It’s rare in today’s NFL that a cornerback pushing into his early-to-mid 30s maintains his high level of play, largely due to a decline in speed, athleticism and that overall quick twitch that made them so good early on in their careers.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ veteran cornerback Joe Haden appears to be an exception to that, as Haden continues to play at a high level at 32 years old.
Since signing with the Steelers after being surprisingly cut in the summer of 2017, Haden has played a key role in the rebirth of the Steelers’ defense, solidifying an area of great struggle and concern in the 2010s at cornerback. Though he is getting up there in age and the floor could fall out from underneath him soon, Haden continues to prove people wrong as an aging cornerback.
Thanks to his strong play on the field, Haden landed on CBS Sports’ All-30-and-Over Defensive Team Thursday, according to CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr. Haden was the lone member of the AFC North on the first team, and was the tied for the second-oldest on the team behind Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive end Brandon Graham and New Orleans Saints’ safety Malcolm Jenkins, both of whom are 33 years old.
“Haden has been a cornerback in the league for 11 seasons, and is still really good despite heading into his mid-30s. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 47.9% of their passes targeting Haden, compiling just a 56.8 passer rating,” Kerr writes. “Haden was targeted just 73 times, yet still was able to come up with 12 passes defended. Haden is still one of the underrated cover corners in the game. Since he turned 30, opposing quarterbacks have just a 55.5 passer rating targeting Haden — who has seven interceptions.”
The numbers continue to look good overall for the 32-year-old cornerback, who has shown no true signs of slowing down. Quarterbacks could avoid him further this season, especially with the Steelers losing Mike Hilton in free agency and later cutting Steven Nelson due to salary cap issues. Pittsburgh did bring back veteran cornerback Cameron Sutton, but an area that was once a strength is now a concern for the Steelers ahead of the 2021 season.
With question marks elsewhere, Haden might see a season like 2017 once again, where interceptions and passes defensed were way down from career norms, causing some concerns from the fanbase and media after the Steelers spent big on him. It’s not all about interceptions and passes defensed though. We’ll see how he looks in 2021 in what is a contract year for the veteran cornerback.
Aside from Haden on the All-30-and-Over first team, Pittsburgh defensive end Cameron Heyward landed on the second team, pairing with the Tampa Bay defensive line duo of Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh and free agent Olivier Vernon along the defensive line on the second team.
Realistically, Heyward probably should have been on the first team ahead of Graham or New Orleans’ Cameron Jordan.