A common cliché in the NFL Draft is that certain prospects and organizations are perfect combinations for one another based on positional need, desired traits, outside ties to the franchise, etc.
In the case of Joey Porter Jr. and the Steelers, it truly was a match made in heaven.
Despite heavy interest in Pittsburgh’s first pick in the second round — No. 32 overall — the team eschewed trade offers in order to select the Penn State corner, who was virtually a consensus first-round pick. According to Grinding the Mocks, Porter’s expected draft position was 19.4; to land him at 32 is tremendous value.
What makes Porter not only a top cornerback in this class, but a major asset to the Steelers’ defense for years to come? Take a look below.
The first thing one notices watching Porter is just how intimidating he is off the line. At 6-foot-2 1/2, his height is in the 96th percentile among cornerbacks. Likewise, his 80 7/8-inch wingspan is in the 97th percentile. Those pterodactyl-like arms show up on tape consistently.
Against Purdue, Porter did battle with Charlie Jones, an All-American a year ago (and now fellow AFC North member). On this rep, Porter was able to emerge victorious in a deep third zone by meeting Jones at the catch point and sticking his right arm in the air to knock the ball away. Just look at the apex of Porter’s arm — that’s freakish.
On this crossing route vs. the Boilermakers, Porter actually surrenders a bit of space — more on that later — but is able to recover by extending his right arm and breaking up the pass.
Porter isn’t just successful because he’s long, though. The former Nittany Lion is purely suffocating in man coverage because of strength (especially in his hands), physicality and savviness.
Simply put, Porter is at his best in press man. He starts each rep with patient hips and feet before attacking a specific spot on the receiver’s shoulder. Porter’s jams aren’t successful purely because of his frame: he’s smart about varying blows and uses good pad level.
Guarding Marvin Harrison Jr. may have been the most intimidating element in college football, if not all of sports, this past season. At the same time, Porter did rather well in defending the potential top-five pick in 2024.
On this first rep, Porter stays square before knocking Harrison’s hands away to disrupt timing. From that point on, Porter has already won the rep, but he still remains in ideal position.
Here’s another strong example. Battling Harrison at the top of the screen, Porter mirrors well before turning his head and punching with his right hand. Altogether, Porter surrenders no space on the isolated go to the son of the former Colts great.
If it wasn’t evident from the first two clips, Porter has great ball skills, which he meshes with terrific anticipation and instincts. Per PFF, the North Allegheny High School product had nine pass breakups, which was tied for third in the Big Ten in 2022.
When in West Lafayette, Porter was targeted a whopping 14 times. Aidan O’Connell soon learned his lesson to not mess with the star corner because of plays like this.
Though playing with significant cushion, Porter jumps an out route and nearly comes up with the interception.
Additionally, Porter is so stout in man because of his ability to leverage the sideline and minimize space for the receiver. On this rep against Minnesota, Porter squeezes the wideout outside, positions himself inside and knocks the ball away at the perfect time. The most impressive aspect of this play is Porter turning his head around and not making unnecessary contact to avoid penalty.
With his combination of size and skill, Porter can even line up against tight ends — something you can’t often say about a cornerback. Here’s the Nittany Lion helping to bracket Michigan TE (and fellow second-rounder) Luke Schoonmaker, utilizing a slight grab on the inside hip to limit the turn radius.
Aside from being elite in one-on-one coverage situations, Porter is an asset as a tackler. He’s not afraid to fly in and make a hit, or secure an open-field tackle, which he does here against Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson — potentially saving a touchdown.
When Porter’s instincts, athleticism and tackling prowess combine, it’s a thing to behold. Watch as keys in on this OSU formation, attacks downhill, shakes the block and blows up the receiver screen.
With all of the traits and tendencies displayed, you likely are wondering: how did Porter possibly slide to the second round?
A possible concern is that Porter can have trouble on in-breaking routes, particularly ones that are quick-hitting. Jones was able to exploit that several times, with Porter unable to close space. Granted, Jones is one of the more sudden and shifty receivers in this class. On the other hand, Porter, at 6-foot-2 ½, isn’t insanely nimble working across the field.
One element Teryl Austin, Grady Brown and the Steelers’ coaching staff will likely work on with Porter is cleaning up movement skills, particularly on breaks and turning. Then again, with a strong 9.71 relative athletic score, Porter isn’t exactly lacking athleticism.
Additionally, some of Porter’s angles in run support can be subpar. On occasion, he’ll attempt to slide under a block and make a stop, but that tends to be a risky move if one isn’t able to actually come up with the tackle.
Finally, though Porter had only three penalties last season, he should be cognizant to avoid flags at the next level. With his physical style of play, ticky-tacky calls could manifest themselves, so he’ll have to keep up his delicate balance — which he largely perfected in the college ranks.
All in all, it’s still astounding that not only did Porter not hear his name called with the first 31 picks in the draft, but that he wound up as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Having grown up and attended college in Pennsylvania, plus his dad being a legendary figure within the organization, makes this an incredibly feel-good pick.
Porter provides more than positive sentiment, though. He’ll join a depleted cornerback room and have a chance to make an immediate impact. Plus, Porter will be able to have wisdom instilled by eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson.
Ultimately, Porter figures to be a significant contributor in the Steelers’ secondary for years to come and should be the team’s young, blue-chip cornerback that it desperately needed. With his size, physicality, technical understanding and tenacity, Porter immediately gives Pittsburgh a man to go head-to-head with stars like Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.