The Pittsburgh Steelers continued the dramatic revamping of their cornerback room on Wednesday with the release of veteran cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
Witherspoon’s departure means that three-quarters of the team’s starting secondary from the beginning of the 2022 season has moved on, joining Terrell Edmunds and Cameron Sutton, who both left in free agency. The Steelers also recently released top slot cornerback Art Maulet.
The Steelers have been active in adding, and not just subtracting. Since the end of the 2022 season, the club has added four players that figure to play roles in 2023: free agent outside cornerback Patrick Peterson, strong safety Keanu Neal, and slot cornerback Chandon Sullivan, second-round outside cornerback Joey Porter Jr., and seventh-round outside cornerback Cory Trice.
Most of that change has come at cornerback, so what does the Steelers’ 2023 cornerback depth chart look like and how does it compare to the end of the 2022 season?
2022 STEELERS CB DEPTH CHART
Outside cornerback: Cameron Sutton, Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon (inj.), William Jackson III (inj.), James Pierre, Mark Gilbert (PS), Carlins Platel (inj).
Slot cornerback: Cameron Sutton, Arthur Maulet, Tre Norwood, Duke Dawson (PS).
2023 STEELERS CB DEPTH CHART
Outside cornerback: Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Joey Porter Jr., James Pierre, Cory Trice, Luq Barcoo, Madre Harper, Chris Wilcox
Slot cornerback: Chandon Sullivan, Tre Norwood, Duke Dawson
The Steelers have certainly gotten better and deeper at outside cornerback, where Patrick Peterson was one of the best players in the NFL in 2022 and Porter was a draft prospect that most considered to have a first-round grade that the Steelers got in the early second.
Those two, combined with incumbent Levi Wallace, should occupy most of the snaps there for the Steelers in 2023, with James Pierre as a trusted backup and special teamer and Cory Trice as a developmental prospect that could earn playing time.
The slot seems more questionable. Sutton got most of the pass-down playing time there last season, with Maulet working in primarily a run-support role. Sullivan’s time in Minnesota could be a something of a comparison for Maulet. In 944 snaps in 2022, he played 298 against the run and 646 against the pass, according to Pro Football Focus.
What the Steelers don’t have is a perfect replacement for Sutton’s slot role. Sullivan allowed a 108.5 passer rating against in coverage last year, playing almost exclusively in the slot. That was worse than Maulet (105.8) and far worse than Sutton (69.6).
The Steelers could try to move Peterson into the slot. He said he was willing to do that during his introductory press conference. Cory Trice has played safety in the past and could add some positional versatility. Head coach Mike Tomlin recently said he felt good about the team’s internal options in the slot.
“We’re comfortable with the collective that we have in that space,” Tomlin said.
Of course, he also used that very word about his offensive line before trading up to get Broderick Jones, too. So stay tuned.