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Steelers Playbook: Why Joey Porter Jr. is among the league’s elite cornerbacks

In this week’s “Steelers Playbook” video, I looked at why cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is true to his claim that he is among the league’s elite cornerbacks.

To be exact, Porter didn’t say he was among the league’s best corners. He said he was the best corner. That may be a bit premature, but a careful examination of the film reveals that Porter may not be far off with his claim.

Porter was drafted 32nd overall in 2023. The Steelers selected him with the pick they acquired from the Chicago Bears for receiver Chase Claypool. Claypool has moved from the Bears to the Dolphins to the Bills since that trade, accumulating just 22 receptions in two seasons. Porter, meanwhile, stepped into Pittsburgh’s starting lineup as a rookie and almost immediately established himself as the team’s top corner. His patience at the line of scrimmage, active hands, quick recovery speed and long frame made him almost impossible to beat in man-to-man coverage. And in zone, particularly Cover-2, in which Porter excels, he was technically sound and rarely out of position. The Steelers accentuated Porter’s strengths by playing heavy doses of these schemes. Porter played so well that by season’s end he was drawing the opponent’s top receiver and usually faring well in those encounters.

For the season, Porter totaled 43 tackles, 10 pass breakups and one interception. Those numbers won’t blow anyone away, but the numbers don’t tell the tale of his season. In the game I studied for the my film breakdown on Porter — last year’s regular season finale at Baltimore — Porter gave up no receptions on just one target. The Ravens simply chose not to throw in his direction. Sometimes, that decision was a product of the blanket coverage Porter provided on whichever Baltimore receiver he drew. There were plenty of plays where Baltimore couldn’t have thrown at Porter even if they wanted to because their receivers couldn’t separate from him. Often, though, they simply chose to throw away from him. Baltimore went after Levi Wallace on the other side of the field far more than Porter, or chose to target their tight ends and running backs on short throws and check-downs.

Porter should only get better in his second season as his familiarity with opposing offenses grows. He will get craftier and more nuanced, and with Porter locking down a quarter of the field by himself, the Steelers may feel emboldened to get more creative or aggressive with their coverages and blitzes. The addition of Donte Jackson to play opposite Porter should help the defense as well. Jackson is an upgrade over Wallace and a player who should hold up should offenses target him while avoiding Porter. When newly-acquired Cam Sutton returns from the eight-game suspension the league handed him on Monday for a domestic violence issue, Pittsburgh should, assuming Sutton returns to form, have one of its best cornerback trios in years.

Porter may not be the league’s best cornerback just yet, as he has boldly claimed. But he is trending in that direction. That makes him one of the more exciting Steelers to watch in the upcoming season.


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