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2021 NFL Draft: Steelers 7th round pick Tre Norwood could see the field in Year 1

The Steelers 7th round pick’s film shows a player that is ready to play a role on defense.

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Steelers record drafting corners, and to a lesser degree safeties, hasn’t been great. So when they drafted Tre Norwood in the seventh round, my expectations weren’t high at all. At that point in the draft, you don’t have expectations, much like you shouldn’t have expectations when the Steelers draft a player listed as a cornerback.

When Mike Tomlin announced Norwood as a “Swiss army knife, utility-back safety” my expectations sunk even farther. I mean how good can a guy be who slips to the 245th pick and who also doesn’t even have a position?

Well, let’s find out.

Tre Norwood took over the starting outside corner spot in Oklahoma’s defense by the end of his freshman season in 2017, and he started in their overtime loss to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the Rose Bowl.

Tre Norwood (#13) is covering Georgia’s #1 receiver, Javon Wims.

Whims at 6’2”, 221 has a decent size advantage over the 6’0” 192 Norwood. It’s also a Freshman covering a Senior. But look at the breakup Norwood makes.

Norwood is a physical pass defender with highly active hands. something that showed up even when Wims beat him for a touchdown.

In the span of that catch and taking the ball to the ground Norwood took three shots at the ball, and Wims has to keep his grip with just his left hand to keep the ball as he lands.

Tre Norwood as a freshman showed he would fight for every ball, and it stood out on film how little teams were interested in testing him on downfield throws.

That aggressive play did get him in trouble at times.

This one got called pass interference, and Georgia would score the game tying touchdown off that first down and go on to win the game.

As much as you hate to see pass interference in those situations, Norwood’s determination to deny the catch paid off more than it hurt.

As a Sophomore Norwood moved to the position he would man until his college career ended, a combination of safety and slot corner. He wouldn’t play outside corner again.

Tre Norwood is the deep safety, between the hashes. (he leaves and re-enters the shot)

That’s pretty good reaction and speed to get to this screen and make the tackle for no gain. He shows the aggressiveness to play safety here.

Tre Norwood is the deep safety lined up behind the slot corner to the right side of the screen.

Good job by Norwood on this play, showing he has no trouble picking up coverage from the slot receiver coming deep. He doesn’t have elite speed, but his reaction time is quick and he is there to cut off any pass.

When an offense went trips, Oklahoma responded by rolling that side’s safety into slot coverage

Tre Norwood is the third defensive back from the bottom of the screen, he is covering the deep route.

Good job staying in position with a big, fast receiver. And again he shows his determination to deny every catch. Of course he draws a flag here again.

That’s a problem, you can’t just pull on the receiver’s jersey, especially when you are initiating contact that far downfield.

Tre Norwood missed the entire 2019 season with an injury, and returned in 2020 a player his coaches named as a reason to hope for improvement in the secondary. Oklahoma went from allowing the second most passing TDs in the Big 12 (1.9 per game) to the lowest in 2020 (1.1 per game) while improving from 5th in yards per play to 3rd. Oklahoma also went from 7 interceptions in 2019 to 15 in 2020, led by Tre Norwood’s 5 interceptions. Correlation backs up his coaches faith in him, what about the film?

Tre Norwood is the third DB from the top, dropping deep at the snap.

Norwood shows off his read and react time and his determination to fight every catch here.

Tre Norwood is the deep safety to the top of the screen.

Before we get into the bad on this play, notice the switch Norwood makes from deep safety to man coverage in the slot, the Steelers do a ton of these switches, and Norwood has been doing them for years.

But you can see another side of Norwood here. Norwood may fight receivers for the football, but he isn’t great at other physical aspects of the game. He struggles to navigate the pick route, and then gets embarrassed trying to tackle the tight end.

Tre Norwood is the deep safety, just above the hashmarks to the top of the screen.

You can see the hesitation here. Norwood angles the running back into the sideline and shoves him out. He gives up a lot of ground here to avoid getting beat.

Tre Norwood mixes plays like that with plays like the next one.

Tre Norwood is the safety to the top of the screen.

No shyness in throwing his shoulder into the receiver here. He makes a decent number of tackles in human missile form like this one, but when he needs to make a normal tackle his attempts aren’t very good. At least most of the time. Norwood is maddeningly inconsistent as a tackler.

Where he isn’t inconsistent is his awareness of the play and ability to get to the ball.

Tre Norwood (#13) is lined up over the slot receiver.

Watch the tight end come off the line, the play is simple here, the outside receivers both run in cuts, the tight end heads behind them to the back pylon. One step forward or to his right and Norwood is beat here. But he just drops and makes the catch to turn a touchdown into a touchback.

Tre Norwood is the slot corner to the left side of the screen, he moves off screen right before the snap.

As Iowa State QB Brock Purdy scrambles, you can see Tre Norwood chase down the receiver coming across the field. With that receiver covered, Purdy throws an interception.

Tre Norwood is the slot corner to the top of the screen.

Norwood almost comes away with another interception here, on a Joe Haden-esque play. Tre Norwood isn’t Joe Haden, he’s a 7th round pick, but he shows an elite level of awareness in those slot/safety roles.

The Sooners won the Big 12 championship 27-21, their 6th straight. Tre Norwood made several impact plays in the game. And that led them to the Cotton Bowl to face the University of Florida and Heisman finalist Kyle Trask.

Tre Norwood (#13) is the slot corner.

And that’s how you start a big game. Norwood jumps Kyle Trask’s second pass of the game to put his team up 14-0. Oklahoma would go on to win the game, their first Bowl win since 2016.

Kyle Trask’s throw is awful, but Norwood changing direction from heavy outside leverage to chase down this pass is fantastic.


Conclusion

While Tre Norwood is a 7th round pick, I think he has a chance to play for the Steelers, possibly as a rookie. The role he played for Oklahoma is very similar to the role Cameron Sutton played in the Steelers dime defense. In that role he shows elite awareness and great ball skills. The Steelers can also protect him from needing to be more physical in that role, like they did for Sutton. Tre Norwood’s Pro Day was a disaster, he ran a 4.58 forty yard dash with even worse agility scores. That is the biggest question mark on Norwood. If those numbers aren’t reflective of this actual athleticism, or if he can make it in spite of limited athleticism, I would not be surprised to see him earn a spot on the 53-man roster and even earn snaps in the Steelers dime defense.