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ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.: 'This is the year' to have a need at cornerback

Cornerback is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' biggest needs, and fortunately for them this is the year to load up on them, said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

"This is a great cornerback group," Kiper said Tuesday during a conference call. "I can go down to 25 corners that I think have a chance to play in the National Football League. If you want a corner this is the year to have that need."

The Steelers more than qualify as a team that needs help at cornerback.

The defensive backfield is in transition following the retirement of strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor.

The Steelers, who gave up 253 passing yards per game last season, have just three cornerbacks on their roster with meaningful NFL experience. One of those, Cortez Allen, is a huge question mark after the bottom dropped out of his ascending career last season because of injuries and ineffectiveness.

The Steelers last took two cornerbacks in the same draft in 2011 when they selected Curtis Brown in the third round and Allen in the fourth round.

Their need for an infusion of talent at cornerback and the depth of the position make it almost that the Steelers will draft two cornerbacks this year.

The question is whether the Steelers, who have hosted eight cornerbacks among 25 pre-draft visitors, will use their first-round pick on the position for the first time since 1997 when they selected Chad Scott.

A number of mock drafts have the Steelers taking a cornerback with the 22nd overall pick. That includes the most recent one by Kiper, who has the Steelers selecting Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson with their first pick.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, meanwhile, has to the Steelers addressing cornerback with their first two picks in a mock draft he released Tuesday -- UConn's Byron Jones and then Florida State's P.J. Williams in the second round.

The Steelers will hold their annual pre-draft news conference within the next week and general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin will sit side-by-side and reveal as little as possible.

Colbert will insist that the Steelers are not locked into taking a certain position in the first round. He also won't rule out the Steelers using their first-round pick on an offensive player even though they return every starter from a unit that finished second in the NFL with 411.1 yards per game last season.

So does Kiper see any scenario in which the Steelers go offense with their first pick in the draft?

"You never rule out anything because there's more than one round," Kiper said. "The draft doesn't end after round one and that's what teams always say, ‘We don't have to take anybody. We've got other rounds where we can get stars.' I think 90 percent chance (the Steelers draft in first round) a defensive player and I think specifically a (defensive back) or outside linebacker."