Steelers UDFA cornerback Mark Gilbert has traits to make final roster

Mark Gilbert #28 of the Duke Blue Devils. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Mark Gilbert #28 of the Duke Blue Devils. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Undrafted free agent cornerback Mark Gilbert has the skill set to stick around as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. 

The Steelers have an interesting situation at the cornerback position, to say the least. After losing both Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton in free agency this offseason, some thought there was an outside chance that Pittsburgh could target the cornerback position as high as the first our second round this year.

However, the draft came and went, and Kevin Colbert didn’t decide to target a cornerback until the tail-end of the draft in the seventh round when they selected Oklahoma’s Tre Norwood (who may end up being a safety for the Steelers). Still, it seems like all of the talk so far after Pittsburgh’s rookie minicamp involves Norwood or undrafted free agent, Shakur Brown – as many had Brown slated as a third or fourth-round pick prior to his poor testing numbers.

But what about UDFA cornerback, Mark Gilbert? Perhaps he has the best chance of making the roster of the three.

Why Mark Gilbert could stick on the Steelers roster

I’m not going to pretend like Mark Gilbert is a lock to make this team or that he should have gone much higher in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, if we just examine the traits, it certainly seems like he will have a legitimate shock to crack the final roster.

From a size and athletic standpoint, Gilbert offers something that only Justin Layne brings to the table for the Steelers. Standing over 6-feet tall, Gilbert has very good size and plus length to go with speed and athletic traits:

The Duke product is on the lighter side at 186, and he was even listed as low as 175 pounds in college. However, he has the frame to add more mass, and it’s hard to ignore his combination of speed and explosion. This, at the very least, could help him earn a role as a gunner on special teams.

What I find most fascinating about Mark Gilbert, however, is his college career. As a sophomore back in 2016, Gilbert had a whopping 6 interceptions to go with 15 pass defenses and 3.0 sacks in 13 games, according to Sports Reference, and it looked like he was on the fast track to being a high draft choice when he could have declared the following season.

Unfortunately, injuries derailed a promising future. According to Fox Sports, Gilbert went down with a serious season-ending hip injury in 2018. It was that same injury that caused him to miss all of the 2019 season as well, as Gilbert was still on the road to recovery.

In 2020, Gilbert played just two games before he was forced to undergo surgery to remove a loose bone fragment from his foot that would cause him to miss the remainder of the season. Still, this didn’t stop the determined cornerback from trying to enter the NFL.

After playing just 4 games over the past 3 seasons, Gilbert was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent. Finally healthy for the first time in nearly four years, the former Duke star will look to revamp his NFL career. The talent and production are both there, but in order to have a chance to stick around, Gilbert must avoid the injury bug.

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When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I always want the best man to win out. However, even with his extensive injury history, Gilbert has more size and athletic upside than players like Tre Norwood and Shakur Brown. He will be given an opportunity to show what he’s made of in training camp, and I would not put it past this determined young man to earn a roster spot on the team.