3 reasons the Steelers should be concerned about Donte Jackson

The Steelers swap of Diontae Johnson for Donte Jackson earlier this offseason could prove to be a big mistake.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson (26)
Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson (26) / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest area of need on the Steelers roster entering the 2024 offseason was a running mate for standout rookie corner Joey Porter Jr. He was slow to receive full-time snaps, but once he did he proved his worth as a true number one corner. Unfortunately, the combination of Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace didn't provide much resistance opposite of him.

The Steelers' solution ended up being a trade with the Carolina Panthers, sending receiver Diontae Johnson in exchange for corner Donte Jackson and a swap of pick 240 for 178 in the 2024 draft. Johnson's departure immediately left a hole in the Steelers receiving room, but at least adding Jackson in the move netted them a starting outside corner.

But did it really? Let's look at some potential concerns the Steelers should have about Jackson's potential impact.

Jackson isn't getting any younger

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the Steelers corner room last year was the advanced age of the expected starters. Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace were 33 and 28 respectively, and primary slot corner Chandon Sullivan was 27.

Jackson will be 29 at the start of the season, the oldest corner in the room by far aside from Anthony Averett. Jackson has also had multiple injuries over his career, most notably a torn Achilles in 2022.

Age is especially a factor for a player whose speed and overall athleticism are his greatest asset, and that's certainly the case for Jackson. He has survived on the outside at a slender 5'10" and 180lbs thanks to that recovery speed and quickness, something that has already started to wane due to the Achilles injury and natural regression.

Will he be able to stay effective as his speed continues to fail him? The odds are against him.

Jackson has never been more than a decent #2 corner

Say what you want Diontae Johnson's career as a Steeler, but he more than outperformed his third-round draft status while in Pittsburgh. He was the leading receiver in three of his five seasons and compiled over 4,000 yards as a Steeler. Donte Jackson meanwhile has had one above-average season back in 2020 but otherwise has been a mediocre outside corner throughout his career.

With Joey Porter Jr. as the bonafide number-one corner, Jackson won't need to be the top guy like he was at times for the Panthers. Still, as mentioned previously he isn't getting any younger.

The odds of him doing anything more than just maintaining his level play are slim. Is a mediocre corner two really worth the loss of a proven offensive weapon? Only time will tell.

Jackson lacks the versatility to move around the defense

Prior to the signing of Cam Sutton to return to his slot corner role for the Steelers, some analysts wondered if Donte Jackson could be the answer inside instead of playing opposite of Joey Porter Jr. While his smaller size makes him appear to be a fit there, he has rarely stepped inside so far in his career. In the over 4,000 career snaps he has played, only 173 of them have been in the slot.

The Sutton signing has made his lack of versatility less of a concern. Still, for a defense that has so little proven depth at corner, one injury to Sutton or Porter Jr. could really shake up the depth chart. If Sutton were to go down, who would be the primary slot corner? Cory Trice Jr. and Darius Rush profile more as tall, physical outside corners.

Veteran Anthony Averett doesn't have much experience in the slot either. Would the Steelers trust undrafted free agent Beanie Bishop in that role? Or would they force Jackson inside and hope for the best?

Overall, it's a potentially scary situation for the Steelers defense. Jackson's combination of age, track record, and lack of versatility has major bust potential.