Connect with us

Steelers Analysis

Seven Steelers Options to Man Slot Cornerback with Cam Sutton Suspended

The Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of options to cover the eight week suspension for slot cornerback Cam Sutton.

Published

on

Pittsburgh Steelers CB Josiah Scott
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Josiah Scott during OTAs on June 6, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers will need to cover eight weeks of slot cornerback play, with the NFL’s announcement on Monday that slot cornerback Cam Sutton will be suspended for that long to start the 2024 season.

So what will the team do while Sutton watches from the press box for the first half of the season? The Steelers have several in-house options that the club will certainly try out during training camp, and there are some external additions that could be useful, as well.

Let’s check it out:

PLAY THREE SAFETIES

Even when Cam Sutton returns, expect the Steelers to heavily utilize their three-safety Heavy Nickel package. DeShon Elliott gives the team a legitimate big slot presence, especially for run downs and against flexed-out tight ends. Too often last year, when the Steelers asked their safeties to do more in coverage, it was taking Minkah Fitzpatrick out of his top playmaking areas.

This year, they want Fitzpatrick to get back to playing “Minkah ball,” and not tying him to a specific role. Elliott’s play in the box lets Damontae Kazee come in as the third safety in a centerfield or half field role, and can force the offense to guess what Fitzpatrick might be doing.

Remember that during his first run in Pittsburgh, Sutton was only the Nickel cornerback in obvious passing downs, with Mike Hilton getting most of the early down play. Sutton isn’t the kind of tackler the Steelers like to have in that role, especially when facing run-heavy teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers FS DeShon Elliott

Deshon Elliott speaks at a press conference about his contract signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Friday, March 15, 2024 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Abigail Dean / Pittsburgh Steelers)

HAVE JOSIAH SCOTT HOLD DOWN THE FORT

The Steelers signed Josiah Scott to their practice squad after the Philadelphia Eagles cut him last August. Then the Eagles signed Scott back to their active roster. Then this spring, the Steelers signed him back.

Other than Scott intimately familiarizing himself with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, what that process should tell you is that this is someone that people think can play. Scott was a fourth-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020. He was traded to the Eagles for a pick and a player a year later.

Scott didn’t play a ton for the Jags or the Eagles, exceeding 100 defensive snaps just once in his four seasons in the NFL. That season, in 2022, didn’t necessarily go all that great. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted 40 times, allowing 32 receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns. While he did have two interceptions, his passer rating against was calculated to be a whopping 121.6.

Scott is slight even for a position where size doesn’t usually matter that much, checking in at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, and he certainly doesn’t bring a Mike Hilton level of run stopping or pass rushing to the position.

Still, he’s a veteran with experience that understands the job, and that has to count for something.

Pittsburgh Steelers CB Beanie Bishop

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Beanie Bishop during rookie minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on May 10, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

GO WITH A YOUTH MOVEMENT

Beanie Bishop out of West Virginia is probably the Steelers’ most-heralded undrafted free agent from this year’s class and it’s easy to see why. Bishop led the nation in pass breakups as a redshirt senior with the Mountaineers last fall. He’s slightly smaller than Scott, and not as fast, but just seems to be a more polished player in coverage, despite his youth.

Bishop was an easy pick as a standout from the spring portion of Steelers practices, taking on every challenge thrown his way during OTAs and minicamp. While that’s just football in shorts, a big part of the job of a cornerback can be done without tackling. Bishop even seemed to be an eager pass rusher in limited reps in that role.

He’ll need to show he can hold up against the run in Latrobe, but expect the rookie from WVU to have some type of role this fall if he can.

SHUFFLE THROUGH THE DISCARD PILE

Unlike Scott, who has played a good number of NFL games, the Steelers have two other retread options that don’t have as much experience.

Thomas Graham was a sixth-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2021, and played 11 games over three seasons between Chicago and Cleveland — a grand total of 149 defensive snaps.

Nate Meadors has been in and out of the league a half-dozen times since joining the Minnesota Vikings as a UDFA in 2019. He’s play just 11 snaps of NFL defense.

But both impressed with the Steelers in OTAs, and certainly deserve a long look through the lens of training camp. At 5-foot-11 and nearly 200 pounds, Meadors is a player that looks like he might do better than the others against the run, so keep a close eye on him at training camp. He has a lot of the same traits as Elijah Riley, who earned a spot on the team last year.

Grayland Arnold wasn’t in OTAs long enough to impress, but he has more experience than Meadors and Graham. He’s also someone worth keeping an eye on.

Pittsburgh Steelers Patrick Peterson

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson runs out of the tunnel for a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 23, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

BRING BACK A FRIEND FROM 2023

Per PFF, Chandon Sullivan was in the slot for the Steelers for 366 snaps last season. Patrick Peterson was in the slot for 225 snaps. Joey Porter Jr. had 49, mostly from his stint early in the year as the Dime cornerback. That’s really all that’s worth mentioning.

If the Steelers really want help filling those reps this year, they could always reach out to Sullivan and Peterson. Both remain free agents at this point, and Peterson has said he’s open to returning to Pittsburgh. He would also add the benefit of being able to provide a veteran presence to a room that’s pretty young right now and be a backup at outside cornerback.

Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agent Target Denver Broncos Safety Justin Simmons

Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons (31) before an NFL football game in Empower Field at Mile High Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Geneva Heffernan)

SPEND SOME REAL MONEY

Slot cornerback has not been a position the Steelers have invested heavily in, but if they want to throw some money at the problem, they have options. Justin Simmons is still out there. He played 144 slot snaps with the Denver Broncos last season. Micah Hyde and Jamal Adams are also still out there in terms of safety types.

At cornerback, the market is even more robust, with Xavien Howard, Adoree’ Jackson, Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson all still available. None of them have been regular slot cornerbacks, but it’s possible they or Donte Jackson could move inside.

WAIT SOMEONE ELSE OUT

The Steelers got their best slot corner in recent memory, Hilton, off the street in December. They traded for Ahkello Witherspoon for him to become an outside starter on the verge of the season in 2021. Just because a player is on another team right now, doesn’t mean they won’t become available between now and the start of the season.

SO WHAT SHOULD STEELERS DO AT SLOT CORNERBACK?

I think the biggest thing here is to reiterate that there’s no reason to panic. The Steelers knew that Sutton was going to be suspended when they signed him. They weren’t planning on him coming available in the first place.

The first plan, to play more safeties and to go into training camp with Scott, Bishop, Graham, Meadors, Arnold etc. And if that doesn’t look like it’s going well, there are plenty of viable options that aren’t currently on a roster.