In what is a similar situation to the Bengals' current linebacker position group, and why we profiled Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead in a similar fashion, the Cincinnati cornerback group is in flux. Because of free agency and overall uncertainty about the future at the position, the top four players on last year's depth chart are creating questions for the team.
After spending two first round picks at corner since 2012, bolstering the depth through free agency might be a way to better a defense proven to be formidable over the past handful of years. However, with the team still looking to pursue an incumbent starter in an effort to secure Adam Jones' return, while Dre Kirkpatrick still seems likely to man the other starting spot, another rotational player in the slot and/or as a backup might be a solid addition.
Antwon Blake is a player the Pittsburgh Steelers might think high of internally, but he doesn't seem to be nearly as highly valued league-wide. Similar to Ike Taylor throughout the 2000s, sometimes a player just fits a culture and scheme so well that certain deficiencies, either by the player himself or the unit he plays for, makes it possible for the team to pay more than perceived market value. Such might be the case with Blake, who started 16 games for the Steelers last year, but if Pittsburgh wants to attempt to upgrade the position, Blake might take some money for a little bit of a lesser role on a contender. Or, maybe even push an incumbent for a starting spot when not initially pegged for one.
Pro Day Performance: 4.32 40-yard dash, 39" vertical jump, 21 bench press reps, 10' broad jump.
Draft Position: Undrafted, 2012 (Jacksonville)
College: University of Texas at El Paso
2012 Scouts' Take: Scouts liked his tenacity and stocky frame, but worried about his lack of height and harped on the common knocks on small school players. They believed if he was to have a consistent role in the NFL, it would be on special teams or as a low-end depth chart player.
Stats: 77 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, one interception return for touchdown, 11 passes defensed.
Rundown on 2015 Performance: It seems as if Blake improved as the year wore on in 2015, but even Behind the Steel Curtain noted Blake's struggles as contributors to some of the pass defense struggles last year. Still, he stepped up huge in some of the biggest games of the year, logging two of his three interceptions (including postseason) against the Bengals alone, with one coming in their home loss in Week 8 against Cincinnati, and another in the Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Predicting the Future:
Synopsis: Like the Bengals and many of their internal free agents, the Steelers might value Blake a bit more than other outside teams for a variety of reasons. One is familiarity and the other could be the aforementioned fit in their defensive system, but the Steelers could likely find some sort of upgrade. Neal Coolong of USA Today's Steelers Wire outlines the necessity of Blake's departure from Pittsburgh, especially as a starter.
Given his size, physicality with receivers on and off the line, and inconsistency with deeper routes, Blake might be best as a shorter-range slot corner, as opposed to a starter on the outside. The Steelers are looking to re-sign an effective one they grabbed in Brandon Boykin and news has been relatively mum on their interest level in re-signing Blake to this point.
Possible Contract: This is really difficult to say with certainty. Will the Steelers prove they like one of their own more than other teams and offer him more money? Will a lesser team sign him as a starter when others balk? Or, will teams like the Bengals more accurately realize Blake is a slot/rotational corner and sign him to add depth to their roster? Cincinnati could steal away a rival's defensive player, while adding confidence in an effort to continue marching through the AFC North.
We'll estimate a two-year, $2.4 million per year deal. This puts Blake on par with veterans Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler and around 44th at the position overall.