Steelers cornerback Akhello Witherspoon continued his impressive last few weeks with another good performance on Monday. He was able to pick up his third interception of the season in the win over the Browns. The pick was crucial, as it took place in the second quarter when the score was still just 7-0. Turnovers certainly help, but Witherspoon’s impact has gone beyond the box score numbers.
Pro Football Focus has a 79.3 overall grade for Witherspoon, which would be top 10 amongst cornerbacks if he had enough snaps under his belt. He’s allowed catches on just over half of the targets thrown his way. Witherspoon’s ascension has been crucial for the Steelers’ secondary, as he didn’t start getting excessive snaps until Week 13. Coach Mike Tomlin discussed just what took so long in getting Witherspoon in-game action.
“He got on a moving train and so there was a learning process that had to occur. He is a savvy, cerebral guy who has a very good above the neck game,” Tomlin said Tuesday via the team’s YouTube page. “He’s not an accomplished special teams player and so often times that’s how a guy earns the right to get a helmet. Then the defensive opportunities are born out of their availability. He really had to wait until a core defender was unavailable before we had an opportunity to work him in to the fold.”
Witherspoon is now seeing a significant amount of snaps on the defense opposite of Joe Haden. Haden’s absence just over a month ago opened up the door for Witherspoon’s playing time.
“I think Joe Haden missing a block of games was the thing that really gave him an opportunity to display and show his value. He took off from there and obviously we have video evidence of what he’s capable of. He’s no longer battling for the helmet week in and week out, a battle that he was losing repeatedly because some other guys are more accomplished in the special teams area.”
Witherspoon is a free agent after the season and has proved his worth the past few weeks. The Steelers are likely (should) to be interested in bringing him back.
At this point, he’s worth a few million per season with his uptick in play. Regardless, it’s been a refreshing sight to see at the cornerback position in this last month of play.