The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has had some early-season struggles in their secondary. At times, they have looked great, but there are times they are simply getting picked apart with ease. With key cap space decisions and free agents coming up as well, especially at the nickel cornerback spot this offseason, the Steelers may have to address their secondary in the draft. In terms of scheme fit and what Pittsburgh is looking for, there is no better fit than that of Oregon safety Jevon Holland. Rated as one of the best safeties in the draft, Holland’s fit would make him very appealing to the Steelers.
What the Steelers defense asks of their slot cornerbacks
The Steelers defense will always be one where there are pattern matching and lots of intertwining man and zone concepts. In order to play in this scheme, you have to have the instincts and mental processing ability to really wrap your head around multiple concepts to read defense properly. Otherwise, this is the stuff that can easily snowball into miscommunications. Those turn into big plays against your defense. The good news is Holland has a great football IQ. However, diving a little bit more into the specifics of this really shows just why Holland can fit in so well.
The Steelers ask their slot guys to blitz and also become hybrid safeties. At times, these guys can even work as the dimebacker. Right now, that all-encompassing role goes to the talented Cam Sutton. However, with no guarantee that he is in Pittsburgh past this season, Holland could fit into the Steelers dime packages as his replacement if Sutton walks. In that scenario, Mike Hilton is still here and takes his usual blitzing duties.
Here is one such example of what the Steelers like to do with their slot cornerbacks. Watch Sutton as he stays close to the line of scrimmage pre-snap, but once the ball is snapped, he rolls back into being the middle third defender in this Cover 3 scheme. The Steelers love to do this to mix up the calls that they give their opponents. However, a nickel cornerback with as natural safety experience as Holland has would be rare for the Steelers to have. Sutton and Hilton have taken reps there before, but Holland has legitimate experience in the role.
Holland’s experience not only in playing deep safety in a Cover 3 scheme is notable, but also his experience in robbing the middle of the field. As such, Holland can fit either in as the slot cornerback or the dimebacker into the Steelers defense that loves to mix and match its coverages.
Jevon Holland’s natural slot cornerback ability
Holland has the ability to be a natural coverage cornerback. As good as Hilton is, should he be kept over Sutton, they would be in need of a slot cornerback that could give them quality coverage snaps. Holland would bring that right into the fold for the Steelers in a massive way. Just watch this play above as Holland plays his outside leverage about as well as you can. He sees the receiver take his inside stem and immediately starts driving on the football. This is a combination of athleticism, ball skills, and instincts. Holland’s explosiveness gets him to the catch point, his ball skills get him the interception, and his instincts allow him to properly stick to his leverage rules and recognize the slant from eye discipline alone.
Just as important is the Steelers’ ability to get a player that can really flash those playmaking skills. The emphasis they have placed on ball skills in recent drafts makes this a must. It does not hurt that Holland has such smooth hips and can recover as he does here after getting turned around. Holland tracks this beautifully to the catch point as he stays in-phase and hooked into the hip pocket to jump the route.
All in all, the fit is based on Holland’s unique experience and proficiency at both safety and slot cornerback. With Sutton’s contract coming up this year, the Steelers will have a decision to make there. However, if he does walk, Holland would be an excellent replacement that would bring an impact from day one.