The secondary of the Pittsburgh Steelers has made fans want to pull their hair out at times this year. Despite the stable presence of former All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick and the promise that rookie Joey Porter Jr. shows, there are holes everywhere at the moment, and these seem to be the Achilles heel of their defense in 2023.
Through the first six games of the year, Patrick Peterson has been a big disappointment, while Levi Wallace looks completely unplayable at this stage of his career. Meanwhile, Chandon Sullivan has been a major weakness at slot cornerback. At the safety position, the Steelers seem content with the combination of Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal alongside Fitzpatrick, but neither Kazee nor Neal has made much of a splash.
Their struggles in the secondary this year have NFL analysts predicting that Pittsburgh will make a move for a cornerback prior to the NFL trade deadline on Halloween. If they don't find a CB before the deadline, taking one early in the 2024 NFL Draft seems like an option that is very much on the table at this point.
Recently, NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid of ESPN comprised his early first-round mock draft for next April. Reed has the Steelers going with versatile Iowa defensive back, Cooper DeJean. Here's what he had to say about the selection.
"21. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)- Jordan Reid via ESPN
Cooper DeJean, S/CB, Iowa
"Outside of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joey Porter Jr., the Steelers' secondary could be completely revamped in 2024 -- and DeJean could help at multiple spots. He has played primarily at corner for the Hawkeyes, but he's my top-ranked safety because of his versatility. His physical mentality fits perfectly with Pittsburgh's culture, and his ability to generate takeaways would be welcomed. DeJean has seven picks over the past two seasons.""
Though the Steelers could use a long-term option at safety next to Minkah Fitzpatrick, DeJean would likely play cornerback if drafted by Pittsburgh. Listed at 6'1'' and 207 pounds, DeJean has excellent size for the CB position to go with great athletic traits.
DeJean flew onto the draft radar last year when he earned 5 interceptions and 3 defensive touchdowns in 2022. So far this year, the Iowa star has a pair of picks in 8 games.
There's no question that Pittsburgh is going to need a legitimate option at the cornerback position opposite of Joey Porter Jr. Levi Wallace will be an unrestricted free agent, and if the team doesn't cut him outright for his bad play, there's not a chance he's brought back on a new contract next season. At the same time, Patrick Peterson has a cap number of over $9.7 million in 2024, and the Steelers will likely release him.
It's worth noting that Pittsburgh did double up on cornerback in the 2023 NFL Draft. Cory Trice Jr. is currently recovering from an ACL tear he suffered during training camp. They also signed an athletic rookie CB in Darius Rush from the Chiefs practice squad. However, it seems unlikely that either player becomes much more than just a depth option for the Steelers.
In addition to defensive back, the Steelers are expected to have a major need at center next offseason, while they could certainly use an upgrade at right tackle or added depth along the interior defensive line. For now, slotting Cooper DeJean to the Steelers with the 21st overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft seems like a quality choice.