Letting Keenan Lewis walk in free agency couldn’t have been easy, but it’s a loss the Pittsburgh Steelers will be more than capable of coping with. For starters, they added to their already deep group of defensive backs by signing former-and-current Steeler William Gay in free agency to be their nickelback. This moves the more than capable former nickelback, Cortez Allen, into the starting spot formerly held by Keenan Lewis, if even for only one season.
It’s a position that Allen will more than likely excel in, and an opportunity that he most certainly deserved based on last season. In limited playing time, Allen exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations in the nickel role, and as injuries took their toll on the Steelers secondary. Of the 113 cornerbacks graded on ProFootballFocus in pass coverage, Allen finished as the 14th best in coverage. Of the more quantifiable and less arbitrary stats, he was equally successful. Quartberbacks throwing into Allen’s coverage completed only 58 percent of their passes for a rating of 68.5. He also had two interceptions on the year, both of which came in a week 16 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It’s hard to say whether Allen will continue this level of play as he is asked to move into a starting role for the entire season, but the results so far leave me optimistic. It’s even more difficult to say whether he can provide the stability at the position that Lewis was able to provide for so much of last season, but by that same token, Allen’s two interceptions trump Lewis’ zero. He might not be able to shutdown receivers with the same proficiency, but he will also be able to force more turnovers.
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