Around this time last year, Steven Nelson was a part of one of the most exciting teams in the league. A starting cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC West champions took the New England Patriots to overtime in the AFC Championship Game, very nearly reaching the Super Bowl.
In fact, the Chiefs reached the playoffs in each of his four seasons he was drafted in the third round in 2015. They reached the Divisional Round in both 2015 and 2016, but lost in the Wildcard Round in 2017 before Patrick Mahomes happened a year ago.
In the offseason, he signed a lucrative three-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and even with just one interception, he had the best season of his career. His played helped transform a defense that would emerge as one of the best in the league, which led the NFL in both sacks and takeaways, and he was integral in making it all go.
The fact that the defense had played so well, so often, is part of the reason that it’s all so frustrating. Add in the fact that he had tasted the postseason in each of his first four years, and even was nearly in the Super Bowl just a year ago, and this could be a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s very disappointing, You don’t expect the season to end like this, especially with the amount of talent, type of guys we have on our teamk”, he told the team’s website after they missed the playoffs in Week 17.
“As everybody knows, this team has taken a ton of losses all year and we still fought all the way until the end”, he added. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the type of outcome that we wanted. We are going to take that with a grain of salt and go into the offseason and try to improve”.
Really, I’m not quite sure how much this team even needs to do beyond getting healthy. If they had the same roster, just made up of all the players who were injured, this is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. That includes James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster missing extended time, but of course centers around Ben Roethlisberger.
If Nelson, Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds can continue to lock things down on the back end and provide that extra half-second for the pass rush to get home, then there is every reason to believe that this defense can still be championship-caliber in 2020. It’s just a matter of the offense looking the way it’s supposed to, and that will largely correct itself with time and healing.