Steelers are desperately lacking a competent slot cornerback

Steelers, Arthur Maulet
Steelers, Arthur Maulet / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

Finding a great slot cornerback has always been an issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After years of looking for a player they could rely on, Mike Tomlin's defense is back to square one again.

Pittsburgh had a fiery slot cornerback who could blitz and defend the run in Mike Hilton, but they lost him to the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2021 free agency period. Cameron Sutton was an even better cover corner in nickel and dime, but a lack of CB depth forced Sutton to play mostly on the outside for the Steelers before he signed a lucrative contract with the Lions this offseason.

Now the slot cornerback position is looking as grim as ever. After losing Sutton, Pittsburgh added Patrick Peterson to a cornerback group that consists of Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, and Arthur Maulet.

Of this group, every player is a boundary cornerback with the exception of Maulet. Unfortunately, this isn't a player you want to have to call on very often. On 333 coverage snaps last year, Maulet surrendered 348 yards and 3 touchdowns from the slot while recording just 1 interception, per ESPN stats. This equated to a 105.5 passer rating surrendered.

What's remarkable is that Maulet has actually had multiple years where he gave up a worse passer rating (including 2021 when he allowed a passer rating of 119.0). His unspectacular performance this past season earned him a cringeworthy overall grade of 56.6, according to Pro Football Focus. This was good for 90th among 118 qualifying NFL cornerbacks.

Steelers need a major slot CB upgrade

Arthur Maulet turns 30 years old this offseason and there is zero reason to expect him to suddenly become a better player at this point in his career. The Pittsburgh Steelers need a drastic improvement at the nickel cornerback position, but what can they do?

Many fans have pointed to Damontae Kazee as a possible answer here. However, I think that's a bit of a stretch. While Kazee has played the slot in the past, he hasn't done so in really any capacity since early in the 2019 season as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Four years later, it's a lot to ask of the nearly 30-year-old veteran safety to go back to such a role.

Knowing this, many fans are convinced that Pittsburgh should be going hard after a player like Brian Branch in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, it's hard to justify spending that much draft capital on a player to fill the slot CB role -- especially when the Steelers could have just offered a bit more to keep Sutton around.

I think perhaps the best answer may be finding a player on day two who can come in and compete for that role. Someone like Michigan CB DJ Turner with elite quickness and speed for the slot would be a treat. The Steelers could also cover their bases by a depth signing in free agency.

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The combination of these two things could potentially push Maulet off the roster entirely. No matter which direction the Steelers decide to go, it's clear that Pittsburgh needs a massive overhaul at the slot cornerback position. They cannot go into the 2023 season with what they currently have there.