2023 Steelers Post-Draft Roster Review: The Cornerbacks
The major events of the 2023 NFL offseason are now complete. With the free agency period and the NFL Draft now behind us, we look ahead at how the Steelers roster has molded from the end of last season until now, and evaluate those changes heading toward training camp, the preseason, and the regular season.
If there was ever an area where it was apparent the Steelers would be making moves this offseason, it was the cornerback room. Let’s take a look at last year’s room and how it’s evolved in the past few months.
End of Season Depth Chart
At one point last season, this room was so poorly banged up that Mike Tomlin was forced to start two street free agents (Jackson, Quincy Wilson) to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the result was a win, it’s not the kind of situation you want to find yourself in with a big matchup every Sunday. Thus, changes were to be made.
Free Agency Review
The Steelers were rumored to be looking at cornerbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft, but surprised many folks (myself included) by passing on re-signing Cam Sutton in favor of bringing in 33-year-old future Hall of Fame corner Patrick Peterson. Peterson still played a lot of good ball in Minnesota last season, but the move appeared to be puzzling since Sutton didn’t sign a monster contract with the Detroit Lions.
Peterson is just one piece of the puzzle that would be put together as the offseason moves continued…
NFL Draft Review
In what might be considered one of the best draft hauls in recent memory for the Steelers, they were somehow able to stand pat and wait until day two of the draft to select Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. With the family ties, and the obvious need at the position, the two were a fit from day one on many draft boards. The bigger surprise was that the Steelers traded WR Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for this pick, which would become the 32nd overall (top of the second round) by virtue of a forfeited selection by the Miami Dolphins and the Bears falling apart for the second half of their season.
Porter was in the green room on Thursday of the draft, as many felt he would be gone in round one. The Steelers entertained offers for the 32nd pick, but ultimately opted for Porter, who should push for playing time from day one.
The team wasn’t through with the position yet, as they added Purdue’s Cory Trice in the seventh round. Trice is considered to be very talented, and has physical gifts which should have seen him drafted higher, however, injuries shied teams away from taking him in an earlier spot.
More Offseason Moves
The Steelers front office has been incredibly busy with reshaping this room, as more moves were made post-draft. Within the last week they released nickel cornerback Arthur Maulet and also Ahkello Witherspoon, who was slated as a starter over the last two seasons but had injury problems which kept him off of the field for 13 games in 2022 and 6 games in 2021.
Chandon Sullivan, also formerly of the Vikings will compete with futures contract signee Duke Dawson and XFL addition Luq Barcoo for Maulet’s vacated slot position. The room now looks like the following.
Post-Draft Position Roster
- Patrick Peterson
- Joey Porter Jr.
- Levi Wallace
- James Pierre
- Cory Trice
- Chandon Sullivan
- Duke Dawson
- Chris Wilcox
- Madre Harper
- Luq Barcoo
The entire picture of the cornerbacks room isn’t complete without talking about the safeties (which is forthcoming), due to some chatter than the elder Peterson could dabble in some other looks around the secondary, including a switch to the safety position in the future. For now, he’s the veteran to lead Porter to superstardom, while writing his own story.
Levi Wallace came on strong last season and will likely see a lot of playing time as Porter is eased in and Peterson is preserved. This gives the Steelers a strong rotation of three cornerbacks in their stable, while the loss of Maulet is shouldered by Sullivan in the interim.
However, Maulet saw his playing time drastically dip after the bye week last year, which coincided with the defense deploying more safeties on the field once Demontae Kazee returned from IR. This makes the panic over who plays in the slot less concerning, so long as Pittsburgh can deploy their three safety looks.
Pierre is a special teams player with starting experience who will attempt to fend off Trice in camp and convince the team to keep enough cornerbacks to merit a spot on the roster. As it stands, the top six names listed should all make the 53-man roster for this season’s opener. With the amount of rookie quarterbacks the Steelers are poised to face throughout 2023, the secondary should get a chance to gel and become a better unit than they have in recent years, particularly with the dearth of talent across the roster.