When the Steelers picked up cornerback Ross Cockrell, after he was released by Buffalo during the preseason, it appeared to be a move that was aiming to add depth to the secondary. Afterall, the Steelers had recently traded a conditional draft pick to Philadelphia for Brandon Boykin, who many assumed would move into the starting lineup, following injuries to Senquez Golson and Cortez Allen. Evidently Ross Cockrell had other ideas. The first thing he did upon his arrival, was to line up in coverage against Antonio Brown during camp practices, and making a good impression on the coaching staff by holding his own. Chances are good that if you can hold your own in coverage, against the 2014 league leader in receptions, you can play in NFL. The question of why Brandon Boykin has seen little playing time can be answered with two Words, Ross Cockrell, who has 27 tackles on the season and is tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions. Behind Deangelo Williams, Cockrell is the Steelers most valuable offseason pickup.
The Steelers were interested in Ross Cockrell heading into the 2014 NFL Draft, and brought him in for a pre-draft visit. The Buffalo Bills ultimately ended up selecting him in the fourth round, with the 109th overall pick. Coming into the draft, Cockrell was considered a smart player with a good feel for the game. Scouts liked his consistent approach and his disciplined play. He possessed good route recognition and maintained solid positioning through his coverage of the route. The Steelers liked his ball skills and leaping ability that allowed him to compete for the ball while it’s in the air. Some of the criticisms about Ross Cockrell coming out of college were the size of his hands and his inability to match up with bigger receivers, due to his limited strenght. Those questions were answered in his final collegiate game, against Texas A&M, where he held 6′-5″ Mike Evans to four catches for 72 yards. Mike Mayock had this to say about Cockrell, prior to the draft, “At the East-West Shrine game, I watched his ball skills. The intangibles are off the chart with this kid. He is smart, tough and instinctive.”
Ross Cockrell finished his career at Duke with 12 interceptions, picking off eight of them in his final two seasons. He was a two-time captain who was known for leading by example both on the field and in the classroom. Cockrell was known for leading film study sessions with his fellow defensive teammates, which were separate sessions from those with the coaching staff. He was also known for having a penchant for making the big play when one was needed. An example of this was his interception near the end of the East-West Shrine game, which sealed a 23-13 win for the East. His play throughout his four years at Duke earned him first team All-ACC honors in 2013-2014. As a freshman, Cockrell was an academic All-ACC, and following his sophomore season, he was presented with the Sonny Falcone Iron Duke award. After his junior season, Ross was named honorable mention All-American by Sports Illustrated. Prior to his senior year in 2013, Cockrell was selected to consensus preseason All-ACC first team by Sporting News, Lindy’s Sports, Athlon Sports and USA Today. He was also named to the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list as well.
The Steelers may have had to wait a year, but they finally got the cornerback they targeted coming out of Duke. They have always liked smart and physical players, which is what they have in Ross Cockrell, who is also fearless and blessed with a short memory. He is playing the kind of football that they hoped Cortez Allen would, which has made Allen expendable. Cockrell is playing like he could be a long term solution at cornerback, and would pair up nicely with Senquez Golson. It’s been a long time since the Steelers had a pair of ball hawking corners, and as young as they both are, Ross Cockrell could be one half of a solid cornerback tandem for years to come.