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What Steelers Fans Can Expect From Ahkello Witherspoon

Ahkello Witherspoon is now part of the roster at Pittsburgh, with the Steelers trading for him this week. The team had only kept four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster prior to adding Arthur Maulet back after they named Stephon Tuitt, Zach Banner and Anthony McFarland short-term reserves. Those weren’t all the moves to be made, however, as Ahkello has since come in via a trade from the Seattle Seahawks. 

The Steelers have traded a fifth-round pick to Seattle while Defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux has been released and signed to the practice squad in order to facilitate the trade. 

In bringing in Isaiahh Loudermilk, Pittsburgh had already forfeited a fourth-round draft pick in 2022 and they’ve also sent a fifth-round pick to the New York Jets in exchange for Avery Williamson and a sixth-round pick, which has since been sent to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Joe Schobert. The team is expected to get two compensatory picks when the selections are awarded, with one to come in the third round and the other in the fifth. Those cannot be traded since they haven’t been handed out. The trade for Witherspoon also isn’t expected to have an impact on the team’s compensatory pick status next year, although initial reports indicated it would.

Witherspoon, 26, spent his first four pro seasons with the San Francisco 49ers after being drafted in the third round in 2017. He joined the Seahawks in free agency on a one-year, $4 million deal inclusive of a $2.5 million signing bonus and will count $1.5 million against Pittsburgh’s salary cap. 

The cornerback has mostly played on the outside since joining the pros, starting 33 of the 47 games he’s played. In that time, he’s made four interceptions, 24 passes defensed, 117 tackles, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He allowed just 19 completions on 32 targets for 177 yards and an 82.4 passer rating.

Given that the Steelers have traded for him, it would appear they plan to keep Cam Sutton at slot cornerback. They already have the likes of Joe Haden, Justin Layne and Justin Pierre as outside cornerbacks – Maulet has been brought in as Sutton’s backup in the position. 

The latter lined up outside during training camp this summer but did bump inside in the nickel defense when Maulet and Antoine Brooks picked up injuries. Brooks has since been waived and is now in Los Angeles with the Rams.

Steelers fans are pretty unfamiliar with the new acquisition and must be wondering what they should expect from him heading into the season. Pittsburgh isn’t expected to win their opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, according to NFL odds and predictions handed out prior to the game. 

As for the player, he’s gained a reputation as a tease as he will make great displays for a handful of games before doing next to nothing in the following few. He finished the season strong for the 49ers last term and, based on what he did out on the field, it’s pretty surprising that they decided not to keep him around. He certainly has the looks of one of the best cornerbacks in the league about him when playing with confidence. On the other hand, however, he could be labeled as a bit of a disappointment. Take for example his sensational performance against DK Metcalf in week 17 last season, he looked unplayable. However, he was sat on the bench due to inconsistent form around the same time.

When it comes to weaknesses, physicality stands out as the biggest and it’s probably the reason the Seahawks decided to part ways with him. He has also shown that he can’t always be trusted to keep track of the receiver at the top of his route, as he showed against Jerry Jeudy during the preseason. A bit of consistency could see Witherspoon become one of the most dependable cornerbacks in the league but the lapses have plagued his career thus far.

The Sacramento native was mostly on the outside when he started but he was deployed in the slot when the 49ers put out their dime defense last term. He definitely appeared to be comfortable there given his raw athleticism. The latter means he is likely to always have a place in the league.

He can turn on those afterburners and change direction with ease. He can also jump but, finding the ball in the air is where he’s come up short a lot. In any case, he’s pretty excited to make a fresh start with the Steelers.

“It’s definitely much different, but it’s something that I feel fits my skill set well, and I’m excited to kind of switch up what I’ve been doing for the last four years and get out here and work something else,” he was quoted as saying recently. “A lot of man coverage is important for my game. Then switching it up and giving the quarterback different looks, so we’re not predictable.”

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