On Thursday the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they had added former Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins, news that overshadowed the other three signings that came on the same day.
One of the three players signed was cornerback Stephen Denmark, a 2019 seventh-round pick of the Chicago Bears, selected No. 238 overall out of Division II Valdosta State.
Denmark—who is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds—was on Pittsburgh’s radar prior to the 2019 NFL Draft. In fact, he was one of the 30-plus players the Steelers hosted for official visits, several of whom the Steelers ended up drafting, namely third-round cornerback Justin Layne (Michigan State) and sixth-round linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III (Akron).
Despite playing at a Division II school—albeit one that went 14-0 and won the NCAA Division II Football National Championship in his last season—Denmark grabbed the attention of numerous NFL teams, including the Titans, Browns, Saints and Cardinals, among others.
Stephen Demark Impressed at His Pro Day
A big reason was his pro day (March 12, 2019 at Kennesaw State), at which he twice ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, while showcasing a 43.5 inch vertical and 79.5-inch wingspan.
As it turns out, Pittsburgh had a chance to select Denmark with its seventh-round pick but went with offensive tackle Derwin Gray (Maryland), who the Steelers lost to the Jaguars last month when Jacksonville claimed him on waivers.
Meanwhile, Denmark spent the 2019 season on Chicago’s practice squad, where he was coached by former Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend and later competed with former Steelers first-round pick Artie Burns, who tore his ACL in training camp this past summer.
He went on to spend the first five weeks of the 2020 season on Chicago’s practice squad before he was waived and caught on with Cleveland, which added him to its practice squad for three weeks before cutting him loose on December 1.
Denmark is a Converted Wide Receiver
While it’s not ideal that two NFL teams have already given him a look-see and have seemingly moved on, Denmark is the definition of a project. Not only did he play against a low level of competition in college, he played wide receiver at Valdosta State until his senior year, when he made the transition to cornerback because the Blazers had a decided shortage of defensive backs.
Anyway, it’s not like he was thriving as a wide receiver. He finished his college career with a mere 30 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns. He showed a lot more promise on defense, recording 55 tackles (37 solo), with eight tackles for loss, 12 passes defensed, one sack, one forced fumble and three interceptions during his senior year.
Now Pittsburgh’s new defensive backs coach—whoever that turns out to be—will have the opportunity to work with a cornerback with very intriguing raw tools and the drive to succeed.
Prior to the 2019 NFL Draft Denmark was asked why an NFL team should take a chance on him.
“A team should use one of their draft picks on me because they’re getting an excellent athlete,” he said at the time. “I can’t wait to come in and work hard. I’m gonna put my head down and get to work. I have great ball skills and my best football is still in front of me. I’m gonna be a great team player.”
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