The Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent All-Pro cornerback Desmond King II to the roster last week. This week, he’s made his debut at team practices, sporting jersey No. 25 — the number he’s played with over his past two seasons with the Texans.
Nick Farabaugh, beat reporter for Steelers Now, shared a brief clip of him in team drills to provide fans a first look at King in black and gold.
The Steelers have a new DB in the building pic.twitter.com/3r5Zefp6B4— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) September 4, 2023
With a crowded cornerback room and several potential contributors on special teams, where is it that fans could see Desmond King II carve out a name for himself?
How much of an impact will Desmond King make for the Steelers in 2023?
Though it remains to be seen how significant a role Desmond King will have with the Steelers in 2023 given the depth at cornerback, he does offer a good amount of versatility that could see him on the field earlier (and more often) than we might initially project. Even beyond his scope at cornerback, where he’s notably contributed both at nickel corner and on the outside, King offers a breadth of experience as a returner.
Interestingly, the Texans deployed King a bit differently than we’d seen him used previously with the Chargers (with whom he had his All-Pro season in 2018). After having been previously used primarily as a kickoff return specialist for his first three NFL seasons, Houston elected to use King primarily as a punt returner over the past two seasons. The Texans also gave him a significant role as an outside corner over the 2021 and 2022 seasons, as opposed to his previous usage primarily as a nickel cornerback with the Chargers.
Second-year WR Calvin Austin III functioned as the team’s primary punt returner throughout the preseason, averaging 21.4 yards per return on five return attempts. Undoubtedly, folks aren’t going to want the team to deviate from him after such an explosive start. So, maybe, just maybe already having an answer in the punt return game, we see the Steelers revert to King’s previous usage as a slot corner/kick return specialist in 2023. Notably, the Steelers haven’t seemed satisfied with any answer yet at the slot cornerback position this offseason, having seen both Chandon Sullivan and Elijah Riley vie for the spot.
A return to his natural positions could be King’s big break toward a bounce-back campaign in Pittsburgh.