With the departure of Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have remained slim at the cornerback position. Joe Haden, 31, enters the final season of his two-year deal and is owed a $15.5 million cap hit during the 2021 season.
The front office selected Oklahoma’s Tre Norwood in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft in order to add depth to the position. Norwood, a three-year starter with the Sooners, recorded a career-high five interceptions during his junior season. The Steelers also added undrafted free agent Shakur Brown, who previously spent three seasons with Michigan State.
During the course of the offseason, second-year player James Pierre has made an impact during training camp. However, the cornerback exceeding all expectations has been Mark Gilbert. The Duke alumni made his collegiate debut during the 2016 season. He emerged as a talented prospect in his sophomore season, however, earning the starting job. Gilbert earned First Team All-ACC honors with 15 pass breakups, six interceptions, and 35 total tackles.
During his junior season, Gilbert suffered a season-ending hip injury that prompted him to miss the 2019 season. He returned in 2020 but again was injured after just two games with a foot injury. At his peak at the collegiate level, Gilbert was once discussed as a second-round talent. However, he was undrafted in the 2021 NFL Draft.
With Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton locked as the primary cornerbacks, Gilbert has the opportunity to take the third spot on the roster. However, there will be competition. James Pierre recently recorded two interceptions off Ben Roethlisberger in minicamp. Shakur Brown, who fits the mold of a Mike Hilton-type player, could be in contention. Justin Layne has been mentioned among promising talents, but landed in legal trouble recently.
The team is in need of support at the cornerback position, and Gilbert provides an athletic frame to go with speed. While he isn’t a lock to make the final roster, Gilbert is one prospect to keep an eye on in Pittsburgh.