NFL Combine: Porter credits family for position

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A year ago, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. was thinking about declaring for the NFL Draft.

But after sitting down with his parents and talking it over, he decided to stay in school another year.

Their message to their son might not have been what he wanted to hear – he wasn't ready to head to the NFL – but it was the one he needed.

And as it turns out, it was the right move.

Porter, 22, spent another year at Penn State and went from being a player who might have been selected sometime on Day 2 of the draft to being a player who is a sure-fire first-round pick this year.

"Last year, I was a little more handsy, which was the main reason I had like 10 or 12 penalties," Porter said Thursday here at the NFL Scouting Combine. "This year, I took it down to three or two. I feel like that was a big jump and change. That was really trusting myself and my ability."

It helps when you have a father who has played and coached in the NFL himself and can have that kind of knowledge to impart. Joey Porter Sr., of course, had a stellar career with the Steelers as a linebacker and then also coached with the team from 2015 through 2018.

So, when he told his son he wasn't quite ready to go to the NFL just yet, it resonated with him a little more.

And it turned out to be the right move. Porter didn't allow a touchdown reception in his coverage during the 2022 season. He gave up 15 receptions on 30 targets. Most teams didn't even try to throw in his direction.

He also didn't have any interceptions in 2022 after getting one in 2021, but that was more of a byproduct of teams just not throwing his way.

"For some guys, I think so, but not for me," Porter said when asked if having just one career interception is a concern. "I know what I can do. I'm not worried about that.

"I didn't get targeted a lot, especially toward the back end (of the season). I knew what it was. It was a respect thing."

Porter is confident. To play his position on the field, confidence is a must.

He said he's got the fiery attitude his father played with on the field, but he's more like his mother, Christy, off it. That seems to serve him well.

"I feel like I'm CB1 for a reason," Porter said when it comes to his ranking in this year's draft. "I feel like I'm the best corner here. I'm here to show my talents and prove why."

Whether that winds up being the case remains to be seen. Porter sits atop this year's cornerback draft class along with Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez of Oregon according to most draft analysts. How NFL teams see that trio, and in what order, remains to be seen.

But Porter, who was around the Steelers quite a bit when he was in high school when his father was coaching, would love the opportunity to join the Steelers, who own the 17th pick in the first round of the draft in April.

"I think it would probably mean a lot for me and my family, being in the Pittsburgh area for a little bit now," Porter said. "Staying home would mean a lot."

Whether the Steelers get that opportunity to select him remains to be seen.

But his skill set is intriguing. It's something he began to develop in those days of running around the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with head coach Mike Tomlin's sons Dino and Mason.

"I remember when I was a kid, I did one-on-ones with (Antonio Brown), and that was a nice treat," Porter recalled. "I know he wasn't going 100 percent, but to just go line up against him was special.

"I came in to be a sponge with every guy who was in the facility."

• Defensive backs took center stage here on Thursday with their interviews and, not surprisingly, former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu's name came up when talking to some safeties.

Illinois safety Sydney Brown was asked about comparisons in his game to that of the Pro Football Hall of Famer.

"That's a big-time comparison. Thank you for that," Brown said. "I respect Troy's game. I definitely watched him growing up. I like guys like Antoine Winfield and Vonn Bell in the NFL right now and I kind of respect their game just because of their versatility and all that."

Some of the comparisons to Polamalu for Brown come because he has longer hair that flows out of his helmet in a way similar to Polamalu, but he's also a player who played all over the secondary for the Illini, recording six interceptions last season.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

But comparisons to Polamalu? Well, that's high praise – albeit unfair to put on a young player.

"I've watched his highlight tape, the Steelers one that they got on YouTube," Brown said. "It's probably the only one I've really seen. I've made time to watch that growing up, but I don't try and apply what he's done because he's such a great player. But it's cool watching someone like that make the plays they did."

• While the defensive backs took to the podium for interviews, the defensive linemen, edge rushers and linebackers had the first on-field workouts of this Combine on Thursday.

Former Pitt defensive tackle Calijah Kancey had a good day measuring in at 6-foot-1 and 281 pounds. He then went out and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67, the fastest for a player 280 or more pounds since 2003.

It was just a tick better than former Pitt star and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who ran a 4.68 in 2014.

Kancey heard from Steelers quarterback and former Pitt teammate Kenny Pickett before the Combine. There's a good chance he'll hear from him again after his workout Thursday.

"He's a great leader and a great captain," Kancey said of Pickett. "He sent me a text and told me good luck. I appreciate that from Kenny."

• Kancey's record didn't last long. Northwestern's Adetomiwa Adebawore went out in the second group of defensive linemen and was timed at 4.49 seconds at 6-foot-2, 282 pounds.

• Four members of the Steelers' coaching staff will be taking part in the on-field workouts with prospects at the Combine.

Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, defensive backs coach Grady Brown, wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson and assistant offensive line Isaac Williams will be on field at their respective positions.