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Steelers Analysis

What are the Steelers Getting in Donte Jackson?

What the Pittsburgh Steelers acquiring in Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson in the Diontae Johnson trade?



Pittsburgh Steelers Donte Jackson
Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson (26) stands on the field during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a huge move in signing Patrick Queen, but they followed it up with another significant shakeup by moving Diontae Johnson. Johnson being traded was not surprising, as this was clearly on the horizon and something that seemed inevitable. He was not going to re-sign with the Steelers, and the tension between the two sides reached a point where it became beneficial to move on.

However, in this trade, they acquired a player in a rare player-for-player (including minor pick swaps) deal. So, what is Pittsburgh getting in this deal with Jackson coming back on the other end? Well, for one, they are getting someone experienced and who has played a lot of football. Jackson has over 70 career starts, but has dealt with some significant injuries, such as tearing his Achilles in 2022.

This past season, Jackson allowed 45 receptions for 588 yards on 57 targets last season. In addition, he allowed three touchdowns. While he has 14 career interceptions, that has not been his forte recently, especially in a secondary for the Steelers that emphasizes those ball skills. In the last two seasons, he has two interceptions. It should be noted that Jackson often gets his hands on the ball, but does not always catch it. He had three dropped interceptions a year ago.

But Jackson can fly. Even post-Achilles injury, Jackson’s 4.32 speed still shines. That makes sense for a group that needed speed on the outside. That speed means he can work on an island in man coverage, which fits what the Steelers want to do with Joey Porter Jr. on the outside.

According to Sports Info Solutions, Jackson allowed a 101.4 passer rating and 8.1 yards per attempt when targeted. Those are not great numbers. He only played in man coverage 33% of the time last season, so that could hike up significantly and be where room for upside in the move is found.

It’s not hard to see why the Steelers like Jackson with his speed. But he’s also a willing tackler who gets his nose in the run game. So, that is something to look, though he had a missed tackle percentage of nearly 15 percent, meaning that willingness always turned into positivity. But he has good play recognition instincts and can make plays in that facet of the game. His willingness to be physical is something the team likely buys into.

Lastly, Jackson is always exclusively an outside cornerback. While he has experience in the slot from his days at LSU, Jackson has been an outside cornerback his entire career in Carolina. That would signal he would stay there with the Steelers. But he is 5-foot-10 and has the body type to fit into the slot. Given their experimentation with Patrick Peterson a year ago, Jackson feels like someone they could potentially try to turn into a slot cornerback hybrid. It can not be ruled out.

Overall, the Steelers are getting an upgrade at the second cornerback spot, even over the players they do not have on the roster anymore, such as Levi Wallace and Peterson. The cap hit is quite hefty, and if they either got Carolina to take on money or can mitigate the hit, that would be ideal. But he should be someone that can provide some security in the secondary, but should by no means rule out significant upgrades in the room.