The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t make it too much of a competition this year at punter for second-year Pressley Harvin III, the man that they drafted in the seventh round a year ago. At least that’s what outside appearances suggested. More intuitively, he simply performed to a level of satisfaction throughout the spring and summer that the front office did not feel the need to bring in stiffer competition than Cameron Nizialek.
Would the story have been different if the Denver Broncos had not claimed Corliss Waitman off waivers in mid-January when the Steelers opened up a roster spot for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to return from the Reserve/Injured List in time for the postseason?
The fact that he won the punting job and ousted veteran Sam Martin at least lends credence to the theory. Waitman was a college free agent in 2020, spending that season on the Steelers’ practice squad. He was waived in May 2021 after the team drafted Harvin, but he circled back when they needed a leg while Harvin was away in order to tend to his family after his father passed away. They plucked Waitman from the New England Patriots’ practice squad, and he done an admirable enough job to attract the sort of attention that got him claimed. And now he’s a starter, one of two African-American punters in the National Football League.
“There’s not a lot of African-American specialists, but Corliss is a really, really profound punter, too”, he recently told Brian Batko about his former teammate for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s found his way. It’s crazy how paths collide, and then, next thing you know, they both go merging in the same direction. It’s good for him to be there. I’m excited, man, for sure”.
Of course, the actual amount of time during which Harvin and Waitman overlapped was very slim. Harvin was drafted on May 1, and Waitman was waived on the 3rd. Did they even meet during that time? Then he was with the Las Vegas Raiders and finally the Patriots when the Steelers signed him on December 25.
Harvin was on bereavement leave at the time and was gone for several days, I believe for under a week, returning perhaps around January 1. Waitman was waived on January 15, so the two had about two weeks or so to get to know one another.
Waitman graded largely favorably during the preseason, posting a 40-yard net average, which certainly isn’t bad under preseason circumstances, and a 43.3-yard gross. His average hangtime was 4.65 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus, and he landed three of his six punts inside the 20 with no returns allowed, though he did have one touchback, which still had a 43-yard net on a 63-yard punt.
As for Harvin, he posted a 43.5-yard net average in two games with a 45.9-yard gross and an average hangtime of 4.5 seconds, landing three of his eight punts inside the 20. Six were returned, but for only 19 total yards.