Though cornerback depth is questionable, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose not to address the position in the NFL draft. By remaining quiet, head coach Mike Tomlin and outgoing general manager Kevin Colbert showed a vote of confidence in their current group to see how things play out during offseason workouts and training camp.
One of the reasons they felt confident was the addition of veteran Levi Wallace, who Pittsburgh brought in as one of several free agent moves.
“This is a guy that has just been battle-tested in every stage of life,” Tomlin said of Wallace in March. “He was a walk-on at Alabama and earned his way. He was undrafted in Buffalo and earned his way. I’m just really excited about having an opportunity to work with a guy who has overcome adversity and smiled in the face of it in a manner which he has, throughout every level of play.”
Despite going undrafted, Wallace started all 52 games with the Buffalo Bills.
“I don’t let people’s expectations get put on me,” Wallace told the media on March 17. “People say undrafted, I say eighth round. So I did get drafted. That’s been my story, walking on at Alabama, and no one expected me to start there, win a championship, let alone get a scholarship.”
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Wallace’s proven talent and experience immediately placed him atop ESPN’s offseason depth chart, opposite second-year Steeler Ahkello Witherspoon. Will Wallace and Witherspoon show enough to keep their coveted spots heading into Week 1? It’s something to watch in the coming months.
PFF: Steelers Most Underrated Player
Nobody loves to see an underdog succeed more than Mike Tomlin. And that’s precisely the label Pro Football Focus (PFF) doled out to Levi Wallace in an article highlighting the most underrated players on every team.
PFF lead NFL analyst Sam Monson wrote the following to make his case:
Wallace is a classic underdog story. An undersized cornerback without special physical traits, he was a walk-on at Alabama and went undrafted in the NFL before going on to start consistently for Buffalo opposite Tre’Davious White. He likely won’t ever be a great player, but he’s consistently better than he is given credit for and exceeds expectations because of it. Wallace has never earned a below-average PFF coverage grade in a season, and he’ll likely continue to impress after signing with the Steelers this offseason.
In 2021 — Wallace’s final season with the Bills — 50 solo tackles, two interceptions and 47 receptions allowed on 81 targets earned Wallace an overall defensive grade of 66.5.
The Steelers will need him to keep riding that momentum into his first season in Pittsburgh. If all goes as planned this offseason, he’ll be back on the field creating chaos for offenses with former Alabama teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick.
An Opportunity of a Lifetime
It’s not every day that an athlete gets signed by a team he grew up following, but that’s what happened to Levi Wallace — even if it was four seasons later than he would’ve liked.
Pittsburgh had their sights set on Wallace as an undrafted free agent, but the cornerback chose the Bills instead. “I think Buffalo, at the time, was just better for me to go in order to make a team and secure a starting spot,” Wallace said.
What Wallace didn’t know back then was that the Steelers could have used his talents in the defensive backfield, and he likely would’ve secured a starting spot. The 2018 roster had Joe Haden and raw athletes in Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton. And, in hindsight, that was about it. Starting opposite Haden was Coty Sensabaugh, who contributed very little in two seasons with Pittsburgh. And, of course, let’s not forget the dreadful Artie Burns experiment.
All that matters is that Wallace is here now. “I’m so excited to be a part of the Black & Gold,” Wallace shared in a video message to fans after being signed. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s my mom’s favorite team. I grew up watching the Steelers… Here we go!”