Jul 13, 2023

Film Room: Desmond King Provides Steelers With Feisty Veteran Presence At Slot Corner

Seven years later, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally landed versatile cornerback Desmond King II.

One day after King was released by the Houston Texans, the Steelers and GM Omar Khan pounced, reportedly signing the veteran to a one-year deal Wednesday, giving Pittsburgh a feisty, experienced cornerback who can play inside and outside, and can return punts, too.

Pittsburgh did a ton of work on the former Iowa standout in the pre-draft process leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft. King eventually landed with the Los Angeles Chargers before spending half a season with the Tennessee Titans and the last two seasons with the Houston Texans.

Now, he’s a Steeler provided he passes his physical. His pending addition to the roster comes at a great time, too, with the Steelers needing some overall experience and versatility in the cornerback room. Veteran Patrick Peterson was added in free agency to provide leadership, while Levi Wallace is a steady presence. The future is bright with rookie Joey Porter Jr., too, but behind those three there are concerns.

Veterans Chandon Sullivan and Elijah Riley were slated to handle slot reps prior to King’s addition, but they might be viewed as just depth at this point. James Pierre had an up-and-down training camp and preseason and might be the odd man out. King is a big addition though to the Steelers.

In his career, King has played 4,956 snaps over six seasons in the NFL. Of those snaps, 2,782 have come in the slot with another 1,317 as a boundary corner. King also has 312 snaps in the box and another 60 snaps at free safety in his career, moving all over the place the last six seasons.

Slot corner is primarily his home, but he played more outside than inside the last two seasons in Houston. In Pittsburgh, he’s likely going to be a slot corner, one who is going to bring a feisty demeanor to the position again after the losses of Mike Hilton and Arthur Maulet. Good news is, he’s adept in coverage and can play downhill against the run with strength and physicality. That should allow him to stick on the field in all situations, unlike how Maulet was taken off the field in passing situations due to struggles.

Last season, King graded out at a 73.2 overall from Pro Football Focus, his best grade since the 2018 season in Los Angeles. King recorded grades of 69.8 against the run and 71.8 in coverage, allowing 42 receptions on 58 targets for 413 yards and two touchdowns in coverage. King had six pass breakups and two interceptions last season, according to PFF.

Additionally, King had 28 run stops, but he did have 13 missed tackles (13.4 percent miss rate). He’s 28 and has logged a lot of snaps, but there’s a solid corner there for Pittsburgh.

Let’s dive into the film room.

Right away on tape it was clear that King has a great motor as a run defender and loves to mix it up in the box.

He has a strong initial punch against the run, creating separation from blockers, and he’s consistently running to the football around the line of scrimmage looking to get into the mix.

Here against Jacksonville in Week Five of the 2022 season, King initiates contact against the two receivers trying to set up the tunnel screen on the outside. King is able to fight off the first block from Zay Jones and then is able to get underneath and around the second block. Getting into the backfield, he is able to chip in on the tackle for loss.

King will strike you in the face and shed to get off a block. He’s also really solid in space at avoiding blocks to make plays.

Taking on Jacksonville’s Christian Kirk in the slot, King does a great job of getting around Kirk’s block attempt on the outside run, staying upright and closing ground in a hurry for the big stop near the line of scrimmage.

Though the running back stumbles a bit, King was in position to make a play due to his ability to read the play and get off the block quickly in space.

He can really hold his own on the edge.

King isn’t perfect on the edge though. He can be overwhelmed with length.

Jacksonville’s Evan Engram takes him for a ride here and throws him out of the club.

King doesn’t have the strength to really anchor in space, so he has to take the fight to the blocker or try to get around him. When he tries to take on straight up and try to gain control to read the play, he gets overpowered.

This was an ugly rep on the outside.

Effort really stands out with King against the run though.

Look at the ground King covers here from one side of the formation to the other against the Philadelphia Eagles last season.

That’s want-to. It rubs off on teammates. King fighting across the formation like this, sifting through traffic and then finding the ball carrier for a short gain is outstanding.

You can’t teach heart and desire; King has it in abundance.

He will catch receivers off guard against the run with his physicality at the point of attack when he takes the fight to them.

Look at the way he stuns the New York Giants receiver here.

That’s great power in his punch to stun the receiver backwards. Only issue on the rep though is that King has to do a better job of getting off the block and making the play. The initial punch to rock the blocker backwards is impressive, but he doesn’t finish.

King has the tools to be a strong run defender for the Steelers in the slot. He brings the physicality and the feistiness the Steelers desire at the position.

King has struggled at times in pass coverage throughout his career, but on tape it’s rather intriguing how well he plays with his eyes on the quarterback in off-man.

He has really good spatial feel for where his man is, and he does a good job of keeping eyes on the quarterback and making plays on the football.

King loves the one-handed punch to get a hand on the receiver and disrupt timing. It’s all over his tape.

While this might look like it’s a win from Kirk, this is sound coverage from King, disrupting the timing with the initial punch and then staying in Kirk’s hip pocket to undercut any throw. He’s really comfortable in this type of technique and likes to try and bait quarterbacks into throws.

Again, King gets the one-hand punch in to disrupt timing and then does a good job of sitting in his window, squeezing towards the middle of the field slightly.

He never takes his eyes off the quarterback and anticipates the throw, getting hands on the ball to break up the pass over the middle.

You’d like to see him finish these types of plays with interceptions, but it’s really good coverage overall in zone with good feel.

The thing that stood out with King is how patient he is as a defensive back. He never panics, trusts his technique and lets his instincts take over.

Here in a tight game, King invites the Jaguars to get behind him down the middle. He has belief he’s going to be able to cover the middle of the field.

Tremendous play here, laying out every inch of him to knock the football away. Very good play from a solid cornerback overall.

King is much better with the play in front of him. When he has to open his hips and run, he can lose a feel for where the receiver is, giving up some big plays like he did in Week 18 against the Indianapolis Colts.

He never takes his eyes off the quarterback and thinks he has a good feel for where the receiver is, but he loses him, leading to the explosive play.

Good thing it was a dreadful throw, or it would have wound up in the end zone.

King is a solid addition to the Steelers defense in the slot. He’s going to be able to provide good run defense overall and won’t be a liability in coverage the way guys like Hilton and Maulet were in years past. He can play inside and outside and is great depth for the Steelers to add leading up to the start of the regular season.

After doing all that work on him in the pre-draft process, the Steelers were finally able to get their man. The move dramatically shores up the cornerback room as King is a clear-cut upgrade in the slot over Chandon Sullivan and Elijah Riley, at least on paper. It’ll be curious to see how the Steelers deploy him under Teryl Austin, but the versatility and playmaking are ideal for the Steelers in the secondary moving forward.