It is a regular occurrence to hear about players and their roster projections right now. The NFL is entering a slow season for the next month or so, and the focus is mainly on training camp and who’s going to make a roster. The Steelers are no exception to this.
A name that I see constantly getting no respect is James Pierre. While I have been an avid supporter of Pierre since he flashed in his rookie training camp with the team, I also realize that he is close to his ceiling as a professional. That said, there seem to be so many that undervalue what Pierre brings to the table.
The Steelers have a great depth piece in Pierre
For starters, and most notably, Pierre has become a core special teams player for this team. He is a good gunner and coverage player and has consistently played around 50 percent of the special teams snaps since his rookie year. While special teams are always an undervalued phase, Pierre is a great guy there and that already aids in his chances of making the roster.
Looking beyond the obvious, Pierre has also become a fine depth piece on defense. While many are quick to point out his flaws, he can hold his own. He is a great tackler and run defender, and he is physical at the catch point. He lacks the ability to play great deep though, as his instincts at the line aren’t always great and he lacks the athleticism to make up for any bad reads.
No, I don’t want Pierre to be a primary starter on this defense, but he has proven to be an effective enough player when given the chance. While his play was spotty last year, Pierre only allowed a 41.9 percent completion rate and a quarterback rating of 58.7. Those are both solid numbers.
The Steelers certainly helped him out, often pairing him with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s side of the field, but he still did more than enough to warrant the snaps he got. He eventually replaced Ahkello Witherspoon as the third cornerback for this team. That isn’t a huge feat considering how bad Witherspoon was, but Pierre still looked ok in his expanded role.
So why are Steelers fans writing him off the roster?
That is why it is so infuriating when I see Steelers fans talk about Pierre like he is abysmal and is on the outside looking in at this roster. It would be one thing if he just rested on his defensive laurels, but that added in with the special teams ability makes him a valuable roster member.
The Steelers have revamped their cornerback room with the additions of Patrick Peterson and Joey Porter Jr. Levi Wallace is also still around, and it is right to assume that all three of those players are currently ahead of Pierre on the depth chart.
That said, his path to the roster is pretty clear, and he has a real chance to leapfrog some names. If his defensive skills and continue to improve as they have, he has a real chance of bumping a name like Wallace down the depth chart and potentially even off this roster.
People cite Corey Trice as his main competitor. While I liked the value the team got in Trice in the seventh round, he is just that: a late-round pick who is battling to make the roster. While he has popped early, it is far too certain to say he is a lock to make the roster.
A small concern is his contract, as it is easy to get out of if need be. The real concern is the slot position. While Peterson seems like the immediate answer to the slot issue, this is a new role for him. Chandon Sullivan, while a mediocre player, also sees some boosted roster odds because of his ability to play inside.
If the Steelers opt to keep Peterson outside only, then Pierre could be the odd man out if Wallace does enough to keep his starting role and Trice shows promise as both a defensive and special teams player. That is the most realistic way I see Pierre ultimately missing out on this roster this offseason unless his play actually craters.
So why is everyone so down on Pierre? He is on a cheap deal, can do a lot of things for the team, and isn’t a complete liability anywhere. Personally, I would be fine with Pierre as the third cornerback if he earns that role. If not, the fourth option and core special teamer is a fine role to have.
So stop with the slander. It was a smart (and cheap) move to bring Pierre back. While his play isn’t elite, he has proven to be an effective starter when turned to that can also play special teams. Why wouldn’t you want him on this roster as it currently sits?