Here is the next in a position-by-position series on the Steelers at the conclusion of the 2022 season as they head into the start of the NFL free agent period, which opens March 15.
Cam Sutton, Arthur Maulet, Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, James Pierre, William Jackson
(free agent scorecard: 1 unrestricted, Cam Sutton; 1 restricted, James Pierre)
A LAST LOOK AT 2022
This group started off the season with a lot of promise as Cam Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon both had interceptions and the Steelers picked off Cincinnati's Joe Burrow four times in a 23-20 overtime victory to start the season.
Then, the injuries started to happen.
Witherspoon suffered a hamstring injury in Week 4 that would sideline him for all but one game for the remainder of the season.
Wallace suffered a concussion in a Week 5 loss at Buffalo that also knocked him out the next week, as well, while Sutton also missed that Week 6 win over the Buccaneers with a hamstring issue.
It all led to some shaky moments, as the Steelers were torched for a number of big plays, particularly in games against the Bills and Eagles. But there also were big plays downfield allowed in games against the Browns, Patriots and Jets that led to losses in those games, as well.
At the midway point of the season, the Steelers were allowing a league-worst 12.9 yards per catch. But that improved over the second half and the team wound up allowing 12.2 yards per reception for the season.
The Steelers allowed 29 touchdown passes, which was tied with three other teams for second-most in the league, but also led the NFL with 20 interceptions, with the cornerbacks contributing half of those, led by Wallace's four.
But according to Pro Football Reference, Sutton allowed just a 47.9 percent completion percentage in his coverage, while Wallace was at 53.2 percent, both well below the league average. James Pierre, who wound up playing a lot after injuries sidelined Witherspoon, was even better, giving up a completion percentage of 41.9 percent. Nickel cornerback Arthur Maulet was at 61.5 percent, while Witherspoon finished at 75.9 percent.
The Steelers finished the season by holding their last seven opponents under 200 passing yards after giving up more than 200 yards through the air in nine of their first 10 contests.
Settling into a rotation that involved Sutton, Wallace, Pierre and Maulet helped that.
ONE STAT THAT STOOD OUT
Opposing wide receivers caught just under 58 percent of the passes thrown their way against the Steelers this season, but their 14.5 yards per reception allowed to wide receivers was worst in the NFL. The Lions, Bengals and Bears were the only other teams to allow more than 14 yards per catch to opposing wideouts.
- Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast
LOOK AHEAD TO 2023
Sutton is an unrestricted free agent. He'll turn 28 at the end of February, so the 2017 third-round draft pick isn't anywhere near being over the hill.
Keeping Sutton, who can play every spot on the back end of the defense, would be nice. Sutton is a heady player coming off a season in which he had a career-high three interceptions. And he has five interceptions the past two seasons.
Wallace showed he can be an impact player, as well, in his first season with the Steelers after being added as a free agent.
And Pierre, who is a restricted free agent, rebounded well after an up-and-down season in 2021 that eventually led to him being benched. Pierre played 260 defensive snaps in 2022, seeing time on the outside in second- and third-and-long situations when Sutton slid inside to the slot.
Maulet has proven valuable in the slot, particularly on run downs, where he excels as a blitzer, as well.
After a promising 2020 season in which he played well down the stretch after being acquired via trade with Seattle, Witherspoon appeared in just four games.
The Steelers also acquired veteran William Jackson at the trade deadline for a conditional draft pick. Jackson did not play a down after coming over from Washington, missing the rest of the season with a back issue.
He's under contract for 2023, but the Steelers could move on from the 30-year-old at minimal cost.
Overall, this group produced more splash in 2022 than the secondary had done the previous season. Keeping that component of things intact while also not giving up as many big plays as it did in 2023 is a must.
With Pierre at 26 being the youngest player in this group, adding some young talent in the draft wouldn't be the worst idea.