The overwhelming likelihood is that Pittsburgh Steelers veteran cornerback Joe Haden is not going to play in today’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, listed as doubtful after suffering a hamstring injury late in the season opener. The hope is that it will only be a minor, one-game issue, and that he should be ready to play in the team’s next game.
In the meantime, however, he will be replaced in the starting lineup by second-year cornerback Cameron Sutton, a third-round draft pick who spent the majority of his rookie season on injured reserve. After he was activated in the second half of the season, however, he did receive playing time and even started one game.
With Sutton in the lineup, the Steelers would field an incredibly young secondary, and surely among the youngest and most inexperienced in the league. Not one of the starting five players will have had more than 33 games of regular season experience in their history.
The ‘elders’ of the group would be third-year cornerback Artie Burns and free safety Sean Davis, and it’s worth noting that Davis has played just one game so far at his new position after having previously worked at strong safety during the previous season and a half.
Burns and Davis were the Steelers’ first- and second-round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, respectively. Both played immediately, with Davis as the nickelback and Burns as the dimeback in the 2016 opener. Davis suffered an injury in the third game, however, by which point Burns moved into the nickel role.
The latter would assume a full-time starting job after the first seven games, and Davis would begin rotating at strong safety with Robert Golden after the bye week before assuming the role full-time two games later. Both have been starters since.
Then there is Mike Hilton, who came out the same year but went undrafted. He first connected with the Steelers when he was signed to their practice squad during his rookie year in 2016. He would ultimately win the starting nickel job for the 2017 opener and continues to hold the post.
Throw in rookie first-round safety Terrell Edmunds, who seems to have been given the opportunity to claim a full-time starting job, and you have a very young group consisting of two third-year players, two others in their second season, and a rookie.
The expectation was that the group would be a mix of youth and veterans, with Haden and Morgan Burnett both coming from the draft class of 2010 by way of the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers, respectively.
Edmunds was obviously drafted to be a starter sooner or later, though, and Burnett was never going to be a long-term answer. Haden is of course a starter as long as he’s healthy, but after his contract runs out following the 2019 season? Who knows?