Playing well overall is nice. Playing well against the best teams in the league, that’s generally how a lot of players choose to measure themselves—though that best team might not necessarily match strength-for-strength at your position
While Pro Football Focus has been on the Steven Nelson bandwagon for the most part, they recently posted a graphic in which it lists him as the number two cornerback by PFF grade last season against teams who made the playoffs last season. That’s overall grade, of course, so that factors in all elements of play.
These players consistently rose to the level of their competition all 2019 💪 pic.twitter.com/cvZWA3CQRt
— PFF (@PFF) June 23, 2020
The Steelers played six games against five teams who made the playoffs last season, including a rough opening stretch in which four of their first five games came against such opponents—all losses, not surprisingly. Their first three opponents were the New England Patriots, the Seattle Seahawks, and the San Francisco 49ers. They then played the Baltimore Ravens two weeks later.
Nelson’s three highest-graded games of the season came in these six games, including both games against the Ravens, with his Week 17 performance being his highest-graded game of the season, and his Week Two performance against the Seahawks, primarily in coverage against D.K. Metcalf, his second-highest. His game against New England rated fifth, though the other two games were rated among his lower efforts, especially in coverage.
In the game against the Buffalo Bills, for example, he is charged with allowing six receptions on nine targets, allowing 91 yards, all of those figures representing season-high marks. That was also the one game in which he recorded an interception, and his only accepted penalty.
In the game against the Seahawks, he was also targeted nine times, but allowed only four receptions for 36 yards, registering one pass break up by PFF’s standards. In the season finale against the Ravens, Nelson only allowed one reception on five targets, for eight yards.
All told, the site credits him with 34 receptions allowed on 66 targets, allowing 468 yards in coverage. They are the only site that for some reason blames him for the Josh Gordon 20-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the season opener against the Patriots, however. Every other outlet charges no touchdowns allowed all year.
The Steelers signed the former Kansas City Chiefs third-round pick to a three-year, $25.5 million contract last March. He was a big part of the reason that they turned out their best pass defense in the better part of a decade, and figures to remain a core piece of that unit, hopefully for years to come, but for at least the next two while he’s under contract.