2023 Steelers Futures Report – DB Scott Nelson

As we’ve done in previous years, we’re taking a look at those Pittsburgh Steelers under futures contracts for the 2023 offseason. The ones who spent most if not the entire year on the practice squad and what we can expect from them during training camp (hopefully) into the regular season.

Scott Nelson/DB Wisconsin – 6020, 203

The Steelers certainly don’t forget about the guys they liked coming out of the draft. The former first round pick who finally hits free agency and ends up in Pittsburgh. The mid-round guy who does the same. And in the case of Scott Nelson, an undrafted free agent Pittsburgh looked at in the pre-draft process but didn’t ultimately roster heading into the summer.

In a world of great offensive athletes, fully on display in last night’s Super Bowl, you need equally big and athletic defensive backs. Nelson fits the bill. Built well at 6’2, 203 pounds, he was snubbed from a 2022 NFL Combine invite but tore it up at his Badgers’ Pro Day. He ran a 4.49 40, jumped 39.5 inches in the vert, a 10’6″ in the broad, and registered a 6.80 three cone. Put it together and it turns into a remarkable 9.7 Relative Athletic Score, an elite number.

Nelson didn’t have tremendous college production but he wasn’t a little-known backup either. In 2021, he racked up 58 tackles (four for a loss) with a pick-six and six pass breakups. Pittsburgh had their interest pre-draft, holding a Zoom call with him days before the draft kicked off. He was considered a “riser” who had multiple private workouts with teams though the Steelers weren’t one of them (they don’t hold private pre-draft workouts, only visits).

On the surface, it seems like Nelson checks all the boxes. Add in the quality Wisconsin coaching he received from DC Jim Leonard and company, it’s hard to understand why he fell out of the draft. Perhaps medical played a role, he tore his ACL in 2019, and in our pre-draft report, our Tom Mead listed a couple of negative traits. He essentially called him a box safety who didn’t look comfortable in man coverage against receiver or playing the post, single-high safety.

Regardless of rhyme or reason, Nelson went undrafted last year. He initially signed with the Seattle Seahawks and despite a strong preseason and summer, was waived during final cutdowns. Brought back to the practice squad the following day. He bounced on and off throughout the month of September but being released for good on the 28th. Pittsburgh jumped on the chance to bring Nelson onboard and signed him to the Steelers’ practice squad on October 4th to boost depth with a depleted and injured secondary.

But once the group got healthier, they released him on the 18th. Nelson didn’t come back until two days after Christmas after safety Elijah Riley was promoted to the 53-man roster. Nelson remained on the taxi squad the rest of the way and inked his futures deal shortly after Pittsburgh’s season came to a halt.

The Steelers’ secondary faces a level of uncertainty this offseason. CB Cam Sutton and safeties Terrell Edmunds and Damontae Kazee are set to be free agents while CB Ahkello Witherspoon is a potential cap casualty. Of course, Nelson is more of a safety/big slot type so the cornerback room means less to him but the more players who leave, the better the opportunity for Nelson. With size, athleticism, a good showing last summer, and now a hint of NFL experience, he’ll be a player to watch in the summer, assuming he makes it that far.

He’ll have to avoid falling into the trap Donovan Stiner did of a big body, competent tackling, but not offering much beyond that. Still, he’s a player to note next year if you’re thinking about a deep sleeper that could try to edge out a Milles Killebrew type.

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