Levi Wallace’s name might not come first to mind when you think of elite cover corners. In fact, during his time in Buffalo, most of the attention went to the other Bills’ corner, Tre White, considered one of the best in the game. But if you study the metrics, Wallace not only graded out better than White but as a top ten cornerback in football. That’s according to NFL.com’s Nick Shook, who notes Wallace came in #8 among cornerbacks last year.
According to Shook’s article via Next Gen Stats, Wallace had a 73.8 QB rating against when targeted last year. Crucially, quarterbacks had a -15.3 expected points added when targeting Wallace in 2021. In other words, teams were less efficient and productive when they looked Wallace’s way.
Shook goes on to write:
“His targeted EPA is a strong -15.3, and his tight-window percentage of 27.2 is indicative of a corner who stays very close to the intended target and is ready to make a play. Wallace’s 10 passes defensed should come as no surprise, then, and he might have landed higher on this list had he finished with more than two interceptions (on 81 targets).”
The article also notes Wallace’s average yards of separation allowed was just 2.4 yards, which was better than even the top corners on NFL.com’s list, Atlanta’s AJ Terrell (2.7) and New England’s J.C. Jackson (2.9). In fact, of the ten corners listed, only Green Bay’s Rasul Douglas had lower separation yardage (2.3).
Pittsburgh didn’t need to break the bank to sign Wallace this offseason, inking him to a two-year, $8 million contract this offseason. His exact role with the Steelers is unclear. He’s been an outside corner opposite White in his career and seems best suited to play there. But there’s also Cam Sutton and the returning Ahkello Witherspoon, who re-signed under the exact same contract terms as Wallace. Bumping Sutton to the slot is logical but how it all fits remains to be seen.
While we don’t know how NFL.com and Next Gen Stats graded out the other Steelers’ corners, according to our charting, Witherspoon allowed just a 13.8 QB rating when targeted last year, emerging as the team’s top cover corner down the stretch. He’ll need to prove he can be a consistent, high-level player over a 17-game season. Sutton’s numbers were far worse, a QB rating against of 116.9. Witherspoon aside, all the Steelers’ CBs allowed a QB rating in the triple-digits last season, making Wallace’s signing a crucial one.
Wallace was the only AFC North corner to crack the top ten list. He’s also the only name on the list to switch teams this offseason, signaling Pittsburgh got a bargain and real upgrade at corner.