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2023 NFL Draft

Junkyard Dogs: What CB Prospects Fit the Steelers Mold?



Steelers draft Illinois Devon Witherspoon

The Steelers will need a cornerback this year. No matter what they do in free agency, or if Cam Sutton comes back or not, expect Pittsburgh to look hard at the cornerback market in the draft. However, not everyone is invited to join the team because secondary coach Grady Brown has a specific type of cornerback that he is looking to add to the roster this offseason.

What is that trait Pittsburgh wants in their cornerback? Physicality and tackling ability. It is not the first thing that comes to mind but the Steelers play in the AFC North, and that is not just any normal division. With star running backs abound, Brown and the defense have to make sure their cornerbacks are ready to get dirty.

“In our division, you have to tackle,” Brown said. “Cleveland is going to make you tackle. Baltimore is going to make you tackle. You’ve got to tackle Mixon. You’ve got to tackle all of those guys. It’s not just a cover situation in our defense, in our division. You have to be tough enough to be a willing tackler. If you put on film that you won’t tackle, it’s going to be hard for me to play you.”

So, just who are some of those names that could actually fit that bill. Well, there are plenty, but here are just a few.

Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

If you know anything about Devon Witherspoon, physicality might just be his middle name. Seriously, there are few cornerbacks I have watched coming out of college that are as willing to lay the boom and get involved in the run game as Witherspoon. In fact, he relishes in it.

His physicality translate to when he is in man coverage. Witherspoon has a knack for knocking off his opponents at the line of scrimmage and making them feel uncomfortable. To me, Witherspoon might be the best all-around cornerback in the class, and the Steelers should like him a lot if they are looking for physicality. The AFC North requires some heat in the kitchen, and Witherspoon cranks it up to the maximum temperature.

Riley Moss, Iowa

This is a guy who just stood out physicality wise at the Senior Bowl when the pads started popping a bit. Riley Moss played the Cash position at Iowa, a pseudo-Sam linebacker that works in the slot. It is very similar to how Mike Hilton was used in Pittsburgh.

He has a willingness to get dirty and by calling him a linebacker, his eyes almost light up at the remark. Moss is a box defender and slot cornerback in the NFL, so that’ll be different. But the Steelers will like the traits he brings as a physical player.

Joey Porter Jr, Penn State

Yes, the the most mocked player to Pittsburgh this offseason easily checks this box. As the son of Joey Porter, you would expect his son to follow in his footsteps, and while he is not a linebacker, he carries a mentality and physicality that would represent his NFL bloodline well. Porter has incredible length and flashes in in the run and screen game. Oftentimes, he can come screaming off the edge on blitzes and stand up tight ends.

Porter Jr. has a certain sauce in his physicality that Brown will like on his tape. It too translates to his man coverage ability. Honestly, this is something that I think Porter can hang his hat on as a potential elite trait. Overall, Brown’s comments only strengthen those ties between Pittsburgh and Porter.

Cam Smith, South Carolina

If you have ever heard the term ‘junkyard dog’ used to describe a player, Cam Smith would probably have his picture right next to it. He is a scrappy, ferocious player who brings that intensity both to the run game and his press man coverage ability. Smith does have some inconsistencies as a tackler that could make Pittsburgh a little tentative here, especially since he can nip at ankles unintentionally at times.

But when it comes down to it, his mentality and willingness to be physical is up there with the best in the class. Really, expect Smith to be right on Pittsburgh’s radar if they are weighing physicality so highly.

Tyrique Stevenson, Miami

This might be my favorite fit for the Steelers out of this group. Something about Tyrique Stevenson just screams ‘AFC North cornerback’. I am not sure if it is his great physical gifts or more about the physicality he plays with, but the mentality Stevenson carries with him is downright infectious to the rest of the team. He does not take business decisions, but instead hits the run game head on.

This showcased itself in Mobile a lot at the Senior Bowl. It translates into his man coverage ability, too. Stevenson will tell you himself that George Pickens helped train him for this type of physicality back when he was at Georgia facing Pickens every day. Expect Stevenson to be firmly on Pittsburgh’s radar.

Julius Brents, Kansas State

Brents has a unique frame for the position, sporting a 6-foot-3 frame with 33 5/8 inch arms, Brents has the frame of a linebacker with everything but the weight to be one. With his unique size, Brents is a disruptor at the line of scrimmage in both the press man coverage aspect of his game and of course, in the run game. The cool thing about Brents is that his size does not impede his fluidity.

I think that a lot of teams will have questions about his long speed, but he proved most of those doubters wrong in Mobile. The Steelers should be among the teams that were extremely pleased with the performance of Brents throughout the week there.

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