The Pittsburgh Steelers head into 2022 with a solid, if unspectacular, group of Cornerbacks (CB) anchoring down the back end of the Defense. At first glance, it appears the team doesn’t boast a true number one CB with the ability to be a consistent lockdown coverage defender. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll see a group with real upside, with a couple of names ready to take that next step as top-notch defenders in the secondary.
Note: position labels are pulled directly from the team’s official roster on Steelers.com
CB: Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne, James Pierre, Arthur Maulet
DB: Carlins Platel, Chris Steele, Linden Stephens
I’m leading off with a player the Steelers made a priority to re-sign this offseason, and if you look at the 2021 film, it’s easy to see why. Ahkello Witherspoon showed a real nose for the football with 3 interceptions (INT) over the last 5 regular season contests, including 2 picks in the Steelers epic near-comeback versus the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14. Witherspoon does a lot of things well, however, he did show vulnerability at times in man coverage. While the ball skills are clear, Witherspoon will need to make strides as a pure coverage corner to make the jump from good number CB2 to true CB1.
The Steelers made a splash in Free Agency to acquire Levi Wallace from the Buffalo Bills, likely seeing him as having a real shot to be the team’s CB1. Wallace has good size and college pedigree (Alabama), and some really good tape in Buffalo, where he grew as a cover man opposite All-Pro Tre’Davious White. Wallace displays fluidity in coverage and can handle a variety of techniques and schemes. He knows how to get his hands on the football as well, with 25 passes defensed and 6 interceptions since 2019 (3 seasons).
The next group of players were drafted by the team with varying degrees of success. The best of the bunch is Cam Sutton, who has been the Steelers’ best draft selection at CB in some time. You can take that however you want to, but the truth is that Sutton is a valuable CB3 with in-game experience and versatility. Teryl Austin’s promotion from DB Coach to Defensive Coordinator could be a big deal for a guy like Sutton, whose role could grow in the coach’s secondary-minded schemes.
Justin Layne is a former 3rd Round pick by the Steelers, but he has yet to live up to his billing as a raw but athletic prospect with big upside. We haven’t seen the upside kick in yet, and as a result, Layne’s status on the roster is in question. James Pierre was an Undrafted Free Agent acquisition by Pittsburgh in 2020, and produced well enough in practice and on the field to merit in season work. However, the team will look for Pierre to make strides as well in order to secure a roster spot come Training Camp.
Arthur Maulet was the Steelers go-to slot CB in 2021, for better and for worse. While looking for a suitable replacement for former Steeler and current Cincinnati Bengal, Mike Hilton, Maulet was given the role of coverage man from the slot, where he was regularly taken advantage of by dynamic slot receivers and smart Quarterbacks who knew to look his way. Maulet’s coverage issues need serious improvement if he wants to retain a spot on this roster.
The remainder of the group is a list of practice squad hopefuls with designs on taking advantage of their opportunity to compete. Carlins Platel and Chris Steele are 2022 UDFAs looking to prove they belong on the big stage, while Linden Stephens continues his journeyman route with a stop in Pittsburgh. Stephens has 16 games of NFL experience with the Dolphins and the Seahawks as a fill-in player, but took no reps in 2021. It is worth mentioning he would have played for Brian Flores in Miami in 2019.
I did want to note that Tre Norwood, listed as a DB on Steelers.com, has a real chance to be the team’s best slot defender, although his traditional role is that of safety. We will discuss Norwood more in depth on the final Roster Review article covering the safety group.
Depth Chart Prediction
Count me in as a believer in the Steelers current group of guys being a strong point of the roster and not a liability. Specifically at the top, where I have faith in Teryl Austin to put together a competent and competitive group, led by Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon. Both of these guys have what it takes to be the team’s CB1, and a true number 1 cover guy. My money is on Wallace really making the leap coming over from Buffalo, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Witherspoons ability to create splash plays put him over the top.
Behind these two, you could do way worse than Cam Sutton who has quality starting experience on the outside and in the nickel. He rounds out a solid top 3 squad. After those guys it gets dicey, however. Arthur Maulet, Justin Layne, and James Pierre are probably going to make the roster, due more to the fact that there just isn’t really anyone pushing these guys than the actual worthiness of each one. If Pierre and Layne can continue their growth and Arthur Maulet can clean up his act a little, there is hope that this group has good depth by the start of the season.
CB1: Levi Wallace, James Pierre
CB2: Ahkello Witherspoon, Justin Layne
Nickel: Cam Sutton, Arthur Maulet
Practice Squad: Carlins Platel, Chris Steele
Which is the most likely scenario for the Steelers CB room?
This poll is closed
Levi Wallace becomes a true CB1.
Ahkello Witherspoon becomes a true CB1.
Nobody steps up as a true CB1, but the group is solid in 2022.
Nobody steps up as a true CB1, and the group is a liability in 2022.