Steelers rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is not one of the more unique players in all of football, but also rising as one of the position’s most promising young stars.
Throughout the draft process, some concerns about Porter were penalties (still a work in progress) and tackling. The latter was one of the most significant factors behind him not getting playing time early in the season, strictly being used in dime packages. However, he’s since made his way to the starting lineup, and though his +15000 odds to win Defensive Rookie of the Year on DraftKings Sportsbook indicate he’s out of the running with Eagles DT Jalen Carter as the heavy favorite, there’s still plenty of reason he should remain in the conversation.
The first part of that conversation stems from his coverage ability. Fans continue saying that Joey Porter Jr. cannot stop everyone each week, and yet still, the rookie still eliminates top receivers consistently. Even when those players, like Tee Higgins, go off for over 100 yards, they get shut down when Porter is in proximity. Higgins did most of his work away from Porter, who covered him on 32 of his 40 routes, catching just a single reception for 15 yards in Porter’s coverage, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Since Week 7, Porter has shadowed the opponent’s top receivers on most of their routes in 7 of 11 games, and he’s succeeded in doing so. Among rookie cornerbacks with at least 200 coverage snaps, Porter Jr. leads the league with 0.8 yards per coverage snap, 5.7 yards per target and a 62.3 NFL passer rating while the nearest defender in coverage.
Porter’s length and grabbiness frustrate players at times, which has been a big critique this season. In Week 16’s win against the Bengals, he got called for his 12th penalty of the season on a holding call which has him ranked second among league defenders in total infractions (though four haven’t officially counted against him due to declined or offsetting penalties). However, Porter’s hands and physicality are what make him great. He’s never afraid to take on the other team’s best receiver and rises to the occasion repeatedly.
Over the past seven weeks, Porter’s significantly improved his tackling, missing fewer tackles and making ones in space more consistently. In Weeks 1-9, Porter had five missed tackles and a missed tackle rate of 22.7% Since Week 10, Porter’s missed tackle rate has dropped drastically to 4%, with just a single missed tackle in that timeframe timeframe as well.
Even if Porter Jr. isn’t in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year... his performance should have Steelers fans plenty excited for the future.