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Steelers Building a Room Full of ‘Avatar Cornerbacks’



Steelers CB Joey Porter Jr. Cory Trice

The Steelers made a surprising move on Tuesday night by moving on from Desmond King and adding Darius Rush. No matter how dramatic that move is, Rush is an intriguing young cornerback who brings a lot of traits to the table. He ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at 6-foot-2. That’s not something that you can find often at cornerback. But the Steelers are developing a rare type at cornerback with the addition of Rush to the group.

Joey Porter Jr., Cory Trice, and Rush come from the same class, but their height and arm length combinations are uncanny. Pittsburgh came into the NFL Draft to find guys that could make throwing the deep ball on them harder. But they have looked to see those press coverage cornerbacks that can allow them to present specific matchup problems for teams at the cornerback position. Here are each player’s heights and arm lengths when coming out this spring in the NFL Draft.

Joey Porter Jr: 6-foot-2, 34 inches
Darius Rush: 6-foot-2, 33 3/8 inches
Cory Trice: 6-foot-3, 32 3/8 inches

Secondary coach Grady Brown pointed to players like Ja’Marr Chase as the reason for the Steelers loving length in this draft class. But they want to change some of their philosophy to the position with all that length. Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace are vastly different players than any of the three young guys. Pittsburgh wants to be known as a team with athletic, long cornerbacks that can match groups with physicality up front and speed down the field. Each cornerback ran under 4.5 in the 40-yard dash on top of their natural gifts.

Steelers CB Joey Porter Jr.

Steelers CB Joey Porter Jr. against the Ravens Oct. 8, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

“They cover a lot of ground and occupy space,” Brown said. “They’re long on the deep ball. That was an issue for us at the start of the year. Long guys get even longer when the ball is thrown down the field. So, the quarterback has to throw the ball even further. Whereas a guy at 5-foot-10, you might be able to throw it over his hand. Imagine how much longer Joey or Trice is right now. So, that’s a smaller window. If we can get them to turn their heads and play the ball, they should help us in that deep ball phase.”

The players have to turn out as good players, and Trice is on the sidelines with a torn ACL suffered during training camp. However, Pittsburgh is molding the identity of rare cornerback types for the coaches to develop. So far, the early returns on Porter are excellent. The Steelers will look to play him the more he takes onto his plate, and in small bites, he is playing like their best cornerback.

Will that stick in larger sample sizes? There is no team with the combination of height, length, and speed that Pittsburgh has on the outside among their young guys. The Steelers have always embraced the unique as a strength, and while most teams shy away from guys with awkward bodies and fits, the Steelers try to accentuate that as a strength. They are doing that in the secondary by putting similar players together. You can call them ‘Avatar cornerbacks’ as Mike Tomlin tabbed them during the offseason, or whatever you may want to look at the cornerbacks, but Pittsburgh has their pattern locked down.