So far in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Steelers have let the picks come to them. With four rounds in the books, Pittsburgh has held tight at the second-to-last pick in each round, instead of bouncing around the draft board via trades. With their fourth pick, the team selected defensive back Cortez Allen out of Citadel, a small military college in South Carolina. Allen is the team's second consecutive cornerback taken this year after third-rounder Curtis Brown out of Texas.
Allen is the perfect size to excel in the NFL as a corner (6-foot-1, 197 pounds), and while he is adept in press coverage at the line of scrimmage, scouts are concerned that he hasn't yet figured out how to effectively mirror a receiver down the field. This may be less of a problem in Dick LeBeau's defensive scheme, which relies predominantly on zone coverage instead of man, but in any case, it's likely that Allen will have at least a few years to figure things out with a number of other defensive backs likely to be listed ahead of him on Pittsburgh's depth chart. Allen is a sound tackler with good strength (18 bench press reps at the combine) and adequate speed (4.51 40-yard dash).
What's a little surprising about this selection is that the Steelers took Allen, a small-school prospect many fans have probably never heard of, with Utah cornerback Brandon Burton, who was regarded as a top-10 corner by a number of sports writers, still sitting on the board. It's pretty much impossible not to trust the Steelers when it comes to this decision, as they are correct more often than not, but it's indicative of the disconnect between what media types think they know and what scouts and general managers actually execute in practice. The same can be said of the fact that Brown fell to the Steelers in the third round, behind a number of other cornerbacks, despite also being ranked as a top-10 prospect at his position by the mainstream sports media.
In any case, Allen adds more young depth to an aging Steelers secondary that struggled against spread offenses like the Packers, Saints, and Patriots last season. Pittsburgh has the tools in place to coach this kid up into a nickelback in a few seasons, which would make this an excellent pick. Time will tell.