Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 season and into the offseason 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: While it took him some time to get the right opportunity in the Steelers’ defense, once Witherspoon did get on the field and began to receive regular playing time, he played some of the best football of his career.
Taking a wide-angle view of Ahkello Witherspoon’s 2021 season, I don’t think it would really be fair to say ‘stock up’, when you consider the fact that he originally signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks, who then traded him to a team that had him inactive for half of the season. I don’t think he put himself in a better position now than he was a year ago by being unable to crack the starting lineup and spending most of the year on the bench.
But because of the way that he stuck through that transition and play well when he did finally get his opportunity, I’m calling this stock up. The fact that it’s a ‘what have you done for me lately’ business and Witherspoon’s latest tape is better than any other defensive backs on the team (short of Minkah Fitzpatrick perhaps) doesn’t hurt his case, either.
In fact, as I intimated this morning, I might even prioritize Witherspoon as the free agent that I would be most intent on re-signing this offseason. Once he got on the field, he looked comfortable in coverage, and Joe Haden can’t realistically be expected to play at a high level for much longer.
Plus it’s hard not to like a 6’2” cornerback who can cover, and the fact of the matter is that he came down with three interceptions last season. That is the outlier in his career up to this point, but they still happened, and he also had a career-high nine passes defensed, despite only playing in nine games.
Is he a classic Steelers corner who’s always going to blow up the pulling guard on a run to the perimeter? No, probably not. But at least going by what he showed in the second half of the 2021 season, he certainly looked like he could get the job done in coverage, and I would even like to look at a multi-year contract with him.