The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t had much success drafting cornerbacks, but they have done well with undrafted free agents. Recall that in 2015, the Steelers used a second-round pick on Senquez Golson, a diminutive cornerback from Ole Miss who never played a down for the team. But the very next year, the Steelers signed an undrafted free agent from the same school, Mike Hilton, who went on to become one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league, playing 59 games for Pittsburgh before reaching unrestricted free agency and signing a four-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals.
More recently, the Steelers signed James Pierre out of Florida Atlantic in the spring of 2020. He appeared in 16 games for Pittsburgh as a rookie and played an even larger role last season, when he started four of 17 games and recorded 47 tackles, while also contributing an interception, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed, as per Pro Football Reference.
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Bryce Watts Has 4.4 Speed and Plenty of Confidence
Might Bryce Watts — 6-feet-tall and 185 pounds with 4.4 speed — be the Steelers’ next free agent find at the position? Watts seems to think so. In February he sent a tweet proclaiming himself the “BEST CORNER” in the 2022 draft class.
NFL teams didn’t agree, but he will get an opportunity to prove himself beginning on May 13, when the joins nine other undrafted free agent signees at the Steelers’ rookie minicamp, among a group that will also include USC cornerback Chris Steele.
For what it’s worth, NFL draft analysts seem to think that Watts has a chance to make it in the league. Senior writer/columnist Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic recently labeled him as Pittsburgh’s undrafted “player to watch,” describing him as “a guy who got lost in the shuffle after transferring from Virginia Tech to North Carolina in 2019 before opting out in 2020 due to COVID-19. He landed at UMass in 2021 for one final shot. Watts has great speed and burst with good feet, he just hasn’t played much football over the last three years. Only 12 games and eight starts since 2018,” relates Baumgardner.
Similarly, NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein has said that Watts possesses “Adequate size, good athleticism and above-average speed for the position…. He’s both athletic and tough enough for the pro game and should have a chance to state his case in camp.”
Bryce Watts Likens Himself to Jalen Ramsey and Jaire Alexander
Chad Reuter, draft analyst for NFL.com, thought the Los Angeles Rams might select Watts in the seventh-round, which is notable, because in March 2022 Watts told Kevin Tame of SI.com that he “imitate(s) his game” after Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, though he says his play style is more reminiscent of Green Bay Packers Pro Bowler Jaire Alexander.
Watts declared for the draft on Nov. 30, 2021, despite having a year of eligibility left at UMass.
“I was really just ready. I felt mentally, physically ready,” he told Kyle Grabowski of the Daily Hampshire Gazette in April 2022. “I’ll be 24 going into the league. I didn’t want to be 25 going into the league.”
That said, he’ll soon have the opportunity to see how his coverage skills stack up against the likes of Steelers rookie wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, not to mention veterans like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.
In a pre-draft interview with NFL Draft Diamonds he indicated that his favorite coverage is Man Press, “because it gives me total responsibility for a guy who I get to put my hands on and run stride for stride with.”
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