Now that the regular season has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Witherspoon made his first start as a Steeler on Sunday after having spent most of the season as a healthy scratch, and most likely is in line to start once again for tonight’s game.
The Steelers made the decision just before the regular season began to shore up their cornerback depth by acquiring fifth-year veteran Ahkello Witherspoon via trade, in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. He was inactive week one, but dressed the following week, playing four snaps and contributing to a long touchdown allowed.
And then he spent the next eight games as a healthy scratch until starting cornerback Joe Haden suffered a foot injury, which will keep him out for a fourth consecutive game tonight. James Pierre had won the top backup cornerback job, and started the previous two games, but after a series of struggles and inconsistent play, he was benched at the end of the Cincinnati Bengals game. He dressed and played on special teams on Sunday, but did not see a single snap on defense.
It was Witherspoon who started instead, and while the Steelers’ pass rush helped to keep the Baltimore Ravens’ passing game from pushing the ball very much, he did come up with one key deep pass defensed against Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews on a third-down play late in the fourth quarter in a very close game.
A 2017 third-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers out of Colorado, Witherspoon had 33 starts under his belt before he ever even arrived in Pittsburgh, though he had some up-and-down play during his time out west, and himself was demoted a year ago.
He signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent, but by the end of training camp and the preseason, they were obviously willing to deal him. He has another opportunity tonight to prove to both the 49ers and the Seahawks that they made a mistake (presumably, anyway; it hasn’t been said definitively that he and not Pierre would start).