When Day 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft wrapped up, many fans and draft analysts were shocked to see that Joey Porter Jr. was still available. The Pittsburgh Steelers held the 32nd overall pick to begin the second round, and despite fielding plenty of offers from other teams, they didn't hesitate to turn their card in for the talented cornerback.
The decision to draft the second-generation NFL defender is already paying dividends. While cornerbacks Levi Wallace, Patrick Peterson, and Chandon Sullivan have each struggled mightily in coverage this year, it's been just the opposite for Porter (who has been as impressive as anyone could have imagined).
There's no question that Porter still has plenty of work to do as a tackler and run defender, but in terms of his coverage ability, the Steelers couldn't have asked for more than what they've been getting out of the rookie over his first six games.
According to Pro Football Focus, Porter has allowed just 1 reception on 10 targets for 12 yards on 96 passing downs played this year. During this time, he also recorded 3 forced incompletions and an interception. The collection of these impressive numbers equates to Porter allowing a perfect 0.0 passer rating.
For some perspective on just how good (and rare) this is, if a quarterback would spike the ball into the ground on every single pass for an entire game, he would still earn a passer rating of 39.6. Thus, it would be better for QBs to do just that rather than target Porter Jr. in the secondary.
Could Joey Porter Jr. be the next Sauce Gardner?
Just last season, we witnessed an insanely good rookie performance from the Jets' first-round pick, Sauce Gardner. The lengthy and gritty cornerback held opposing receivers to just 46 receptions on 5.3 yards per target and surrendered only 1 touchdown in 17 games in 2022, according to advanced stats from Pro Football Reference. He did this while recording a whopping 1,115 snaps on defense.
Cornerbacks like Sauce don't come around very often, and while Porter isn't anywhere near the same level or prospect coming out of college, he does possess some very similar traits. Gardner has a long and lean body at 6'2 3/4'' and 190 lbs with 33 1/2'' arms. Porter's frame (6'2 1/2'', 193 lbs, 34'' arms) is just as captivating.
These two cornerbacks were also similar testing athletes as well. While neither possesses blazing 4.3 speed, they both makeup for it with their ability to jam receivers with their long arms and their massive wingspans make it hard for quarterbacks to make tight-window throws against them. Ironically, Porter's most comparable player from a size and athleticism perspective on Mockdraftable's database is none other than Sauce Gardner.
Gardner was a bonafide First-Team All-Pro player as a rookie in 2022, and Porter isn't playing enough snaps to even be in contention for Pro Bowl honors at this point. When the Steelers cornerback does see the field, however, the results have been phenomenal. Porter is currently grading out as the 8th-best CB in the NFL, via PFF.
Comparing any newcomer to Sauce Gardner is going to be too high of praise, but it is worth noting that -- in limited action -- Porter has a higher overall grade and higher coverage grade than Sauce so far this year. If he can keep this up as he slowly graduates to a full-time role on defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers could have a star on their hands.