The Steelers have struggled on the back end in their secondary this season. That goes to the cornerback and safety rooms. Yesterday, Pro Football Focus theorized that Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson may have naturally fit into the fabric of the Steelers secondary. However, on Thursday, they threw out another name, but this time at safety. For a free agent that Pittsburgh could target, PFF analyst Brad Spielberger believes that Giants safety Xavier McKinney makes a ton of sense.
“McKinney is a versatile defensive back who can make plays down in the box as a sure tackler while also ball-hawking in the deep third. He hasn’t played up to his breakout second season, which he finished with five interceptions, four more pass breakups and a 75.4 overall grade, but he’s been the best player in New York’s secondary and made a few splash plays, including a forced fumble in Week 5,” Spielberger said.
As you can imagine, McKinney can play in the box, slot, and single-high. Pittsburgh has guys who can do that, but they prefer to stick star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick around the formation, while the other guys generally get stuck into more rigid roles. That is what the breakdown with Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee naturally looks like, as they play about two roles in each game within the three safety sets. Spielberger believes those two players have lost a step, and with nothing specific on the depth chart below them, safety is a massive need.
“Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the best all-around safeties in the NFL, but veterans Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee have lost a step at this point in their careers. The next two safeties on the depth chart — Miles Killebrew and Elijah Riley — are pending free agents,” Spielberger wrote.
The Steelers could look to trade for a safety, too. That position is usually one of the more accessible spots to find help during the trade deadline as teams look to move off depth safeties who are not playing or have expiring contracts they do not expect to retain. Pittsburgh, if they want that, should be able to find someone. If not, the free agent market will be plentiful with quality safeties.