The 2023 NFL season hasn't even started yet, but Pittsburgh Steelers fans are having the time of their life right now. In the days and hours leading up to the NFL roster cutdown deadline, Omar Khan and his crew were able to trade Kevin Dotson to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of pick swaps in each of the next two drafts. He then proceeded to ship Kendrick Green to the Texans for a future 6th-round pick.
In all, the Steelers front office made 17 roster moves in the final hours before the deadline. But they didn't stop there. After things shaped up about as well as fans could have expected, Khan's first order of business after cutdown day was signing veteran cornerback, Desmond King.
Because King had at least four accrued seasons in the NFL, he wasn't subject to the waiver wire, and Pittsburgh snatched him up quickly following his release at the deadline. The vast majority of the Steelers fanbase is excited about this move, and it's not hard to imagine why.
Prior to this roster addition, slot cornerback was arguably the weakest position on the team, as the Steelers were about to rely on a combination of Chandon Sullivan and Elijah Riley to get the job done. Now the Steelers have brought in a former All-Pro cornerback and return man to fill the void.
However, some are likening the Desmond King signing to when the Steelers signed Joe Haden exactly six years ago to the day on August 30, 2017. I would strongly caution against that comparison. Otherwise, you may be disappointed.
It's true that King and Haden both possessed similar features. Both cornerbacks were 5'11'' or shorter with stocky, muscular frames. Neither CB tested particularly well at the NFL Combine prior to entering the NFL Draft, but both possess instincts and ball skills. On top of that, both veteran cornerbacks joined the Steelers at the age of 28.
But despite everything they have in common on paper, Pittsburgh is getting a very different cornerback in Desmond King.
Steelers CB Desmond King offers a very different role than Joe Haden once did
While Haden was signed to lockdown players on the boundary, we can assume that King will be a slot cornerback in Pittsburgh. This is probably his best role and last year, he logged an impressive 334 snaps from the slot. This is the biggest difference between the two.
On top of this, King doesn't have anywhere near the ball production Joe Haden had when he joined the Steelers. Though they both came to Pittsburgh at age 28, Haden came with a resume that included a whopping 19 interceptions and an astonishing 101 passes defended. King, on the other hand, joins the team with just 9 career picks and 33 passes defended.
While raw numbers certainly don't mean everything, Haden was a bigger splash playmaker and the better overall player when he joined the team. He earned three Pro Bowls in Cleveland prior to signing with the Steelers.
To King's credit, he was a former All-Pro return man and cornerback, but this came back in his second season in the NFL with the Chargers. King was terrific in his first two years but has really been just an average starting cornerback over the past four seasons.
I don't say this to lessen the signing by the Steelers. I still think Pittsburgh is getting a solid player with some good years left in the tank, and he comes in a big position of need. However, I caution against using the Haden comparisons.
King isn't the second coming of Joe Haden. In fact, in terms of his role and play style, he's probably closer to Mike Hilton. But this isn't a bad thing. King should prove to be a solid acquisition for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2023. You just might not want to go into the season expecting to get Pro Bowl-level play from him.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.