The Steelers may have finished 8-8, but some players didn’t get the recognition they deserve. Here’s why Steven Nelson was Pittsburgh’s most underrated player in 2019.
Pittsburgh’s season ended in disappointment. After starting 0-3 in their first three games of 2019, it was only fitting for the Steelers to lose the final three to close out the year in what seemed like a wasted season.
Though Pittsburgh’s offense was pathetic all year, their defense gave us something to boast about. Minkah Fitzpatrick ended up being an excellent trade and earned All-Pro honors after turning just 23 years old this season, while T.J. Watt was arguably the most important defender in the league an MVP-caliber season. Even Cameron Heyward quietly earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2019.
Lost in the shuffle, however, is Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson. Nelson was acquired in free agency during the 2019 offseason. Formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, Nelson was once the most targeted cornerback in the NFL just two years ago. However, a lot can change in a short amount of time.
Nelson isn’t the flashiest player and often wasn’t talked about during the games. But no press is typically good press when it comes to cornerbacks. Here’s how he looked compared to other top-notch corners this season:
#Steelers‘ CB Steven Nelson might not be talked about as one of the best shutdown corners in the league, but his 2019 numbers suggest that he was right there with the best .. if not better.https://t.co/GKZqrZE71C pic.twitter.com/BJ5nrAaiFg
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) January 14, 2020
Though he didn’t create the takeaways like what some of the top corners did, Nelson was unbelievable in 2019. He was one of three starting corners to not allow a single touchdown this season in over 900 defensive snaps. The other two, Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White, are considered among the top cornerbacks in the NFL and Defensive Player of the Year candidates.
Like Gilmore and White, Nelson only allowed 50 percent of the balls thrown his direction to be completed, and his 1,010 snaps make it even more impressive that he only allowed 37 receptions in coverage.
Nelson proved to be a gritty player who could stick with receivers like glue. Though he is not often talked about outside of Pittsburgh, his signing last year was perhaps one of the more impactful additions to any team in 2019.
While some may argue that he was the beneficiary of playing on a defense with three All-Pros, I could argue the other way around. Nelson’s stellar coverage allowed more time for Watt and Heyward to get after the quarterback and gave Fitzpatrick more freedom to roam the deep field.
Without the takeaways, Steven Nelson would never get consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. And if I’m to be quite honest, there are two other players on the team more deserving of that honor. However, Nelson has gotten very little recognition for his excellent performance this past season, and I believe he was one of the most underrated players of 2019.