Steelers 2016 Draft: James Bradberry can bring versatility to secondary

Nov 22, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Samford Bulldogs defensive back James Bradberry (21) catches a pass intended for Auburn Tigers wide receiver Sammie Coates (18) during the first half at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 22, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Samford Bulldogs defensive back James Bradberry (21) catches a pass intended for Auburn Tigers wide receiver Sammie Coates (18) during the first half at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports /

With the start of the NFL Scouting Combine only a week away, members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff are readying themselves for the trip to Indianapolis to catch a glimpse of potential members of this year’s draft class.

As pointed out in Still Curtain’s review of Baylor defensive back Xavien Howard, the organization is in a situation at the cornerback position. Given the fact that we are talking about the Steelers, there is a big possibility that they will wait until the first thirty-one selections are over before they select a defensive back.

The Steelers are always on the hunt for players who can serve their offense and defense in multiple ways on the field. Last year’s fourth round selection, Doran Grant, was a prime example of an athlete that had the potential to play  more than one position in the Steelers’ secondary.

Pittsburgh is expected to address both cornerback and safety in this year’s draft with the plethora of defensive back talent available to teams in nearly every round. It isn’t out of the question that the Steelers could once again aim for a utility player to find potential talent in their most vulnerable of areas.

One such prospect, a four year starter in college, comes with the size and athleticism to aid Pittsburgh in their attempt to rebuild their secondary, which finished dead last in production in the AFC, without the cost of a first round price tag.

James Bradberry, defensive back, Samford.

At first glance, Bradberry looks the part in what the prototypical mold for a defensive back is expected to be. Standing at 6’1″ and 209 lbs, Bradberry weighed in as the biggest cornerback at the Senior Bowl. A 33 3/8ths arm length, which is nearly identical to Broncos’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr‘s, gives him great ability to make plays on the ball.

Bradberry’s four years with the Samford Bulldogs were very prosperous in terms of production. In 2015 he recorded 45 tackles, 11 defended passes, and two interceptions on his way to first-team All-Southern conference honors. In his 34 starts he tallied a total of 128 tackles (90 unassisted), 27 passes defended, and eight interceptions.

Hailing from a small school such as Samford, Bradberry does not get the notoriety that many prospects ranked highly on draft boards are accustomed to. Events such as the Senior Bowl and the NFL’s Scouting Combine, which Bradberry received an invitation to, are an excellent way to put his talents on display. At the Senior Bowl, he recorded three tackles (two unassisted), and saw a significant amount of playing time during the event.

He displayed his physicality as a defender in more than one instance during Senior Bowl week. In the play above, Bradberry was smart enough not to be fooled by the receiver’s double move and used his lengthy arms to keep his opponent at bay. Unable to shake the cornerback, the receiver lost his balance due to Bradberry’s precise defending ability.

Bradberry’s aggressive approach to defending his receiver would be a welcome sight to the Steelers’ cornerback depth, which has a tendency of playing their opponents too soft or unable to make plays on the ball due to mismatches with their receivers. The Steelers need a physical and lengthy corner like Bradberry to contend with the likes of AJ Green, Breshad Perriman, and Josh Gordon (if he is reinstated by the NFL) to stay in contention for the AFC North.

Against Clemon’s Charone Peak, Bradberry was able to adjust and use his closing speed to put himself in position to make a play on the ball. While Peak is the bigger of the two, Bradberry timed his play on the ball perfectly and was able to get a hand in before Peak secured the catch. Plays like these pique the interest of coaching staffs throughout the NFL, and can make his name a well known one before the draft finally arrives in late April.

With all of Bradberry’s physical aspects, it is possible that he could also be placed in the safety position. Although he desires to play on the outside, which is the reason he transferred from Arkansas State to Samford, he would have a hard time refusing the Steelers’ coaching staff if they asked him to make a position change…especially if it meant more time on the field.

After a solid performance during Senior Bowl week, and the opportunity to display his talents at the NFL combine, Bradberry has every opportunity to improve his draft stock in the month of February. As it stands, he is a third to sixth round talent with tremendous upside due to his physical frame, football intellect, and versatility as a dual position player.

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James Bradberry is not an athlete that the Steelers met with at the Senior Bowl, but they would do well to keep a close eye on him next week when the NFL gathers at Lucas Oil Stadium. It is very possible that he could be the pivotal piece the Steelers need in revitalizing their secondary.