2021 Steelers Training Camp Preview: The Cornerbacks

It’s hard to believe but the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Training Camp is right around the corner. As we countdown the days until camp begins, each week SCU will highlight one position group, detailing the players who will be competing for a spot on the Steelers final 53-man roster at the end of this Summer.

SCU’s training camp preview continues with a look at the Steelers cornerbacks.

Perhaps the weakest link on paper heading into training camp, this unit lost two major contributors this offseason with the release of Steven Nelson and the departure of Mike Hilton via free agency.

How will those moves impact the Steelers defense? Read along to find out!

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Joe Haden

I’m of the opinion that the elder statesman of the secondary is the most crucial player.

Haden will have to prove that he can still play at the same level he has since arriving in Pittsburgh after turning 32-years-old in April.

I believe Haden is nearing the end of his career, but he’s also a viable starter who is better than a lot of other corners in the league.

So long as the wheels don’t fall off, the cornerbacks group will be fine: if not, there could be some serious issues with depth.

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Cameron Sutton

My highest priority free agent to re-sign for the Steelers, Sutton has shown an knack for creating splash plays and his floor is at least that of the man he made expendable, Steven Nelson.

Of course, Sutton has also shown versatility, playing in Hilton’s slot corner spot during his injuries over the last few seasons, as well as on the outside.

The Steelers are expected to give Sutton reps primarily as a boundary corner, but any changes inside could see him bump there with either Justin Layne or James Pierre going to the numbers. (As we saw toward the end of last season.)

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Justin Layne & James Pierre

The top two backup options are a mix of promise and concern.

Layne was drafted in third round in 2019 as a “steal” but has yet to live up to that billing – though he’s had very limited time in regular season action to prove otherwise. There’s still a chance he develops into a full-time outside corner.

Pierre was the camp phenom of 2020, blossoming from being the only undrafted player last season to make the 53-man roster, to turning that into some late season playing time when Joe Haden was placed on the COVID-19 list and was unable to play in the final two games (both against Cleveland).

As both are virtual unknowns, it’s a cause for concern. However, my take is that neither could be any worse than some other options that have come through Pittsburgh in recent seasons, such as Ross Cockrell or Artie Burns – each had flashes of success and their share of shortcomings.

Again, this could be a moot point depending on what happens with Sutton and the nickel corner options.

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Arthur Maulet

A journeyman practice squad player who saw some playing time with the Jets over the last two seasons, Maulet factors into a similar position entering camp, but may make the roster based on the lack of defensive backs he’s going to compete with for a spot.

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Hilton’s Potential Replacements

This is the sticky spot. Of the named players already, Layne, Pierre and Maulet are all boundary corners.

None of the above players are a prototypical “slot corner” and which either leaves one of several “dimebacker” style safeties or undrafted college free agent Shakur Brown to fill Hilton’s snaps.

Seeing as Hilton himself was an undiscovered, undrafted free agent who ascended into the role, the Steelers are likely counting on Brown and others to do the same. The idea might be scheme over talent… or Pittsburgh may fill the spot with another team’s camp casualty following the preseason.

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