2022 Pre-Draft Movements – Cornerback

We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Steelers did not have as many starters as last year hit free agency, but as of yet, they have only re-signed one of note, Chukwuma Okorafor. JuJu Smith-Schuster has already signed elsewhere, but others such as Trai Turner, Joe Haden, and Terrell Edmunds remain unsigned.

They were substantially active in free agency, however, re-signing Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet, Miles Killebrew, Montravius Adams, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and J.C. Hassenauer. They also signed linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole in outside free agency, as well as quarterback Mitch Trubisky, cornerback Levi Wallace, wide receiver/returner Gunner Olszewski, linebacker Myles Jack, and outside linebacker Genard Avery.

The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Joe Schobert and tackle Zach Banner. As of now, they have not restructured any contracts, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is likely.

Position: Cornerback

Total Positional Figure: 8

Offseason Additions: 1

Offseason Deletions: 1

Players Retained:

Cameron Sutton: Now the Steelers’ number one cornerback, ostensibly, Sutton is coming off of his first season as a full-time starter, playing primarily on the outside. With Witherspoon and Wallace in the picture, however, he may see a significant amount of time—upwards of 60-70 percent of his snaps—in the slot.

Ahkello Witherspoon: One of two significant free agents the Steelers had at cornerback this offseason, Witherspoon was the one that they chose to re-sign. He was inactive for most of the season, but once he got an opportunity to play late in the year, he played well in coverage, highlighted by three interceptions, a career-high.

Arthur Maulet: Maulet was the third free agent at cornerback for Pittsburgh, and, in my opinion, an underrated re-signing. He provides depth at slot cornerback, which was very much needed, given that Witherspoon, Wallace, Pierre, and Layne are all outside-locked.

James Pierre: Now going into year three, Pierre had a setback last year when he got a chance to be a spot starter. While he made some plays, he also gave up several, and it certainly appeared to be getting to his confidence. His play suffered for it even further, leading to him being benched on defense for the remainder of the season, looking for a reset this year.

Justin Layne: A 2019 third-round draft pick, Layne has been quite a disappointment in his lack of development at the cornerback position as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract. While he has done alright on special teams, that’s not why they drafted him. They did take him knowing he would need time to develop, but this is his do-or-die year.

Isaiah Johnson: Johnson was drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round a few years ago, logging 19 games with the team. He hardly surfaced anywhere in 2021, however, spending a brief period on Dallas’ practice squad. The Steelers signed him to their own practice squad in December—then cut him again before signing him to a Reserve/Future deal on January 19.

Linden Stephens: A former undrafted free agent and a bit of a journeyman, Stephens has logged 19 games in his career, primarily as a special-teamer. He was first signed to the practice squad in mid-October and was retained on a Reserve/Future deal after the season ended.

Players Added:

Levi Wallace: It was a minor surprise when the Steelers not only retained one of their two major free agents at the position, but also brought in another from the outside. Wallace is a four-year starter from Buffalo who figures to be at at least a comparable level to Sutton and Witherspoon, giving them a pretty even top three at the position.

Players Deleted:

Joe Haden: At least for now. Haden remains unsigned, and frankly, the longer the remains true, the more likely is the possibility that he ultimately finds his way back here. However, I do not expect that to happen; he will probably find somewhere soon after the draft in the second major wave of free agency, if not during training camp.

Notes And Draft Outlook:

Despite the retention of Witherspoon and the addition of Wallace, the cornerback position remains one that could be very high on the Steelers’ draft board—the fact of this being a solid class doesn’t hurt, either.

Nobody on the roster here is signed to a contract beyond the 2023 season, and, in fact, Sutton will be a free agent next year, so this is not exactly a settled area. Witherspoon is not a sure thing, either, a player who has struggled to hold down a regular starting job in the past.

It would not be a shock if the Steelers addressed the cornerback position as early as the first round, though personally, I think rounds three and four would be more likely. At this point, though, I am expecting that they will draft one.

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