With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Ahkello Witherspoon will emerge as the Steelers’ number one cornerback.
Explanation: With Joe Haden now gone, and Cameron Sutton remaining from last season, Ahkello Witherspoon joins 2022 free-agent addition Levi Wallace in the Steelers’ top three cornerback trio. Witherspoon, acquired via trade shortly before the 2021 regular season began, came on strong late in the season and played arguably the best football of his career.
Sometimes you just don’t know what turns a player around. Witherspoon was demoted as a starter in his final season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2020. He signed a modest contract with the Seattle Seahawks last year, and then they traded him before the season began to a team that would have likely kept him on the bench all year if not for injuries and James Pierre struggling.
Maybe all of that helped to motivate him to put his best foot forward. Maybe the Steelers’ scheme just fits him better. He did talk about getting to spend more time in man coverage, which he prefers. He is certainly the most physically gifted of the group, and he showed ball skills last year as well. With a full offseason, now in a place where he’s comfortable, he could really blossom.
The Steelers are just not going to have a number one cornerback this year. I’ve been saying it all along, but they basically have three number twos in the trio of Sutton, Witherspoon, and Wallace. And that’s fine, as long as you’ve got all the proper surrounding pieces, which they may have.
But Witherspoon isn’t the ‘number one cornerback’ type. He’s not a complete, well-rounded player. He can have stretches where he plays well in coverage, as he did late last season, but there’s nothing in his background indicating a sustainable pattern of that type of play—nor in the background of Sutton or Wallace. They’ll be looking for a top-flight cornerback in 2023.