The Pittsburgh Steelers released punter Corliss Waitman on Saturday to make room for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s return from the injured reserve list.
That move signifies that rookie Pressley Harvin III will handle the punting duties for the Steelers against the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Wild Card playoff game.
Harvin missed two games late this season following the death of his father and Waitman replaced him. A second-year pro out of South Alabama, Waitman impressed when given his first opportunity to kick in the NFL.
In two games as the Steelers’ punter, Waitman kicked seven times, with a 52.1-yard average and a 42.6-yard net average. His longest kick was a 63-yarder at Kansas City in Week 16. One of his kicks was downed inside the 20-yard line (14%) and one went for a touchback (14%). The other five punts were all returned (71%).
In comparison, Harvin has a 42.6-yard average and 38-yard net average on 70 punts this season. His longest kick has been 64 yards, and 25 of his kicks have been downed inside the 20-yard line (35%). Three have gone for touchbacks (4%). 39% of his punts have been returned.
It seemed clear that Waitman had the more impressive leg in terms of absolute distance, but the Steelers apparently put greater value on Harvin’s ability to prevent returns and down opponents deep in their own territory.
In his first game back against Baltimore in Week 18, just one of Harvin’s eight punts was returned, and three were downed inside the 20, but he averaged just 37.3 yards per kick, gross and net.
Head coach Mike Tomlin would not say on Tuesday that the position was definitively Harvin’s at that time.
“We’ll see what this week holds,” he said. “We got some planning to do in that area in terms of the division of labor, but we also have it in some other areas as well. That’s what the week’s prep is about. The big thing for us is that we don’t make too many decisions too quickly. Oftentimes, when you have that mentality, the right decision reveals itself to you. And so, I’m in no hurry, the game is on Sunday night.”
Waitman will be unavailable to play for the Steelers this weekend. If he clears waivers, he could be re-added to the team’s practice squad.