In order to learn more about Philly’s new secondary addition, I thought it’d benefit BGN readers to get a Pittsburgh Steelers perspective on Nelson. I reached out to good friend Jeff Hartman (@JHartman_PIT) of Behind The Steel Curtain and here’s what he had to say.
1 - Can you recap Nelson’s career with the Steelers?
Steven Nelson was the highest paid free agent in Steelers history when he signed prior to the 2019 season. His 2019 was tremendous, but the only thing which kept him out of Pro Bowl/All-Pro discussions was his lack of interceptions. He was a very good cornerback for the Steelers, but definitely took a step backwards in 2020. The only reason he was released was for cap purposes, not directly related to on-field performance.
2 - Why did the Steelers cut him? How did fans react to his release?
As I stated above, the Steelers had to get rid of either Nelson or Joe Haden due to their big contracts. They decided to keep Haden and release Nelson. The fan reaction around Nelson leaving has been lukewarm, at best. Fans never really knew what to think of Nelson. He played great in 2019, and that was evident, but his 2020 left fans wondering if the team made a mistake signing him for all that money.
3 - What are his strengths?
Nelson’s strengths are definitely in coverage, and he can play both man and zone concepts. I will say I feel he is better suited for a man based scheme, rather than a zone heavy scheme like the Steelers run. Nonetheless, many times it looked as if Nelson wasn’t doing his job in the zone scheme, but it was someone else not doing their job and leaving Nelson out to dry.
4 - What are his weaknesses?
Nelson certainly doesn’t have the best ball skills, but they aren’t horrible either. His tackling can be considered a weakness, but he doesn’t avoid contact. Nelson is an above average cornerback who is very versatile. He does a lot of things well, but isn’t outstanding in any category.
5 - What’s a reasonable expectation for him moving forward? Can he be a quality starting cornerback for the next few seasons?
I absolutely think Nelson is a starting cornerback in the league, and if he isn’t outside he is capable of playing inside. When the Steelers were without Mike Hilton in 2020, Nelson would flex inside for the nickel and dime backer position. He looks to be more comfortable on the outside, but his versatility was evident when he was in Pittsburgh.
6 - Anything to know about him off the field?
Nelson is tough to figure out off the field. He is active on social media, but deleted his Twitter account during his free agent stint this offseason. He would sometimes get into it with fans when rumors would swirl of why he hadn’t signed with a team immediately after his release. The fact he signed for a 1-year, $4 million dollar contract makes you wonder if there weren’t other suitors. It makes you wonder if Philadelphia was the only team who really gave him a legitimate offer. Nonetheless, you saw a huge difference in Nelson from 2019 to 2020. When fans started to be critical of his play, it didn’t always end well. I’m not sure if he realizes what the Philly fans are like...
BLG’s take: While I do believe the Nelson signing is a sensible one, it is fair to wonder why he lasted on the open market for so long. I don’t think it was about a total lack of interest in him, though, as much as it was a disconnect about his value. Nelson seemed to especially value himself a lot more highly than teams did. He ultimately had to blink, though, with training camp coming up. He saw the Eagles as his best chance to maximize this year’s earnings while aiming to earn a much more lucrative contract next offseason. TBD if Nelson can bounce back after having a down year in 2020. If he does, there’s a chance the Eagles could sign him to a multi-year extension.
Career stats via Pro Football Reference:
Spider graph via Mockdraftable: