While we were all taking a nap or sitting on our phones on Day Three of the 2023 NFL Draft between Pittsburgh’s fourth- and seventh-round picks, GM Omar Khan and the front office stayed busy by addressing yet another need on this roster. Having missed out on the top slot corner options in this year’s draft, the Steelers signed former Vikings CB Chandon Sullivan, per Ian Rapoport.
With just Arthur Maulet the real only option Pittsburgh had in the slot, the team needed someone to at least push him for snaps given the fact that Maulet isn’t the best coverage defender. The Steelers managed to fill that need by signing a guy like Sullivan, who projects to not only challenge Maulet for snaps but probably win the starting nickel job outright. Why is this the case? Let’s dive into the tape.
Chandon Sullivan has the size and frame you look for in a slot cornerback. He possesses better size than Maulet, standing 5’11, 194lb with good length as well, having 32 3/8” arms. He uses that length well to contest passes near the LOS as his instincts in off coverage will take him to the ball. Watch this rep against the Bills as an example. Sullivan drops into coverage and reads the QB’s eyes. He breaks on the ball to knock down the pass in the flat.
He uses his length well to reach into receivers’ framework and contest passes, attempting to get his hand in-between there’s to interfere at the catch point. Here’s a good example of this against the Jets last season. Sullivan breaks on the ball underneath and reaches in to deflect the pass for the incompletion.
What sticks out about Sullivan when watching his tape is just how versatile he is as a coverage defender. While he led all CBs in slot coverage snaps last season, Sullivan also has plenty of tape playing out of the slot and more on the back end like a safety. Here is a clip of Sullivan playing off the ball. He reacts to break downhill when he sees the receiver breaking into his route, being in position to break up the pass.
Sullivan has also shown he can get up close and personal with pass catchers at the LOS and run with them in tight man coverage. Take a look at this play Sullivan makes back when he was with the Packers in 2021. Staying step for step with the receiver in the slot. he is in perfect position to reach his hands across the intended target’s body for the PBU.
Sullivan has five interceptions, 23 passes defensed and 169 total tackles in 71 career NFL games. While he didn’t have any INTs with Minnesota last season, he is just one year removed from having three picks with Green Bay. When you evaluate his ball production with the Packers, you have a quality INT on this play. Sullivan aligns in the slot and carries the receiver vertically up the sideline, blocking off the pass catcher picking off the underthrow in the end zone.
Sullivan’s other two INTs were of lesser quality and more of the “right place, right time” variety. Watch Sullivan play in off coverage in both of these plays. Taking advantage of the overthrow by the QB, his eyes take him to the football and he makes the INT.
Sullivan isn’t afraid to get down and dirty as a run defender. He will come downhill on slot corner blitzes as well as hold his own on the outside, attempting to keep runners from getting to the boundary. Watch this tackle Sullivan makes against the Lions last season. Coming free off the edge, he wraps up the runner right at the LOS for no gain.
Sullivan needs to do a better job of finishing as a tackler as he can fail to wrap up at times. Here is a perfect example against the Jets. Sullivan runs into WR Garrett Wilson, giving him a body shot with his shoulder but failing to wrap up. Wilson sustains the contact and continues to run after the catch for a big gain.
In man coverage, Sullivan isn’t the most fluid athlete when it comes to working in a backpedal and fluidly transitioning by flipping his hips. Watch this rep against Darnell Mooney last season. Sullivan plays high at the snap and gets turned around by Mooney, who stacks him vertically from the slot, creating separation. Sullivan attempts to recover, but Mooney makes a fantastic catch over him to take Chicago into the red zone.
Chandon Sullivan isn’t your short, quick slot cornerback, but he has represented himself well there the last couple of seasons. He brings experience, length, and tenacity to the table as a feisty defender who does his best to be in position to contest passes as well as make a difference in the running game. He needs to be more consistent as a tackler, but he represents an immediate upgrade over Arthur Maulet as a coverage defender.
I foresee Sullivan going into camp competing with Maulet for the nickel corner job and coming out at worst the team’s primary passing downs nickel defender. Should he show consistency through camp and the preseason, Sullivan could very well be this team’s primary slot corner in 2023.