Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers officially inked former Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Steven Nelson to a three-year, $25.5 million deal. Nelson spent four seasons with the Chiefs after being selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, accumulating 182 total tackles, 35 passes defended, 4 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 forced fumble during that time.
Nelson originally had pre-draft visits with the Steelers, and thought for sure he was going to end up sporting the black and gold before the Steelers opted to select cornerback Senquez Golson in the second round.
“Coach Tomlin told me everything I wanted to hear. But you know, you never know how those things are going to go” Nelson told Steelers.com reporter Missi Matthews.
Alas, Nelson is now where he thought he’d end up all along, providing welcome help to a Steelers secondary that at times during the 2018 season looked lost. Nelson is the early favorite to start opposite of Joe Haden, thanks to the inconsistent play of Coty Sensabaugh and general unreliability of Artie Burns.
So what will Nelson bring to the table? Judging from the numbers ran by Pro Football Focus, Nelson immediately improves the Steelers secondary.
-20 forced incompletions (T-2nd, CB)
-4 interceptions (T-3rd)
-53.1% reception allowed % (T-8th)
-82.8 passer rating against (24th)
-2018 Grades: 72.1 overall, 71.2 coverage (both 28th) pic.twitter.com/5izgwAzxW5
— PFF KC Chiefs (@PFF_Chiefs) March 12, 2019
However, numbers don’t tell the whole story. To get a better glimpse at Nelson and his evaluations, I was able to grab a few words from Travis Steffen (@SteffenNFL on Twitter), Chiefs Film Analyst for FanSided’s Arrowhead Addict.
Steffen named quite a few good qualities about Nelson from his time in Kansas City, but Nelson’s consistent improvement and competitiveness stuck out most.
“I think moving to a more aggressive scheme and style will do him well. He can play inside and out. Moved inside on the nickel and dime every year until 2018 when Kendall Fuller was brought in” said Steffen. “Super sticky in press man coverage, but fails to get his head turned around most of the time. He can jump routes in zone coverage, which is where he improved as you can see with his interception numbers.”
Did Pittsburgh just get a shutdown cornerback? From all the hype and numbers, the signing might certainly suggest so. Steffen pumps the breaks on all that talk: “He’s not going to shut down a guy for an entire game and shouldn’t be left on an island either” said Steffen before coming back with more positive remarks “But he is a solid second corner that compliments well and needs a change of scenery”.
With Nelson now taking advantage of the change of scenery, Steffen’s overall opinion of him remains in a good light, speaking on his aura of being a “locker room guy” while becoming more vocal/chippy in 2018.
Steelers fans got a small glimpse of this when Nelson and the Chiefs paid a visit to Pittsburgh last season.
@SteffenNFL told me new #Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson became more vocal/chippy in 2018, and this play displays that. Doesn’t shy away from the Antonio Brown after the play. pic.twitter.com/2G0KEE6cfk
— Donnie Druin (@DonnieDruin) March 16, 2019
Time will tell if Nelson truly becomes the player he can be in Pittsburgh. Yet when comparing numbers to words of people who have watched his entire career thus far, Nelson will be expected to come in and contribute in a significant way.