When an NFL team loses a starter, one of the things that team must look at when they let a star go is who is next up, so to speak. The Pittsburgh Steelers looked that very situation this offseason when they chose not to give cornerback Keenan Lewis a contract offer and allowed him to leave. The team did make a move in free agency to sign former Steelers cornerback William Gay, but make no mistake, Gay was signed to play the nickel and allow Cortez Allen to step into the starting role.
At the start of the 2012 season, I actually thought that Allen would beat out Lewis for the starting spot opposite of veteran Ike Taylor. It didn’t work out that way, but that didn’t mean Allen wouldn’t have a significant role in the defense. Allen was on the field for 55% of the Steelers total plays in 2012 as a nickel cornerback and three games as a starter. Allen’s play stood out, especially down the stretch where he had two interceptions and three forced fumbles in his final two games of the year in two of his three starts. He also had 15 total tackles in those games. It doesn’t take much to realize that this young man just needs reps with the starters to be effective. His nose for the football might be the best of any defensive back on the Steelers roster.
And this year the Steelers will need him. With Taylor coming off of a season ending injury, Allen may start the season as the team’s number one cornerback, using his size and ball skills to lock down the opposing team’s top wide receiver. At 6-1 and nearly 200lbs., Allen is an intimidating defensive back and he has shown to be fearless, never backing down from a challenge. In his second start, Allen drew Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver AJ Green on multiple plays and showed he has plenty of skill to match up with the top players in the league. Confidence in Allen will mean the Steelers can pass on a cornerback early in the 2013 NFL Draft and focus on other areas of greater need. I personally think Allen is ready to step up and be a star in this league, and 2013 is going to be his year.