By Jeremy Hritz
It’s a period of transition at the cornerback position, with Joe Haden no longer being with the team, and Akhello Witherspoon elevating to be the new starting left corner. In terms of the depth at the position, there are several questions which hopefully have a positive answer, otherwise, this could be a tenuous unit for the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers. Could this be the year that Cameron Sutton emerges as a start? Will Witherspoon make us forget all about Haden? Only time will tell, but the position is a murky one as we move closer to training camp.
|Justin Layne||31||CB||6-2||192||24||4||Michigan State|
|James Pierre||42||CB||6-2||185||25||3||Florida Atlantic|
|Carlins Platel||30||CB||6-1||205||22||R||South Carolina|
There are currently 10 corners on the Steelers roster, and the two starters on the outside, as mentioned earlier, will be Sutton and Witherspoon. Sutton will enter his second year as a starter after delivering mixed results in 2021, and there is some belief that he is better suited for the slot position. There is also some optimism considering his growth for this season since last year was his only full season as a starter with the team. With a career high 2 interceptions in 2021, Sutton will be looking to increase that number, and become a more splash-worthy player. Opposite Sutton will be Witherspoon in his first year as a starter with the Steelers. Witherspoon re-signed with the team this offseason and immediately became their most athletic and ball-hawking corner on the roster. Last year, he demonstrated awareness and a knack for the football, something the Steelers are counting on him delivering in bunches as the new starter. Whether or not he can do that consistently remains a significant question.
Levi Wallace, who was teammates with Minkah Fitzpatrick at Alabama, signed with the Steelers this offseason to serve as the first man up in the event of injury to either of the team’s starters, but also as a player who may get some time at slot corner, and/or as an additional defensive back sub-package defense. Wallace was a productive overachiever in Buffalo, and he is being counted on to deliver the same with Pittsburgh. Tre Norwood who played well at times in his rookie season despite getting burnt a few times will be even better in year two and will continue to get looks in the slot. He struggled with having a full grasp of the defensive concepts last season and that is what resulted in some of the splash he allowed in the secondary. Arthur Maulet was also re-signed for the contributions he made as a sub-package corner, though he could be challenged by some of the youth that is currently on the roster at the position.
Make or Break for Layne and Pierre
2022 will be an important season for both Justin Layne and James Pierre. Layne has not contributed much of anything since joining the Steelers out of Michigan State, and is burned more often than making a play. If he does not produce in camp, he will be cut, as there has been nothing definitive to make a case for him sticking around. Pierre showed a lot of promise heading into last season, and even started a few games; however, he was immediately exploited, and was relegated to special teams. He will need to show those hiccups were just the result of inexperience and that he has what it takes to be a solid depth corner in the NFL.
Carlins Platel and Chris Steele are your two UDRFA hopefuls who each bring different skillsets to the team: Platel, a slot corner, while Steele is an every down player. They are not without their warts as undrafted players, but the Steelers see traits worth exploring. Their reps in camp and performance in preseason contests will be critical for them to have a shot in making the 53, or even the practice squad.
Lots of Questions
There are lots of questions surrounding this Steelers cornerback position, and they are counting on growth, developing, and consistency in order to turn the position into one of strength. If the defense does struggle, the cornerback position may be the one we point to, because there are more questions than there are answers.