Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Hey everyone,

Good to be back after missing last week when I was down at the Senior Bowl. And though we are really in the offseason here at Steelers Depot, full swing into a look at free agency and the draft, there’s still a million things to talk about. Never gets less exciting.

Hope you all have a safe, enjoyable Super Bowl Sunday. What are your plans? Throwing a party or going to one? Let me know in the comments along with your question. As usual, I’ll be here for about the next hour answering as many questions as I can.

Matt Manzo: Alex! Kevin Byard or Darian Thompson? And how would that shake up your mock?

Alex: Thompson and it isn’t even close, as much as I like Byard. Thompson could be the pick at 25. Better athlete, better competition, strong in man coverage. Byard is a day three guy. I don’t have a mock yet – people are too crazy over them in general, hey here’s a thing that will change in two weeks – so it doesn’t shake anything up.

Sonny Saks: Alex. If you had to name one significant free agent the steelers will sign who would that be?

Alex: I will have my free agency wish list up early next week but I’ll tell you all this – you won’t like it. There is maybe one sexy name (Weddle, duh) on there. Very pragmatic list. I won’t give away any names yet but I have a couple of middle-tier DL and safeties I really dig. The two positions I think they’ll go after the hardest.

Brian Tollini: From what you told me last week, Brandon Boykin will not be back with the Steelers in 2016, is he looking for something the Steelers can’t/won’t offer?

Alex: Two things. Money and a chance to start. Steelers unlikely to pony up the cash it’ll take to sign him, corners got paid last year after a down 2014, and he wants to be a starting, outside corner. Someone will offer that. Won’t be Pittsburgh.

SkoolHouseRoxx:  Ok, do you think we are better served drafting a CB first round and signing a good Safety or Drafting a Safety first round and signing a good CB? Thanks, Fam!

Alex: I don’t think they sign/draft a CB high so I’ll just say the importance of getting a safety they like, if Robert Golden isn’t envisioned as the starter. Can’t forget about him. Safety is a lot more important than corner. They can win with average corners. They can’t with poor safety play. Ask those guys to do it all. Corners are more niche.

Nan Marshall: If Marcus Gilbert has become a top tackle and Villanueva is still learning, why not put Marcus at LT and Ali at RT beginning this offseason? Gilbert always said he preferred LT.

Alex: I mean, you could, but I don’t see a compelling reason for it. Villanueva has played both, remember he started at right tackle in camp, but don’t flip a guy who is still trying to be comfortable and get a feel for the position. Treat those guys with care. They’re fragile. Like a vase. And it’s not like the NFL still has its rush end/run end anymore. Right/left end has blurred. You have great guys on each side – Mack, Houston, Watt all play mostly on the offense’s right – and teams that flip their players. So there’s nothing to be gained from that.

Though the Steelers, and the league, have become a lot more even-handed in the direction they run, the Steelers still run to the right more often and Gilbert is a better run blocker than Villanueva.

Ask Questions Later: My question to you is do you see Pittsburgh investing a 1st round pick yet again on an edge rusher?

Alex: Absolutely. I’ve said as much time and time again. Doesn’t matter what you did in the past. Only what can help your future. Like you said, the Steelers don’t have any long-term pass rushers sans Dupree. With how vital a pass rush and the position is to the team, you need to have top players there. I’m all for investing in one highly and think they do, especially if James Harrison retires.

RickM: Do you feel the Steelers’ D improved a fair amount late in the season, or do you feel most of any improvement was more the result of facing 5 straight back-up QB’s

Alex: Great question, Rick. There’s always a combination of both at play. They didn’t face great quarterbacks but they still faced some potent offensive teams. The Bengals in the Wild Card, Denver in the Divisional. You hold those teams to three total touchdowns and you’ve done a good job, especially with the defense being backed up in their own end so often.

This defense kept getting after it with turnovers. Without those, they don’t beat the Bengals. So you like that mindset and production. Have to remember this defense played a ton of snaps this year, way more than last, even just in the regular season. Young guys who played at a high level – Shazier, Dupree, Jarvis, Tuitt – despite logging time they probably have never come close to before in their football careers.

Michael James: I remember you and Jon were really high on Chickillo during training camp. Do you think he can become a quality starter longterm?

Alex: We both liked just how fluid he was and how refined of a rusher he showed to be, despite not playing the position before. Long-term though? That’s still awfully tough to project with such limited info to go off of. It’s not like there is much college tape to guide us considering he was playing the five tech. I think anything you get from him is a bonus. Can’t count on him for much, at least, from my outsider view.

Bill Sechrengost: This might be a tough question seeing as how Golsen didn’t play at all this year, but do you see Golsen as someone who will battle for a starting CB job next year or are they just going to ease him in?

Alex: Sure, I think he could at least be considered. He’s a second year guy and as Tomlin indicated, they’re not going to handle him with kids gloves anymore. While he did play outside at Ole Miss, I imagine the team envisioned him to play in the slot as Gay’s backup, considering they traded for Boykin after Golson was hurt, and they didn’t have another slot corner on the roster.

Should that be the case, if they want to keep Gay in the slot, it would be tough for Golson to see the field. If they decide to move Gay outside, that should open a great chance for Golson to become the #3. That technically isn’t starting but with all the nickel that is played, the #3 CB is a lot more active than the nose tackle.

58Steel: Alex, More likely to be taken at 25, if available: Ragland or Adolphus?

Alex: Excellent question. Haven’t put on tape of Washington though I saw him at the Senior Bowl. Want to see more nasty out of him. But he’s my guess, considering their need and affinity for Ohio State kids.

Brendon Glad: What were your thoughts on PFF’s ratings of the Steelers CB’s?

Alex: I respect the work they put in and don’t hate them the way so many people do. Met some of those guys down at the Senior Bowl, they were a partial sponsor, and they all seem like good guys. But I don’t really pay attention to their rankings for Steelers’ content. I’m seeing it with my eyes, have my thoughts, and don’t need someone else’s opinion to verify it. So I barely even know what their grades were, outside of Blake being awful (tweeted at me every single day) and what you told me.

Thanks for chatting with me. I’ll be back next week!

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