Life has come full circle for cornerback Joey Porter Jr.
On February 5, 2006, young Porter Jr. watched his father, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter Sr., win Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks. During the celebration on the field, Porter Sr. held Porter Jr. in his arms to share his greatest accomplishment of his NFL career.
Over 17 years later, Porter Sr. watched his son get drafted by the same team he once played for. Yet Porter Jr. is more than just a legacy draft pick.. This past season, he was one of the top defensive backs in the nation and a legitimate first-round prospect.
In his true freshman year with Penn State, Porter Jr. saw little action as he appeared in four games and recorded three tackles and a pass deflected. By his redshirt freshman year, he would start in eight games and register 33 tackles, four pass deflections, and a sack. For his efforts, he would earn All-Big Ten third-team honors. A year later, he would make 13 starts at cornerback and record 51 tackles, an interception, and four pass deflections.
Then came Porter Jr.'s redshirt junior year, where he would gain national attention as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation. In Week 1 against Purdue, he would tie the Big Ten record for pass breakups in a game with six; he would eventually finish the season with 11 passes defensed. Both his completion rate in man coverage (34.6) and passer rating allowed (63.6) ranked him among the best defenders in the nation. He would earn All-America second-team honors from several publications and first-team All-Big Ten honors.
When it came to playing press coverage, Porter Jr. was arguably the best defensive back in college football in this aspect. His aggressive approach to receivers coming off the line of scrimmage, combined with his ability to use his length, makes him the type of cornerback one would feel comfortable putting on an island.
Elite Level Length
If there is one physical aspect that sets Porter Jr. apart from the other cornerbacks in this year's draft class, it is his length. Simply put, Porter Jr. is a unique physical specimen at 6'2, with a measured arm length of 34 inches and a near-81-inch wingspan. What makes Porter Jr. such an effective player is his ability to make full use of his length to make plays. Whether he is defending shallow or vertical routes, Porter Jr. has shown a propensity to take advantage of his unique physical gifts.
In this sequence against Purdue, Porter Jr. does an excellent job staying square to the receiver and getting into the hip pocket of the route when the receiver makes his break. Notice how he allows a little space between him and the receiver. Even with the space, Porter Jr. knows he has the length to shield off the receiver from the catching window. On this play, he waits, then extends to make a timely pass deflection. Porter Jr. is one of the few defensive backs with this type of room for error due to his incredible length.
Proven Ball Skills
Generally, when people think of ball skills, they think of interceptions. Yet, ball skills in relation to a defensive back entail understanding where his leverage is being attacked and knowing instinctively when to play the ball when it comes in their direction. In 2022, Porter Jr. did not record any interceptions but was arguably the best in the nation in forced incompletions and pass deflections.
In this sequence against Auburn, the aspect to follow is the two receivers bunched on the top left side across the Porter Jr.; one positioned on the line of scrimmage, the other is positioned about three yards off the line of scrimmage. The objective of this small rub concept was for one of the receivers to gain enough time and room to make a play. Porter Jr. in this case plays it beautifully and takes the receiver closest to the line of scrimmage. Porter Jr. does an excellent job shadowing the receiver during the stem of the route. Giving the receiver little room on the outside, he turns his head to play the ball. Porter Jr. is seemingly out of position due to some hand fighting that took place while the ball was in the area. Yet he uses his length to not only fight off the receiver, but to get the pass deflection while out of position.
Deep Speed And Acceleration
During his college career, Porter Jr. was rarely beaten over the top because of his ability to accelerate to his top speed quickly. His overall speed, in conjunction with his ability to use his length, is part of why he was an efficient press corner. During this year's NFL Combine, Porter Jr. ran a time of 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. When watching him on film, both his combine and play speed on the field complement each other nicely.
In the example against Michigan, the Wolverines receiver releases outside. Porter Jr. does a good job matching his speed during the stem of the route while forcing the receiver's route to the outside. By the time the ball was released, Porter Jr. had his head turned around with the receiver well covered. Despite the ball being slightly overthrown, the fact is that the quarterback had no window to place the ball for his receiver due to Porter Jr.'s coverage.
What is great about Porter Jr. is that he has yet to scratch the surface of his potential. Though he is an accomplished press corner, his skillset should also translate to allow him to become an effective zone corner. No matter the scheme, Porter Jr. will likely rise to the challenge and succeed, as he has always been able to do.