The Pittsburgh Steelers made nine selections in the 2021 NFL Draft. Then they added eight more rookies as college free agents, among them several defensive backs, a position that has seen a lot of turnover since last season, with four players gone from the 2020 roster.
One of those new faces is Lamont Wade, a Penn State graduate and Clairton product. Listed at 5’9” and 190 pounds as a safety, he tells KDKA that he chose to sign with the Steelers over other offers after the draft for two reasons: One, to stay close to his son; and two, because of the lack of depth Pittsburgh has in the secondary.
“Definitely their depth was one” of the reasons that he opted to sign with the Steelers, he told the outlet, noting that Mike Hilton left in free agency. “Hilton just got out of there. I feel like nickel is one of my best positions and this is a chance to go in there and compete for that spot.”
Hilton, of course, had been the Steelers’ starting nickel back for the past four seasons since he broke onto the scene as a former college free agent himself, coming out of Ole Miss. After spending part of the previous season on the practice squad, he became their starter full-time by the middle of opening day.
He departed in free agency in March, signing with the Cincinnati Bengals and in doing so becoming one of the highest-paid slot defenders in the NFL in a depleted market. While he was able to get paid what he’s worth, the Steelers are now stuck trying to figure out how to replace him.
Hilton is one of the most versatile defensive backs in the league, almost equally capable of covering, playing the run, and rushing the passer. There’s so much that you can do with a player with his skill set in terms of masking your defense, things he brings to the table that are easier to recognize when he’s not out there doing it.
Cameron Sutton may spend time playing there this season depending on how things work out. The Steelers are perhaps hoping to find a full-time slot defender as well. They added several late-round and rookie free agency options and retain veteran Trevor Williams, who will all compete for the role. An uphill battle, which is nothing new for Wade.
“I’m used to the underdog role,” he told KDKA after he signed with Pittsburgh. “I’m used to having to fight, scratch and claw for things. So this is nothing new to me. Honestly, I look forward to being able to show what I got and prove people wrong.”
Wade recorded 153 tackles over four seasons at Penn State, though he only had one interception and 10 passes defensed. He played both cornerback and safety during that time, a level of versatility that teams covet, and which is always an asset for a player trying to make a roster.