Steelers Promote Former 2nd-Round Pick, Place ‘Promising Rookie’ on IR

Steelers CB Josh Jackson

Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images Cornerback Josh Jackson of the Pittsburgh Steelers is tackled by Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills on October 9, 2022.

With Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town on Sunday, it’s arguably the worst possible time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to be in crisis mode in the secondary. Things are so bad that first-team All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) has already been ruled out for the game, as have the team’s top 3 cornerbacks — Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring), Cameron Sutton (hamstring) and Levi Wallace (concussion).

Steelers Confirm the Promotion of CB Josh Jackson

In response, the Steelers have promoted cornerback Josh Jackson to the 53-man roster. ESPN senior NFL reporter Jeremey Fowler was the first to report the news, which came down early Saturday afternoon. A few hours later, the Steelers confirmed the signing, even as they also elevated cornerback Quincy Wilson and safety Elijah Riley to the active/inactive roster, an indication that both are going to be active for Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers.

Notably, Jackson has only been with Pittsburgh since Sept. 5, when the Steelers signed the former Packers 2nd-round pick as insurance in case of injury to Witherspoon, Sutton or Wallace. Wilson has had even less time to learn Pittsburgh’s defense, as he signed to the team’s practice squad on Sept. 21. Even Riley is a relative newcomer, having been claimed on waivers from the New York Jets on Aug. 24.

Thus far this season, Jackson has been credited with two tackles and a fumble recovery in just 35 snaps (26 on defense and nine on special teams). Wilson and Riley have yet to appear on the scoresheet this year, though Riley was also added to the active/inactive roster for last week’s blowout loss to the Bills.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has two other defensive backs on its practice squad, namely cornerback Mark Gilbert (who has been on and off the practice squad this season); as well as rookie Scott Nelson (Wisconsin), who was signed on Oct. 4 after spending most of this year with the Seattle Seahawks.

A ‘Tough Blow’ for Pittsburgh’s Defensive Line

Yet the biggest news to emerge from Saturday’s announcement is that “promising rookie” DeMarvin Leal has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. It appears to be a new ailment, as Leal first appeared on the team’s injury report on Friday and was ruled out for the Bucs game the same day.

Leal — who was selected in the 3rd-round of the 2022 draft — has been flying under the radar since the outset of training camp, somewhat overlooked because of the struggles of Pittsburgh’s defense, and because of the attention devoted to the team’s 1st- and 2nd-round picks, namely quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens.

But Leal has been noticeable — in a good way — all season, and has already been credited with nine tackles and three passes defensed, despite playing just 26% of the defensive snaps in the first five games. That’s why his injury has been described — by Josh Rowntree of 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh) — as a “tough blow for the d-line,” not to mention Leal, “who was really starting to come on in his rookie season.”

As a result of Leal’s absence, second-year defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk could make his 2022 regular-season debut.

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