Steelers trade for CB Ahkello Witherspoon is hard to make sense of
By Tommy Jaggi
The Pittsburgh Steelers traded a future fifth-round draft choice for a cornerback who has rarely seen the field. Here’s why this trade hasn’t made sense.
You would think that a team that lost two quality players in Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton this offseason might be in need of some cornerback help. You would also think that after trading for an athletic, outside cornerback like Ahkello Witherspoon that he might actually see the field.
For one reason or another, this hasn’t been the case, and Pittsburgh Steelers fans are dying to know why.
In 2019 with the San Francisco 49ers, Witherspoon earned a remarkable 80.2 overall grade through 11 games played — good for 6th in the NFL among all cornerbacks. At 6’3” with 33” arms and 4.45 speed, Witherspoon showcased the ability to play the boundaries and stay in stride with even the fastest receivers deep down the field.
Sadly, after trading a fifth-round draft choice in an attempt to solidify the cornerback position and quite possibly even have a player that could emerge into a starting role, Witherspoon has fallen drastically short of expectations.
Since joining the team early in the season, Witherspoon has been a complete non-factor. Here’s a look at what he has done so far for the Steelers in 2021, via Pro Football Reference:
Why did Steelers trade for Ahkello Witherspoon
Seeing a player like Stephon Gilmore recently traded to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick leads us to wonder why Pittsburgh was willing to trade a fifth-rounder for a part-time cornerback in a contract year. So far, we are still having a hard time coming up with a good answer.
Despite Pittsburgh needing cornerback help in a bad way, Witherspoon hasn’t been able to find his way on the field for more than five total snaps this season, and he’s not even earning a helmet for half of these contests. Is there a bigger issue here? Does he still not have a grasp of the defense, or are there other concerns?
Based on his impressive performance in 2019 that put him on the map, I would have to believe that the Steelers would want to give him more than four defensive snaps before making a determination on Witherspoon.
Though James Pierre and Joe Haden have been serviceable on the outside this year, neither has been particularly good. At the very least, it seems only customary to get the cornerback on the field that you gave up future draft capital for.
We don’t know what the future holds for Ahkello Witherspoon and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I think we can all agree that this trade was a big mistake if he can’t find a way to get on the football field. Let’s hope he proves his worth in the coming weeks.