The Pittsburgh Steelers are undergoing a lot of turnover in 2022, in a lot of ways. The aspects of the team which are getting the most publicity would be the post-Ben Roethlisberger and post-Kevin Colbert eras, but those aren’t the only areas which could see significant change this season.
A position not many are discussing in length is the cornerback position. Joe Haden seems like a long shot to ever don a black and gold jersey again, and the team signed just Levi Wallace to fill the void left on the roster.
But Wallace isn’t the wild card in this scenario. No, in my opinion, it’s Ahkello Witherspoon.
Who can forget the trade with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire Witherspoon, only to have him sit and watch, or be inactive, on game days. The fondest memory, and I use that term as sarcastically as possible, was watching Witherspoon trailing Henry Ruggs into the end zone for the back-breaking score in the team’s home opener against the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021.
Witherspoon would later say he was expecting safety help over the top on the play, but that’s neither here nor there. What everyone wants to know is if Witherspoon can turn the second half of his 2021 season into his full-time performance in 2022 and beyond?
Who can forget the way Witherspoon finished the season last year. His ball-hawking was on full display, as was this coverage abilities. No, he isn’t the most physical cornerback, but the way he played in the second half of the season earned him a second contract with the Steelers.
Here is what Football Outsiders had to say about Witherspoon as he hopes to call Pittsburgh his home for the long-term:
Ahkello Witherspoon had one of the great out-of-nowhere second halves in recent memory. He picked off four passes—and had another interception against the Chiefs called back—and allowed just 90 total yards in coverage from Week 12 on. Twenty-five of 32 targets with him in coverage during that span were either incomplete or intercepted. We have seen Witherspoon play this well in small chunks before. He might be worth a full season of snaps in Pittsburgh but his larger sample sizes in San Francisco didn’t work out quite this well.
The last sentence in the above paragraph is what has Steelers fans skeptical, and rightfully so. Every time he has been given a chance to be the guy, he hasn’t been able to hold down the role.
When the Steelers obtained Witherspoon I reached out to Niners Nation, the SB Nation San Francisco 49ers website, about Witherspoon, considering he played the majority of his career in San Francisco. The answers to those questions were telling. It was all about inconsistency and Witherspoon being unable to every string together consecutive performances.
I’d suggest Witherspoon was able to do just that in the second half of 2021, but the question now is can he duplicate this success for an entire season? He has been in the system long enough, has the ability, but can he put it all together? Teryl Austin being the defensive coordinator will certainly help, and the hope is the team has found their next stand out coverage cornerback in Witherspoon.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the team to report to training camp on July 26th at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.