The Pittsburgh Steelers had several notable standouts in their Week 9 win over the Titans on Thursday Night Football. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith were their usual selves when getting after the quarterback, while Cameron Heyward exploded back onto the scene in his return from a groin injury that landed him on IR. However, Joey Porter Jr. probably should be the player that fans are the most hyped for right now.
It wasn't the cleanest game for the rookie cornerback. Porter was tagged with numerous penalties. His illegal hands-to-the-face call was blatant and just a bad rep, but his defensive holding call on the final drive of the game was nothing at all.
Even with the penalties, however, this was a jaw-dropping performance from the rookie cornerback. What made it so good is that he shadowed former All-Pro receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, and helped take away the best option in the passing game for the Titans.
According to data from Next Gen Stats, Porter shadowed Hopkins on an impressive 72.2 percent of his routes, and 20 of these reps came in the form of press coverage. Porter held Hopkins to just 1 reception on 5 targets for 17 yards while covering the star receiver.
This is as good as you could ask of any NFL cornerback, let alone a rookie in his second NFL start. Hopkins would finish the game with just 60 yards on 11 targets -- thanks in large part to the sticky man coverage that Porter was able to offer. In Week 8 against the Falcons, Hopkins went off for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 6 targets, via Pro Football Reference.
Steelers have a star in the making
It's absolutely incredible to see just how much better Joey Porter Jr. already is than every other cornerback on the team. The former Penn State standout has already exceeded expectations in his rookie season and, dare I say, he has had a Sauce Gardner-like start to his NFL career.
Even with some grabbiness and penalties early in his career, Porter is one of the highest-graded cornerbacks in coverage this season. His biggest knocks have come as a run defender (where he still has plenty of work to do as a tackler).
Still, when we talk about coverage ability, he possesses rare skills that we have not seen from a cornerback since prime Ike Taylor. Thanks to his good athletic traits and remarkable wingspan, Porter is able to stick on receivers like glue and make the quarterback's job very difficult. On the season, Porter has allowed just 6 receptions on 21 targets for 127 yards, per Pro Football Focus. This equates to a passer rating surrendered of just 48.3 on the season.
The biggest issue for Porter will continue to be his grabbiness and overall aggressiveness. This can be great at times, but it has already led to 5 penalties on the season -- all of which have come in the previous two games.
Regardless, I'll take that every day of the week over cornerbacks who can't stay in the hip pocket of receivers. The Pittsburgh Steelers could have a gem in Joey Porter Jr. if he continues to hone in on his craft.