Today I am going to be discussing a topic that seems to ruffle the feathers of a lot of Chiefs fans. Steven Nelson. The former Chiefs cornerback is currently a free agent after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this offseason following a trade request by Nelson. Since the Chiefs did not address cornerback in free agency or the draft despite showing interest in free agent K’Waun Williams, there has been some buzz around Nelson as an option.
Of course, the fan reaction to the possibility of bringing Nelson back isn’t great. fans aren’t too fond of Nelson for the way things ended in Kansas City. Nelson criticized the organization on the way out and has had some back and forth with fans on Twitter since his departure from the Chiefs. Fandom aside, people need to cut Nelson some slack.
First of all, can we all agree that Bob Sutton was a bad defensive coordinator? At least his last couple seasons in Kansas City? Okay, so why shouldn’t a guy like Nelson be able to show frustration when he was dealt a situation in which he was working with a bad defensive coordinator and was also surrounded by a largely incompetent secondary which doesn’t help? I’m not going to sit here and say Nelson is some elite cornerback but there’s really no denying he was put in a bad spot by Kansas City. I think the fact Nelson was vocal about his disliking of the situation in Kansas City just made fans’ defensive instincts kick in which drove them to hate Nelson which is totally understandable. Nelson does get part of the blame, too.
All of that being said, is Steven Nelson really that bad? If you ask Chiefs fans who they’d rather have between Bashaud Breeland or Steven Nelson, both of whom are free agents, many would say Bashaud Breeland. That’s not really the wrong answer, but you might be surprised how close they are.
Comparing Breeland and Nelson’s 2019 seasons, both of which were their first season with their new teams. Bashaud Breeland recorded 37 solo tackles, 8 PD, 2 INT, and 10 penalties (61 targets) along with a 48.3 overall PFF grade. In 2019, Steven Nelson recorded 52 solo tackles, 8 PD, 2 INT, and no penalties (66 targets) along with an 80.5 overall PFF grade. In 2020, Bashaud Breeland recorded 30 solo tackles, 9 PD, 2 INT, and 10 penalties (54 targets) along with a 67.7 overall grade from PFF. As for Steven Nelson, he recorded 43 solo tackles, 9 PD, 2 INT, and 3 penalties (76 targets) along with a 67.1 overall grade from PFF.
Chiefs fans have false perception of Steven Nelson
Surprised? You really shouldn’t be. Steven Nelson is actually a much better player than Chiefs fans are willing to give him credit for. When you look at it, Breeland and Nelson turn out very similar production but Breeland commits much more penalties. 2018 left a sour taste in Chiefs fans’ mouths when it came to Nelson but he still wasn’t that bad. In fact, Nelson still had a decent 2018 season (his last with the Chiefs) where he tallied 4 INT and 20 forced incompletions, but again, he was one of the only above-average defensive backs on a defense which wasn’t that great which resulted in him being one of the most heavily targeted cornerbacks in the league when he was in Kansas City because the Chiefs stuck him on other teams’ top receivers frequently.
The Chiefs run a lot of zone coverage under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, an area in which Nelson thrives as he only allowed a 53.6 passer rating in zone coverage in 2020. Nelson also proved to be one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the league which the Chiefs do like in their defensive backs. So, if the Chiefs weren’t able to bring back Bashaud Breeland for whatever reason, Nelson isn’t a terrible consolation prize as a versatile slot cornerback. Although, Nelson’s bridge in Kansas City might be burned because of how he acted on the way out, but it’s not a stretch to think the two sides could put the past behind them and the Chiefs aren’t really the type of organization to hold grudges anyway.
Regardless of if the Chiefs show interest in Steven Nelson or not, Chiefs fans need to shake their damaged perception of Steven Nelson because saying he’s a bad cornerback just isn’t an accurate statement.