Coming out of college, Steven Nelson only logged two seasons’ worth of stats from his junior season on at Oregon State, but he put together eight interceptions over those two years. He also recorded sic interceptions at a community college prior to transferring.
It wasn’t clear it would all transfer at first, as Nelson did not record an interception during his first three seasons, though he played very sparingly as a rookie. The next two seasons, he would start but move inside in the nickel—he also missed half of the 2017 season.
After moving outside on a full-time basis, however, he seemed to feel more comfortable and it led to him intercepting four of the 19 total passes that he defensed in 2018—double the best any Pittsburgh Steelers player did last season, and half of the team’s total as a defensive unit.
Nelson wants to bring that to Pittsburgh on the boundary, as he told Missi Matthews when she asked him what the biggest difference was last season. “My biggest change was just getting my hands on the ball”, he said. “I ended up with like four interceptions, and I’m happy to be here so I could translate it over the Steelers nation”.
He does get his hands on the ball pretty consistently though. Over the past three seasons, in 40 total games played, he has recorded 39 passes defensed, among them the four interceptions, so he usually gets his hands on at least one pass per game. Why? Because of the way he plays.
“I would say I’m tough. I’m physical. Relentless. I’m just always trying to make plays”, he said. “Whatever I can do to help the team”.
Nelson started alongside Marcus Peters in 2016 and 2017, with Kendall Fuller being the one he paired with last season after Peters was traded. This year, he will be working with veteran Joe Haden, who is heading into his 10th season in the NFL.
You will have no doubt noticed that both of these players have been free agent pickups. The Steelers have struggled mightily to draft quality players at cornerback, so it’s no surprise that they have ultimately had to resort to free agency, paying the two largest salaries they have every given out to outside free agents, to get a handle on the position.
Or so the hope is. Nelson hasn’t even worked with the team yet, but he figures to compete with Haden as the most talented of the lot. Both of them had their ups and downs last season with their respective teams, but based on their play in 2018, they are certainly the two best cornerbacks the team has had in a while.