The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: New cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon will dress and play on defense on Sunday.
Explanation: A fifth-year veteran, Witherspoon has a good amount of starting experience under his belt. He was acquired via trade on Friday, which would give him nine days to prepare to play against the Buffalo Bills. In 2019, Minkah Fitzpatrick started and played every snap against the San Francisco 49ers within a week of being brought in via trade.
Witherspoon is a veteran who is familiar with jumping into different systems. He plays a position that is relatively easy to play without much prep work if you keep it simple, and he has already said that the Steelers are, in fact, keeping the concepts simple for him.
Fitzpatrick was just 18 games into his career when he started and played every snap within five days of his being acquired, and it’s more demanding to learn the basics of a system’s free safety than it is to just play outside cornerback, primarily in man coverage, which fits his skillset.
Witherspoon is their nickel defender. James Pierre has virtually no meaningful experience, no matter how much his teammates might like what he’s done in practice.
The Steelers have a precedent of trading for depth in the secondary without those players making much of an impact, period, let alone right away. Brandon Boykin was acquired for a fifth-round pick, but he played about 40 snaps in the team’s first few months before they were forced to play him. Justin Gilbert, acquired for a sixth-round pick a year later, played about 12 snaps in total.
The defense has been working with Cameron Sutton, Pierre, and Arthur Maulet all offseason. Those are the guys that they know, and who they’re going to take into the opener. Witherspoon might dress, but they’re not going to throw him out on the field unless they need to—and they don’t. He definitely won’t play in the dime because they have too many outside cornerbacks. Maulet would be the dime just because he can play inside.