The Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary will look a lot different going into 2021. With the departure of Mike Hilton to the Bengals on a four-year, 24 million dollar deal and the release of Steven Nelson, the cornerback room has seen lots of turnover in the 2021 offseason. Even though the future of the secondary is largely unknown, a few key players can impact the field in a colossal way.
The Steelers’ Secondary Has the Most to Prove Going Into the 2021 Season
The Steelers will expect Cam Sutton to make a huge leap forward this year. After an unexpected year in 2020, where he finished the season with one interception and eight pass deflections. Sutton will need to have an immense leap forward in 2021 as he will most likely be moving to the boundary corner after the loss of Steven Nelson.
Sutton was successful last year in the slot but did not play the bulk of his snaps on the outside. With Joe Haden being the most experienced boundary corner, Sutton will have to become adept at playing the boundary if the Steelers want any success this season.
The undrafted corner out of Michigan State was on the Steelers draft board from the beginning. The 5’11”, 190-pound corner was a priority free agent who signed a 3 year, 2.4 million dollar deal right as the draft came to a close. The contract includes the minimum base salary over the three years and a total signing bonus of $25,000.
The Steelers expect big things from the former Spartan, who only had one full year as a starter. In that year, however, he totaled 5 interceptions and 4 pass deflections. His displays of solid open-field tackling and his size fit the stereotypical slot corner that the Steelers look for. He will compete with Justin Layne and James Pierre for that role. Brown is similar in stature to Hilton, who started three seasons in the slot for Pittsburgh.
Tre Norwood is a jack of all trades player who can play either corner or safety for the Steelers this year. With the Steelers being weak at both positions, he can prove to be a perfect addition to the Steelers’ secondary. The 6’0″, 194-pound defensive back was drafted in the seventh round by the Steelers this year. His ability to play anywhere in the secondary allows for him to get immediate snap due to the holes in the Steelers’ secondary.
Edmunds’ fifth-year opinion was just declined by the Steelers. Although this seems bad, I do not believe that this is Edmunds last year in Pittsburgh. The option was mostly likely declined so Pittsburgh could extent players like TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Then, if Edmunds has a good year in 2021, they can offer him a longer deal than the fifth-year option, which would most likely be cheaper as well.
Although most fans dislike Edmunds, he offers more to Pittsburgh than the casual fan sees. With his 6’1″, 217 lbs frame, he could move into the box and be more effective in a different role. If the Steelers could find another starting safety, this would free up Edmunds to be put into more of a gadget role.
Possible Free Agent Signing: Malik Hooker
Malik Hooker would be the perfect addition to the Steelers’ secondary due to the huge upside he brings to the defense. After playing for the Colts since 2017, he has remained unsigned this offseason. His athletic 6’1″, 214lbs frame paired with his ball skills could be the perfect pairing with Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Hooker’s injury history is the most concerning part of his career. After being put on IR for the second time in his career, teams are worried about his injury history. He would most likely be signed to a one-year prove-it deal in order to gain a long-term deal.
There is plenty of upside for Hooker. In his career, he has totaled seven interceptions and two fumbles. He’s shown to be positive in coverage and had been graded 79.1 and 69.5 in coverage by PFF in 2018 and 2019. The only hurdle now is staying on the field.