Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates (18) can't catch a pass against Mississippi defensive back Senquez Golson (21) during the first half of a game in November 2014. Golson was selected by the Steelers in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday. (AP)
PITTSBURGH -- Carnell Lake says he measures defensive backs on how tough they are. Good thing for Senquez Golson that his new position coach doesn't measure them by height.
At 5-foot-8 1/2, there will almost certainly be questions about Golson's height and how he'll matchup against the A.J. Greens (6-4) and Calvin Johnsons (6-5) of the NFL.
"He's going to be challenged, there's no question about that," said Lake. "If you are 6-2 they are still going to throw at you. Or if you're 5-8 they're still going to throw at you."
There are few questions, however, about Golson's resume. Last season he led all FBS cornerbacks with 10 interceptions. He had 16 during his four seasons in Oxford, Miss., tops among NCAA active leaders.
If Golson, who Lake described as a "ball-hawking corner," has even a modicum of that success at the next level, the Steelers will have gotten great value for their pick.
Though general manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers draft for talent, cornerback was clearly a need. On Thursday, the Steelers checked off outside linebacker from their to-do list by selecting Kentucky's Bud Dupree. On Friday, they checked off cornerback, taking Golson from Ole Miss in the second round (56th overall). In the third round, the Steelers selected a wide receiver -- Sammie Coates of Auburn at No. 87.
After Baltimore -- Pittsburgh's bitter AFC North rivals -- traded up to No. 55 to select Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams, for whom the Steelers were believed to be interested in, the Steelers snared Golson.
Golson didn't have the high profile of Trae Waynes, Marcus Peters or Byron Jones, but his height, or lack of it, likely played a large reason in why he was the eighth cornerback selected.
"That's just something that I'm going to have to deal with," said Golson, who turned down a $1.4 million offer from the Boston Red Sox after being the 262nd overall pick in the MLB draft in 2011. "Once I get up there perform I don't really listen to all of the talk."
The Steelers had just 11 interceptions last season, ranking in the bottom third of the NFL. They had just 33 sacks, the franchise's fewest since the final years of the Chuck Noll era.
And that was with Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Brice McCain on the roster.
"If we start getting pressure on the quarterback in significant ways, the interceptions will come," Lake said. "And if a guy has hands like Senaquez, and he can anticipate and get a jump on a quarterback, pressure and coverage go hand in hand."
When the Steelers convene for OTAs later this month, their cornerbacks will include 30-year-old William Gay, the enigmatic Cortez Allen, the untested Antwon Blake and Golson, who could be in line to start right away, even if at nickel, where he played extensively as a freshman at Ole Miss.
How Golson's game translates to the NFL though will depend on his development, his technique and overcoming, no pun intended, his shortcomings.
"Senquez is going to have to come in and he's going to have to prove he can play in this league," Lake said. "We believe he can.""
Though they had no glaring need at wide receiver with the highly-productive triumvirate of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton already in tow, the Steelers were intrigued by Coates. Receivers coach Richard Mann said that Coates should provide competition and vie for a spot as the slot receiver.
Coates, 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, is a bit of a project though. Much like Bryant a year ago, Coates has speed and is considered a deep threat but is raw.
"He's got good speed, can take the top off the coverage," said Mann, an Aliquippa naive. "(He's) a guy that can track the ball down the field real well. (But) has some problems straight ahead catching the football but that's why we drill and get a chance to coach him up. We feel like we can make that better. The thing you can't coach up is his athleticism."