The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to make a change at cornerback with the release of Desmond King. But Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger argued that the Steelers should make another move at the position.
Spielberger proposed Pittsburgh acquire Tennessee Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton for a 2025 fifth-round pick.
“Fulton is struggling mightily in the fourth and final season of his rookie contract, but a change of scenery where he can play behind one of the league’s elite defensive lines could help him turn his young career around,” Spielberger wrote. “The only cornerbacks under contract beyond 2023 in Pittsburgh are 33-year-old Patrick Peterson and rookies Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice.”
“Trice suffered a torn ACL in the team’s first padded practice, and the uber-talented prospect out of Purdue fell to the seventh round because of injury concerns to begin with.”
The Titans drafted Fulton at No. 61 overall in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft. He has recorded 24 combined tackles, including 1 tackle for loss and 3 pass defenses in six games this season.
How CB Kristian Fulton Potential Fits With the Steelers
The Steelers haven’t had much in the middle in terms of experience at cornerback this year. At the start of the regular season, the Steelers had two former All-Pro cornerbacks — King and Patrick Peterson on the roster. But neither had made the Pro Bowl or All-Pro since 2018.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Steelers possess rookie Joey Porter Jr. He has played very well in small samples, but it’s relatively clear that the coaching staff doesn’t completely trust the rookie yet. Other cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Chandon Sullivan should be in their primes. They are 28 and 27 years old, respectively.
But both cornerbacks have a player grade below 50 (out of 100) at Pro Football Focus. Those PFF ratings have Wallace and Sullivan both ranked outside of the top 150 cornerbacks in the NFL this season. Their struggles led Spielberger to argue Pittsburgh as a landing spot for Fulton.
“Among 83 cornerbacks in 2023 with at least 100 snaps lined up out wide, Levi Wallace’s 48.2 grade ranks 72nd and Patrick Peterson’s 59.6 mark ranks 54th,” Spielberger wrote. “Porter has flashed big time when on the field, but adding another young option to, at the very least, get a look for 2024 and beyond makes a lot of sense for the Steelers.”
Fulton has started 31 games in his career. So, he has starting experience, but he is also still only 25 years old. In 36 games overall, he has 128 combined tackles, including five tackles for loss, 23 pass defenses and 4 interceptions. In 2021, Fulton posted a career-high 14 pass defenses with 2 interceptions in 13 starts.
Steelers Looking for Help at Nickel Cornerback?
There are a few reasons why Fulton might not be the right fit for the Steelers. For one, the Steelers reportedly already plan to add a young cornerback. NFL Network Tom Pelissero reported on October 17 that the Steelers will release King and then sign rookie cornerback Darius Rush from the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad.
If the Steelers were interested in trading a draft pick for Fulton, then they likely would not be adding Rush.
Secondly, Fulton does not fit the biggest need for the Steelers at cornerback. The past three seasons, Fulton has mostly played wide cornerback. Pittsburgh’s biggest weakness in the secondary is in the slot.
Speilberger is correct that Pittsburgh could use better play on the outside at cornerback, but the Steelers should turn to Porter for that eventual upgrade. It’s also debatable whether Fulton will actually be an upgrade. While he posted a PFF player grade of about 64 in each of the past two seasons, Fulton has earned a 45.1 PFF player grade this season.
And because he’s set to be a free agent in March, there wouldn’t be much time for Fulton to earn another contract to stay in Pittsburgh. The compensation for Fulton may have to be very cheap for the Steelers to be interested.