The Pittsburgh Steelers added a veteran defensive back to their roster on Tuesday morning with the reported signing of DB Grayland Arnold. He is entering his fifth season in the league and has the potential to compete to be the Steelers’ slot corner in their defensive sub-packages.

In 26 career games played, he has received just one start, and he has managed to play over half of his team’s defensive snaps in just four games throughout his career—twice as a rookie in 2020 and twice in 2023. In 18 of the 26 career games, he did not log a single defensive snap and served primarily as a special teamer.

At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, he measured in at 5091, 186 pounds with a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and a 33-inch vertical jump. He is definitely on the smaller end of defensive backs and has a very similar athletic profile to former Steelers CB Mike Hilton.

He made his first roster with the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie undrafted free agent and then played the past three years with the Houston Texans. It took him two seasons of special teams work to earn a limited role on defense with the Texans.

Here is a breakdown of Arnold’s career defensive snaps by position, as charted by Pro Football Focus.

Year Wide Corner Slot Corner Box Safety Free Safety
2023 1 113 13 14
2022 0 0 0 0
2021 0 0 0 3
2020 1 36 12 30
Total 2 149 25 47

He has some versatility to play around the secondary a bit but has barely played on the outside at all. He would be primarily a slot option in Pittsburgh.

PFF gave him pretty favorable overall and coverage grades in the limited snaps he had in 2023, with a 71.4 overall, including a 77.0 coverage grade. But they also had him down for allowing 10 receptions on 12 targets. They also gave him a pretty rough run defense grade of 40.0, which is a concern for a slot corner who plays a little closer to the action. They have him credited for six missed tackles in his career.

Arnold had 18 total tackles, 12 solo tackles, one tackle for loss, and one forced fumble last season, and has just one pass defensed registered in his career from his rookie season.

Let’s take a look at some of Grayland Arnold’s slot snaps on tape to determine what the Steelers are getting with their latest addition.

One of the games in which he played a significant number of snaps on defense was against the Steelers in 2023. He wore No. 25 last season and bright red sleeves, making him easy to identify in the clips.

For a smaller corner, he plays bigger than his size and isn’t afraid to throw his body in the pile. In this play, he stacks and sheds Allen Robinson with a push/pull and discards him to the ground. Robinson is no slouch as a blocker, either.

He shows great competitive toughness and usually hustles to the ball carrier, even when he is away from the play. On this play, he was lined up on the numbers and traversed the entire field with a nice pursuit angle to tackle Najee Harris and prevent what could have been a much larger gain (or even a touchdown) up the sideline.

Contrary to PFF’s run defense grade, I think Arnold has the tools to be effective in this area. He is willing to throw his body around, does a nice job navigating through traffic near the line of scrimmage, and seems to tackle and wrap up well for the most part. This clip shows several tackles in the run game and one play of him coming downhill to tackle Jaylen Warren in the open field after a check-down pass. Keep in mind that Warren and Harris were two of the best at breaking tackles in 2023.

His eyes, mental processing, and play recognition also appear to be solid. On this play, he starts cheating inside when no receivers come to his side of the field. He notices Kenny Pickett roll out to his left and reacts to make sure he has contain on the outside. He forces Pickett to make an awkward throw. It was a completed pass, but Arnold did his job.

Now for his coverage skills. There wasn’t a ton of tape to go off of, but the few I found were a little up and down with his play. On this play, he knows he does not have any help on the outside, but he is more reactive than proactive and gets beat on a quick out route and gives up an easy first down. At least he stuck with the play and made the tackle.

He can also be a little grabby at the top of routes. He doesn’t get flagged here but he probably could have.

This was more of a broken play than anything, and Connor Heyward was left wide open in the back corner of the end zone, but you can at least see Arnold’s burst as he went from stationary to getting in the way of a potential touchdown pass to Allen Robinson pretty quickly.

With the limited tape that he has, it is difficult to conclude whether Grayland Arnold can be a viable option for the Steelers in the slot. They don’t have any clear option there at the moment, and I saw enough with his competitive toughness, run support, and open-field tackling to think he has as good a chance as any of the other candidates. Though he doesn’t have that much experience, he has more than some of the other options, including UDFA rookie Beanie Bishop Jr. He also has a fair amount of special teams experience, which will be necessary to secure his spot on the team.

He seems to have solid mental processing and play recognition. His tackling was surprisingly good, and he plays bigger than his size would indicate. I don’t know that he will be the savior of the Steelers’ slot position in 2024, but he could very well be the best option they have on the roster once the signing is made official.


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