INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to the toughest opponent that cornerback Tyrique Stevenson faced in college, the Miami product doesn’t hesitate. He never faced them in a game, but during practice, their battles were as tough as it got.
It’s also a name that’s become very familiar to Steelers fans.
“It’s George Pickens,” Stevenson said, referencing their time together at Georgia. “We went head-to-head in practice, and even though he was my teammate, we were both trying to kill each other and give each other the best opportunities.
“He’s the hardest receiver I ever guarded, because you don’t know what you’re going to get from George. He has the speed to run by you but also has the willingness to get inside and do whatever he needs to, and his catch rate is amazing. So you’ve got to play him full throttle all the time.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin knows quite well what he’s got in Pickens, which gave Stevenson an excellent talking point when he worked with Tomlin and the Steelers’ coaching staff at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. When he met Tomlin, Stevenson knew exactly how to pique his interest.
“We’ve chit-chatted a lot. When I brought up George, that kind of caught his attention,” Stevenson said. “He came over and we had a lot of conversations in-between (reps).”
That might be why the Steelers haven’t had a formal meeting with Stevenson in Indianapolis, as the corner said his only formal meetings at the Combine have come with Philadelphia and Cincinnati. It’s also not necessarily a hindrance toward possibly donning the black and gold, as Pickens hadn’t had a formal interview with the Steelers before meeting the media a year ago.
That didn’t stop Pittsburgh from taking Pickens in round 2, and that might be around the draft capital they’d have to spend on Stevenson.
Although he hasn’t shown an ability to intercept many passes yet, his size and physical playing style should translate well to playing in the AFC North.
“I just do my job,” he said. “The ball eventually finds you as a cornerback, and I have to do a better job on my ball-catching skills. But at the same time, I’m doing my job. We want the ball, but we get paid to deflect the ball as much.”
When Stevenson moved to Miami from Georgia, he took the lessons he’d gained from Athens to become one of the tougher defenders in the ACC. In two years at Miami, he became one of the Hurricanes’ most reliable corners — and when he wasn’t on the field, his absence was notable.
Against Pitt, Panthers fans saw both sides of what Stevenson brought to Miami and what the Hurricanes missed when he wasn’t there. In 2021, Stevenson put the Panthers in a deep hole when he intercepted Kenny Pickett, setting up a Miami touchdown on the next drive. Pitt never got even again, forced to play the entire second half from behind.
In 2022, fortunes swung the other way. Near the end of the first half, Stevenson got ejected from the game for targeting. Without him on the field, Kedon Slovis and Jared Wayne had a field day. Wayne hauled in two touchdowns after Stevenson’s ejection, and the Panthers blew past Miami to a 42-16 rout.
Those are the kind of mental mistakes that Stevenson knows he’ll need to eliminate as a professional. Now that he’s got the time to dedicate to the sport and nothing else, that’s exactly what he plans to do.
“This is more of a mental game with everything that’s going around,” Stevenson said. “You’ve got to really dive into football now. If you really love it, you’ve got to start doing everything that’s going to give you an advantage to be on top.
“You don’t have school, and you don’t have a lot of things going around. Football is your life, so you’ve got to do everything to give you that advantage to be available on the field.”
If that means practicing against Pickens again as a member of the Steelers, he’s more than willing to meet that challenge.
“That would be a heck of a feeling,” he said. “He’d expect nothing but the best from me, and I’d expect nothing from the best from him.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Measured at the Senior Bowl: 6-foot-0, 204 pounds, 32 3/8 inch arms, 9 5/8 inch hands, 77 1/4 inch wingspan
TYRIQUE STEVENSON SCOUTING REPORT
Many of Stevenson’s questions come from his ability to haul in interceptions and his ability to play zone defense. Stevenson has played his best football when playing man coverage and pressing opposing defenders, and his pass deflecting and tackling ability has won him praise as honorable mention all-ACC. But he only recorded three interceptions while at Miami and Georgia, and he struggled to make plays when in a zone coverage scheme.
HOW DOES HE FIT?
If he can learn to play in a zone coverage scheme, he’ll be a much more valuable option. His man coverage strengths could work to the Steelers’ strengths, as they were willing to utilize man coverage more than the average NFL team. He’s clearly not one to shy away from facing talented wide receivers and he’s got the size to match up with receivers, so this will come down to whether he can adapt to the schemes he needs to handle as an NFL defender.
WHERE WILL TYRIQUE STEVENSON BE DRAFTED?
Stevenson should go somewhere in the second round. His good tackling and pass deflection skills and his length make him someone that teams will take a chance on earlier in the draft. That’s because the deficiencies in his game can be corrected with the right teaching and coaching.
If the Steelers are willing to spend the draft capital, they’ll likely have to either get him with their second second-rounder at 49 or make a trade to get him closer toward the back end of the second round. He likely won’t fall into the third round, but the value wouldn’t be there for the Steelers in the first round.