One of the many reasons that the Pittsburgh Steelers prefer to build their roster through the draft is because you don’t know what a player is like when you bring him in from another NFL organization—especially if he isn’t someone whom you heavily scouted coming out of college.
We can see this in the Steelers’ spotty track record when it comes to acquiring players via trade, some of whom work out better than others. Sometimes that changes in perception from season to season, or even in-season. The latter was the case for Ahkello Witherspoon, who was picked up just before the regular season started.
A veteran starting cornerback, Witherspoon hardly even dressed until late in the year after the second time Joe Haden was injured. He started to play, and once James Pierre was benched, he became not just the next man up on the outside, but a player they found sub-package roles for. While it took him time to get on the field, however, there was no warm-up period in his craft or in the locker room.
“A guy that prides himself on being knowledgeable and being prepared, a guy, week in, week out for us did a great job of playing really good ball for us”, fellow cornerback Cameron Sutton described him as yesterday. “I know it’s exciting for him just to get somewhere and be stationary and be around a great group of guys”.
“He came in and we welcomed him with open arms, as well as him allowing [himself] to welcome us into his life”, he went on. “He jumped on a moving train and never looked back, never missed a beat. A guy that’s a great friend. Our relationship carries beyond football. Just a guy that really prides himself on his work and his craft, and that helps his game”.
Witherspoon ultimately played 368 snaps in nine games during the 2021 season, which is actually more than he played a year ago, making three starts. He recorded 15 tackles, with one tackle for loss, and intercepted three passes with nine passes defensed, both of which were career highs for him.
With Arthur Maulet unavailable for the postseason game, the Steelers played Witherspoon on the outside against the Kansas City Chiefs, and lined Sutton up in the slot. If Haden returns, that is what the secondary could look like in 2022.
Of course, it also depends greatly on whether or not Witherspoon returns. He was acquired after signing a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks, so he will be a free agent in March. He has expressed interest in coming back, but has also acknowledged, as one would expect, playing the market. After all, his only bite of the apple was last year, when the salary cap plummeted due to revenue losses tied to the pandemic.