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Apr. 27—Hearing the names of cornerbacks taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft over the past decade is enough to send shivers up the spine of any fan.

It sounds like a roll call from a George Romero horror movie.

There was Artie Burns in the 2016 first round and Senquez Golson in the 2015 second round. Don’t forget about Curtis Brown, a third-rounder in 2011, or Cortez Allen, a fourth-rounder in that class. Doran Grant was another fourth-round pick, too, in 2015.

All but Burns are out of football. Allen was the only one of the bunch to get a second contract, and he washed out one year later.

The jury remains out on 2017 third-round selection Cameron Sutton, who made eight starts in his first four seasons but will be counted on to replace Steve Nelson at outside corner this season. And it’s perhaps too soon to call 2019 third-rounder Justin Layne a bust — even if he hasn’t started a game in two seasons and recently was arrested on a fourth-degree felony gun charge, putting his roster spot in jeopardy.

It was just a year ago that the Steelers boasted one of the deepest cornerback groups in the NFL. Joe Haden and Nelson were the starters for the second year in a row. Mike Hilton was the nickel corner. Sutton was the top backup, and Layne and undrafted free agent James Pierre were contributors on special teams or subpackages.

Now, Nelson and Hilton are gone — one released, the other lost in free agency — and the Steelers could be tasked with using another high-round pick on a cornerback.

“Can we add to that spot? Absolutely,” general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday. “In Steve Nelson’s case, he was a valuable player for us. However, we had to make some tough salary cap-related decisions. … Steve Nelson is a starter-capable NFL corner. We just couldn’t keep him under the current setup that we had or the current setup that we’re dealing with from a salary-cap standpoint, and we had to make some tough choices.”

Entering the draft, the Steelers have Haden and Sutton as the starters, Pierre and Layne as backups, and two unknown commodities — Trevor Williams and Stephen Denmark — on minimum-salary contracts.

“How 2020 ended does not define how 2021 is going to work out — or even begin, for that matter,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “(Pierre and Layne) are both capable young players. We’ve got other capable young players. We intend to potentially add to that, so we’ll see where the road leads us.”

Fortunately for the Steelers, this year’s crop of cornerbacks is ranked among the deepest positions in the draft. Pro Football Focus ranked 16 cornerbacks in its list of top 100 players, and a handful could go in the first round.

“The corners are deep,” Colbert said. “We talk about this every year, and every year it seems to be continuing, the trend in college football becoming more horizontal. There are more corners.”

And, as NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said, “You can’t have too many corners.”

Two top prospects are sons of former NFL corners: Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. Surtain is viewed as the class of the cornerback group, and Samuel is a fringe first-round pick. Another top corner, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, is the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn.

Value can be found in the second and third rounds, according to analysts.

“The depth and talent of this year’s collection of long, athletic and versatile corners will enable teams to find starters outside of Day 1,” Bucky Brooks, NFL Network analyst and former player, wrote in his position rankings.

That could play into the Steelers’ favor, considering they also are in the market for a tackle, center and running back in the draft.

Last year, six cornerbacks were taken in the first round, and five more went off the board before the third round was complete.

“Day 2 offers a much more exciting group of cornerbacks to choose from than last year’s crop did, boasting length, speed and ball production,” analyst Lance Zierlein wrote. “The well could dry up somewhat beyond the fourth round, but this is a better overall class than 2020.”


1. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama, Jr., 6-2, 208

A three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, Surtain was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. In 13 starts, he had 12 pass breakups and an interception. He also had 3.5 tackles for loss among his 38 tackles.

2. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech, R-Jr., 6-2, 197

A high school quarterback, Farley began his collegiate career as a wide receiver but moved to defense as a redshirt freshman. He was a two-year starter before he opted out of the 2020 season. He underwent back surgery in March, which could hurt his stock.

3. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina, Jr., 6-1, 205

A three-year starter for the Gamecocks, Horn made his college exit after seven games in 2020 when coach Will Muschamp was fired. He had two interceptions and six pass breakups for the season.

4. Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State, Jr., 5-10, 180

Samuel made eight starts in 2020 before electing to opt out. He had three interceptions and six pass breakups. He broke up 14 passes the previous season.

5. Greg Newsome II, Northwestern, Jr., 6-0, 192

Newsome was dogged by injuries in all three of his seasons at Northwestern, but he was productive when he was on the field. He had 10 pass breakups in the first six games of the shortened 2020 season.

Best fit for Steelers, Day 1

Greg Newsome II, Northwestern

Newsome has the speed to play the position, running the 40 in 4.38 seconds at Northwestern’s pro day. Analysts expect him to be taken in the 20s, which would be right in the Steelers’ wheelhouse.

Best fit for Steelers, Day 2

Elijah Molden, Washington

The 5-foot-9, 192-pound senior was used all over the field for Washington, and he sounds like the kind of player who could play in the slot for the Steelers. As a junior, he led the Huskies in tackles and interceptions, and he tied for the team lead in forced fumbles.

Best fit for Steelers, Day 3

Shakur Brown, Michigan State

The 5-10, 185-pound redshirt junior punctuated his college career with five interceptions and four pass breakups in seven starts for the Spartans.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .