Steelers Trade Acquisition: CB William Jackson III 2022 Coverage Data

The Pittsburgh Steelers took part in an abnormally busy NFL trade deadline, including a swap late conditional draft picks with the Commanders to acquire cornerback William Jackson III, a move to hopefully aid a Steelers pass defense that’s allowing a ton of yards. Our own Jonathan Heitritter wrote a great film room article, and my goal today is to provide additional data context to his 2022 season in coverage along with Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks as well. Let’s start with coverage snaps and targets for the position to get a gauge of quantity of plays.

Looking at Jackson III to start, he is well below average in opportunities with only four games played this season due to a back injury. According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), he has 121 coverage snaps (96th/112) and 13 targets (fourth least), for a target percentage of 10.7%. No Steeler is above the mean in both data points, but cornerback Cameron Sutton is close. He is the only highlighted player comfortably above average with 257 coverage snaps (34th), missing one game, which highlights the injuries Pittsburgh has had at the position themselves. Sutton is barely below the mean in targets (T-56th) with 25, and quarterbacks targeting him on 9.7% of these plays.

Cornerback Levi Wallace has played in six games and has been targeted the most of the highlighted players (30, 37th) on 171 targets for a target percentage of 17.5% (11th). Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has played in only four games, with 151 coverage snaps and an above the mean 27 targets (T-48th) for a 17.4% target percentage (13th). Cornerback Arthur Maulet is the only Steeler to appear in all eight games so far, and thus second on the team with 179 coverage snaps and only 13 targets for a 7.3% target percentage, which is surprisingly the least on the team. Cornerback James Pierre’s low number of opportunities have come in the last four games and is the final Steeler to qualify, with 84 coverage snaps, 15 targets, for a target percentage of 17.9%, which is the most out of the highlighted players and eight most in the NFL. So Pierre, Wallace, and Witherspoon have the highest target percentages by far, all within the top 15 in the NFL, very important context as we continue to layer more info.

Now let’s begin to examine the quality of play with completion percentage and deserved catch percentage (lower percentages are better), which is the number of completions and drops divided by the number of catchable targets and passes defensed:

Pierre has allowed the lowest completion rate (46.7%) which is 22nd in the NFL, but has a higher 75% deserved catch percentage which ties for 34th with several players. Sutton has the strongest balance of the two, second amongst the highlighted players allowing a 48% catch percentage (T-27th) and tops the highlighted players with a 72.2 deserved catch percentage (T-28th). Wallace is the third Steeler above the mean in both data points, allowing a 50% completion rate (T-32nd) along with a 76.2 deserved completion percentage that ranks 43rd.

The remaining highlighted players are below the mean in both data points, starting with Witherspoon. He has allowed a 66.7% catch rate along with an 86.4 deserved catch percentage. Jackson III and Maulet land nearly identical on the graph, with the former having a 76.9 completion percentage and 90.9% deserved catch rate (T-10th highest), with the latter tying in completion rate but an even higher deserved catch percentage of 91.7, which is ninth most in the league! Very clear “winners and losers” in these terms as we press forward.

This made me wonder what the man versus zone coverage percentages looked like on the season from PFF:

Right away we can see Jackson III’s lowest man% by far in his time with the Commanders this season, at only 26.8 percent along with the highest 54.3 zone rate of this group. This puts a number to his misuse in Washington, with his strengths being in man coverage. Hopefully this is something he can bring to the black and gold and important information to consider as we look at the other data.

Next, let’s look at yards per attempt and coverage snap:

Here’s another area Sutton and Pierre fare well in, with Pierre ranking ninth in the NFL with only four yards per attempt along with 0.7 yards per coverage snap (T-24th). Sutton has a 0.6 yards per coverage snap number (T-20) with the best results on the highest volume, along with 6.6 yards per attempt which ties for 34th.

The remaining players are all below the mean in both data points, with Jackson III near the mean in yards per coverage snap (1.1) but ties for 70th in the league ranks and has allowed 10.3 yards per attempt that ties for 95th in the NFL. Wallace is closer to the mean in yards per attempt (8.3, 64th) and 1.5 yards per coverage snap which is tied for the seventh most. Witherspoon has allowed 9.7 yards per attempt (89th) and has the lowest yards per coverage snap of the highlighted players, at 1.7 which is tied for sixth worst in the NFL. Maulet lands on the far left of the chart, with the second worst yards per attempt number of 16.6! When factoring in his higher coverage snaps, he lands closer to the mean but just below Jackson III.

Another stat that is often used to evaluate coverage players is QBR Against, so let’s see how the players fare here along with Wins Above Replacement (WAR) which is a points above replacement scale conversion that is based on the scoring environment:

Pierre is the only player above league average in both data points. His 57.6 QBR Against ranks 28th, along with a 0.2 WAR result that lands him in a tier just above average through week eight. Wallace is the only other player above the mean in a data point, with his 61.5 ranking two spots behind Pierre at 30th. His 0.0 WAR aligns with Sutton and Jackson III, with the former having a 92.5 QBR Against compared to the latter’s 134.8 that is currently fifth worst in the NFL. Witherspoon and Maulet each have a negative WAR number, with the latter’s tying for the second worst result. Maulet has the slight edge in QBR Against, with a 118.3 compared to Witherspoon’s 122.4 which both land in the bottom 15.

To close, let’s look at boom and bust percentages from SIS to see how players fared against big plays:

  • Boom % = The percentage of dropbacks that resulted in an EPA of 1 or more (a very successful play for the offense)
  • Bust % = The percentage of dropbacks that resulted in an EPA of -1 or less (a very unsuccessful play for the offense)

Here we unfortunately see only one player above the mean in both data points, and giving context to the struggles in the pass game and big plays given up by Pittsburgh overall.

Wallace has provided the best balance of the two, with the best 20% bust rate of the highlighted players, tying for 38th in the league along with a matching boom percentage that ties for 32nd. Pierre has an impressive 6.7% boom rate which ranks fourth best in the NFL, but is near the bottom of the league in bust percentage. Jackson III is slightly above the mean with a 23.1 boom percentage (43rd) along with a 7.7% bust rate that is 10th least.

The remaining players are below the mean in both data points, though Sutton is very close with a 28% boom rate (61st) and a 16% bust percentage (T-60th). Witherspoon has a 33.3% boom result (T-82nd) and an 11.1 bust percentage (T-93rd). Here’s another chart where Maulet lands extremely low, giving context to his well-documented struggles in coverage, with a whopping 46.2% boom rate (fifth worst in the league) and tying for last with two others with a zero percent bust percentage!

When taking all the data into account, Sutton is above the mean in usage, catch percentages, and yardage, at the NFL average in targets, and below (but close to) average in QBR Against, WAR, along with boom and bust percentages. Pierre has fared well in his low amount of opportunities, above the mean in catch percentages, yardage, QBR Against, WAR, and boom percentage, but near the bottom of the league in bust rate. It will be interesting to see what his opportunities look like moving forward, with his strong play warranting more opportunity in my opinion, and if the addition of Jackson III hampers this wish. Wallace has been targeted the most out of highlighted players with below average opportunity, is above the mean in catch percentages, QBR Against, and boom/bust percentages, but is below the mean in yardage allowed and WAR. Witherspoon’s rough season is well documented, and today’s article sheds more light to this with every data aspect being below average other than number of targets. Maulet fits this bill as well, struggling to provide anything as a coverage player and below average or at the bottom of the league in every aspect of today’s study.

Jackson III has been below average in the majority of the data as well, while being put in uncomfortable situations in Washington that did not align to his skillset. One aspect he was above average in was boom %, not allowing a high rate of rate of big plays comparatively to the NFL, which would be highly welcomed to a team that bottoms the league in explosive plays allowed on defense. Considering the film and data, seems to me Pittsburgh will be best suited to utilize Sutton, Pierre, Wallace, and Jackson III in coverage situations coming out of the bye week.

What are your thoughts on the data, and addition of William Jackson III? How do you think/see the usage in the cornerback room playing out the remainder of the season? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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