Steelers’ Potential Slot Corner Upgrades In Free Agency And Draft

As we inch closer to the 2023 NFL Draft, an underrated position of need for the Pittsburgh Steelers is the slot corner. In 2022, the team had Cameron Sutton and Arthur Maulet split the workload, with Sutton playing 213 slot snaps and Maulet playing 472. With Sutton gone, Maulet is currently the projected starter at the position. 

For context on Maulet’s play, he allowed a 119.1 passer rating in slot coverage according to Pro Football Focus’ premium stats, the fourth highest mark in the league. As such, with free agent-signee Patrick Peterson and second-year Steeler Levi Wallace likely to start on the outside, the team must upgrade the slot corner position through free agency or the draft. Building off Alex Kozora’s article on the subject, this article will delve into potential targets in both free agency and the draft for the Steelers, presenting their slot coverage data from PFF’s premium stats. 

The two feasible free agent corners for the team to target are Troy Hill and Chandon Sullivan. An undrafted free agent in 2015, Hill was most recently playing for the Los Angeles Rams, where he had four interceptions in 2022. Meanwhile, Sullivan was an undrafted free agent in 2018, and played three seasons with the Green Bay Packers before signing with the Minnesota Vikings for the 2022 season. Below are their PFF stats in slot coverage during the 2022 season.

Name Coverage Snaps Targets Rec Allowed Yds Allowed  YAC TDs Allowed  INTs Passer Rating  Yds per Coverage Snap
Chandon Sullivan 570 85 68 796 476 1 0 109.6 1.40 (T-34th)
Troy Hill 134 21 13 107 72 2 1 86.8 0.80 (T-6th)

Sullivan, for context, played the most slot snaps in the league in 2022 with his 570, also allowing the most yards in slot coverage. Sullivan is a career slot corner with ample experience and is only 26 years old. At the right price, he is an intriguing free agent prospect for the Steelers. On the other hand, Hill had impressive coverage metrics with a smaller sample size, allowing the sixth fewest yards per coverage snap and an 86.8 passer rating, both of which are better marks than Maulet. While Hill is 31 years old, the team’s new general manager Omar Khan already showed his willingness to sign veteran corner by signing a 32-year-old Peterson. As such, Hill is also an intriguing upgrade for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The second table showcases the PFF slot coverage stats of potential early-to-mid round slot corner/safety targets for the Steelers in Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark, Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson, Utah’s Clark Phillips III, and TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson. Be sure to click on the hyperlink to check out the site’s draft profile for each one.

Name Coverage Snaps Targets Receptions Allowed Yds Allowed YAC TDs Allowed INTs Passer Rating Allowed Yds per Coverage Snap
Kei’Trel Clark 150 31 20 217 80 1 0 95.8 1.45 (74th)
Antonio Johnson 139 22 15 106 84 1 0 94.1 0.76 (40th)
Clark Phillips III 113 27 19 188 162 2 3 74.8 1.66 (164th)
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson 14 2 0 0 0 0 0 36.6 0 (N/A)

Right off the bat, it’s important to note that while Hodges-Tomlinson did not play a significant number of snaps in slot coverage, he will more than likely move inside in the league considering his size at 5’7”. Despite his size and lack of slot snaps, the Thorpe award winner has the ideal skillset for an NFL slot corner, as he is a physical defensive back that played inside the box and is not afraid of contact. He has similar measurables to former Steelers’ corner Mike Hilton, and could develop to fulfill a similar role in due time.

On the other hand, Johnson is an intriguing prospect for the team to target considering the recent departure of Terrell Edmunds. At 6’3”, Johnson is a more-than-capable slot defender, and he allowed the least yards per slot coverage snap on the list above. However, he may struggle against shifty slot receivers at the next level, and may not be a reliable pick as the team’s primary slot defender (at least initially).

As for Clark, he earned an All-ACC selection as a slot corner in 2022, and has the prototypical measurables and athleticism for the position. He had the most slot coverage snaps among the four players above, allowing 20 receptions on 31 targets and a 95.8 passer rating. Clark is also a willing run-defender, which is an ideal trait for a transition to a full-time slot corner in the pros. A high-IQ player, he may just wind up in the black and gold next season as an every-down nickel defender.

Finally, Phillips also presents the Steelers with an answer to their need at the slot corner position since the departure of Hilton. Phillips was a First Team All-PAC 12 defender in 2022, and started 31 games for Utah in his career. He had a breakout season in 2022 with six interceptions, three of which came in slot coverage. Much like Clark, he has the ideal measurables to be a full-time slot corner in the NFL, and would be a reasonable pick for the team to address the position of need.

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