than that occurrence, the former fourth-round pick covered athletes such as A.J. Green, Odell Beckham Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Steve Smith Sr., Jarvis Landry, and several other big name athletes.
Mini Film Room
vs. A.J. Green (Week 2)
A.J. Green is currently one of the top receivers in the NFL. Even though the Steelers as a team come out with victories each and every season against Cincinnati, Green normally registers over 100-yards a game each time these two division foes face off.
In Week Two at Heinz Field, the Bengals were not themselves. The weather was nasty and the environment even nastier. Andy Dalton was under duress the entire game and Green (who normally registers that big yardage against the Steelers’ secondary) was kept under control the entire game… with cornerback Ross Cockrell shadowing him.
With five minutes left until halftime and the Bengals down 7-3, Dalton’s offense needed a spark and quickly. The Cincy quarterback tried to hit his go-to receiver on a post route and it was defended perfectly by Cockrell, who batted the ball just prior to Green attempting to catch the football.
Cockrell finished the game with two pass deflections and two total tackles. He kept A.J. Green under wraps as he completed the game with two receptions for 38-yards.
vs. Odell Beckham Jr. (Week 13)
Do you want press man-to-man coverage on one of the best receivers in football? Well, Cockrell provided that against Odell Beckham Jr. on a third quarter quarter play in Week 13.
Lined up as the right cornerback, Cockrell played this very well. He and Beckham used their hands at the start of the play displaying a physicality that Steelers fans want in a defender. This play could have been called for pass interference but it wasn’t. (That’s the risk you have to take as a corner sometimes.)
I really liked how Cockrell played press man-to-man and was physical. That’s what I want in an athlete and I know you do too!
Cockrell may not be the most flashy corner who opposing quarterbacks fear like a Richard Sherman, but he has what it takes to be a solid cornerback for many years to come. If Pro Football Focus has him ranked in three different categories, and he’s nearly the best in every one of those categories, it must mean something. Right?
Fans may dislike Cockrell for not producing any interceptions but if you look at the game of football, it’s not always about interceptions. You just need to be a good defender. It seems like every year Ross gets better with understanding what the receiver is going to do.
He has the ability to be solid, which is good enough for the Steelers.
Don’t forget, you could always do worse: the team went to the AFC Championship game with him as a starter.