Thanks to a minor injury, all of Pittsburgh had to wait an additional week for Joey Porter Jr.’s debut in black and gold. The Steelers rookie made sure that the patience was rewarded, flashing many of the traits that had him projected as one of the most talented cornerbacks in his draft class. From being targeted immediately after stepping onto the field to a wholesome post-turnover celebration with his father, it was a night to remember for the Penn State product.
Let’s jump into the film room and check out several reps highlighting where Porter shined and take a look at the next steps are on his development path.
Once Porter entered the game on the outside as the Steelers left cornerback, Bills quarterback Josh Allen went right after him. He aligned in press man coverage with slight outside leverage against superstar receiver Stefon Diggs. This is actually a designed run play, but Allen has the green light to throw hot to the boundary if he likes the matchup. Diggs comes off the ball with a foot-fire release and is able to win inside quickly on a “now” slant. Ultimately, this was the only reception that Porter allowed in man coverage on the afternoon.
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) August 21, 2023
Given the play call and matchup, this is a tough ask for a rookie and even though it ends up in an eight-yard completion, it’s not a bad rep by any means. With his length, Porter is still able to contest this at the catch point by trying to pry this out of Diggs’ hands. With cornerback prospects, we frequently talk about recovery speed, but Porter has recovery length which should do wonders for him moving forward. Even when the receiver has a step on him, his wingspan is so abnormal that he’s going to constantly be in position to make receivers earn every single catch opportunity.
The next rep comes once again with Porter in press coverage out on the boundary. He’s playing a motor technique where he’s trying to mirror the receiver’s footwork and intentions. At the snap, he takes his six-inch steps backwards while staying square to his man but gets a stutter release off the line of scrimmage. The receiver takes a hard jab step outside but as Porter begins to kick his outside foot at a 45-degree angle, he also crosses over in the process. This is typically a death sentence in these sorts of situations because it makes it extremely difficult to establish contact, flip your hips and get back into the hip pocket of the receiver.
This is a teaser (😉) but if Grady Brown can get Porter's footwork right… it's over.
Everyone talks about the length and rightfully so, but his hips are more flexible than given credit for.
He's winning right now as a rookie with God-given ability… which is kinda wild. pic.twitter.com/KZzNVL6cSz
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) August 20, 2023
Even though he committed a cardinal sin from a footwork perspective, Porter executes a nice switch-back technique, using his inside hand to jam the receiver while also opening his hips in the same direction. When the receiver enters his cylinder, he makes contact with both hands and keys the receivers top shoulder while staying sticky in coverage. This is a good example of how Porter differs from most of the tall, lanky cornerbacks that we see come out of college each year. Porter has more hip fluidity and is able to change directions in short spaces better than most of the younger guys that are built similar to him.
Porter’s speed wasn’t tested much in this one, but he checked the box on this particular rep against journeyman wide receiver Marcel Ateman. Aligned in press coverage once again, the receiver hits him with an outside speed release. Porter’s technique here is a bit different, he opens up immediately to match the release and kick steps at an angle up the field. He’s immediately in phase and is easily able to stay on top of the route, showing some nice acceleration and urgency throughout the rep. For those wondering, the crossover that you see below is fine in this instance because he’s getting a speed release vertical and thus needs to be able to kick into high gear.
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) August 21, 2023
Even as a young cornerback, Porter is experienced and already has a nice feel for when he enters the back-shoulder window, which is usually around the 12-15-yard mark. Once the receiver begins to look back to the quarterback, you will notice Porter do the same, with his inside arm in perfect position to break up a pass if a ball were to come his way. Porter has sufficient long speed and should be able to stay on top of the majority of receivers that he faces on every Sunday, provided that he continues to develop his technique at the line of scrimmage.
Right before halftime, Porter provided his first splash play for the defense. He aligned in press coverage with the Steelers playing Tampa-2 coverage, displaying excellent technique. With his man taking an outside release, he stayed flat and in front while getting a physical two-hand jam on the receive. Porter essentially bullies the young receiver out of bounds, ensuring a successful re-route while also disrupting the timing of the connection. Once he does this, he begins hinging open in order to get vision back towards the quarterback on his drop.
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) August 21, 2023
By opening inside, he’s theoretically able to collect any receiver breaking into his curl/flat zone. Porter does a nice job continuing to get depth, settling in the low-hip of the receiver and tracking the football in the air. The quarterback forced an ill-advised pass into the “honey-hole” area between the corner and safety, but Porter is in perfect position. It was also nice to see him easily guide the football in for the interception, securing it cleanly with two hands. The rookie has spent a ton of time on the JUGS machine throughout training camp in Latrobe and the hard work pays off on this rep.
It’s admittedly a small sample size thus far, but the initial exposure to Porter at the NFL level was definitely a positive one. He played the vast majority of his snaps snugged up to the line of scrimmage, showing us a glimpse of how the Steelers plan to deploy him. Porter’s physicality, length and surprising fluidity for his size are pretty fascinating building blocks for a cornerback coach to work with.
Over the past two seasons, we have seen major improvements from Porter regarding his discipline throughout the route, as he’s far less grabby these days. There weren’t any examples of pure false steps at the line of scrimmage which was a positive takeaway as well. After only picking off one pass in college, Porter didn’t waste any time matching that total. Even though his film in college was good, Pittsburgh’s brass admitted that this was something that he needed to work on.
Joey Porter Jr. will need to clean up some of these false steps in press.
Steps with his inside foot first on an outside release which in turn locks his hip. By the time he gets that kick step down and flips his hips, Harrison Jr. already has him beat. pic.twitter.com/vUUN6CbIL5
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) April 8, 2023
In general, his footwork is still a work in progress, but the silver lining is that he already looks the part of an NFL cover man. Press coverage is a difficult world to live in. There’s an art to playing the position that way but it’s important to keep in mind that he’s still a young artist who is in the early stages of his developmental runway. With veterans such as Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace in the same room, Porter will be able pick their brains through the week while accruing valuable experience on the field on Sundays.
He’s far from a finished product but the Steelers haven’t had a player with this sort of potential at the cornerback position in quite a while. Let’s make one thing clear: if the technical aspects of Porter’s game catch up with his natural talent, it’s going to be a scary sight for opponents. With the Steelers shifting towards a more man-centric defense on passing downs to counter the leagues more talented aerial assaults, Porter will be a massive asset on the outside. In his debut, Porter checked a ton of boxes. The future of the Steelers secondary is tied to his continued evolution.