Like father, like son. And Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is hoping to become a Pittsburgh Steeler just like his dad.
Porter is one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s class and at the 2023 NFL Combine, looking to separate himself and become the first corner taken. But if he isn’t, falling to #17 and landing with the Pittsburgh Steelers is a solid consolation prize. And while it would mean a lot to him to wear the black and gold, it’s just as important to the entire Porter family.
“I think it would probably mean a lot for me and my family,” Porter Jr. said during his Combine interview Thursday. “I’ve been in the Pittsburgh area for a little bit now, so staying at home would mean a lot.”
He grew up in Pittsburgh, watching his dad dominant as an NFL outside linebacker before transitioning into coaching, a role he held with the Steelers from 2014 to 2018. A three-star recruit, he stayed in Pennsylvania and committed to Penn State. There, he turned into one of college football’s top corners, routinely shutting down opposing wideouts and though he didn’t make a ton of splash plays, just one career interception, he was one of the Big Ten’s top players.
Now, he’s embarking on the same path as he dad. It comes with its own unique pressure, trying to make it to the NFL is straining enough, and Porter St. is setting a high bar for his son.
“My dad’s been there [in the NFL] before, he’s done it. I want to do the same thing and just be better. That’s the main thing he always told me, he wants me to be better than him. That’s what I’m gonna strive to do and that’s why I’m here.”
Porter Sr. was a four-time Pro Bowler, one-time All-Pro, who won a Super Bowl. So if his son can surpass those accolades, whoever drafts him will come away awfully happy.
One critique of Porter Jr.’s game has been penalties. In college, he used his elite length and good size to his advantage, getting hands on receivers and slowing down the timing of their routes. But that came with a cost and he was among the most highly penalized players in college football throughout his career. It’s an area he focused on in 2022.
“Last year I was a little bit more handsy and that was the main reason I had like ten or twelve penalties. This year I took that down to three or two. I feel like that was a big jump and change and it’s in my coverage. That’s really just trusting myself and my abilities.”
Of course, there’s also the elephant in the room. Just that lone interception. Cornerbacks get paid for picks and that’ll be one knock against him, especially when compared to peers like Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez (four interceptions in 2022) and Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon (five career interceptions).
“I feel like I left some money out there on the field this year and definitely going to work on that so I can make more plays.”
Under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and secondary coach Grady Brown, the Steelers have reemphasized turnovers in recent years, focusing on turnover circuit drills in training camp. Last year, their defense picked off 20 passes, tied for the league-high, and they’ve been among the NFL’s turnover leaders since 2019.
No team likes bloodlines as much as the Steelers do. Cam Heyward, Terrell Edmunds, Devin Bush, all had fathers play in the NFL. The boxes are easier to connect with Porter Jr. than any other player in this year’s draft. The reality is it might only be a question of if he can make it to #17, not whether or not Pittsburgh will pick him. If he’s there, it could be the second year in a row the Steelers do some home cooking in the first round.