Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Welcome to the rare Wednesday edition of Ask Alex. Out of town tomorrow afternoon so as I mentioned last week, we’re bumping this one up a day. As always, hit me up with your Steelers’ questions and I’ll be sure to answer them all over the next hour.

To your questions!

@Anton_Smolka: It seems most OLB prospects have a second round grade on them. Would you take a CB in the first and Edge in the second or vice versa?

Alex: I don’t have a preference. I don’t try to put myself into that box and focus on one round, one position. Gotta be able to have wide eyes when it comes time to pick.

I think the one upside of CB in the first is that OLB probably has better depth overall because they haven’t been hit by injury as hard like CB. The other benefit is most OLBs you take are going to play right away, unless you went with a super project. Later you go with a CB, the lower the odds he can start/contribute, especially if you’re looking for someone in the slot. Go higher and you increase the odds of both guys being ready Day One. Again, in that sense, I would lean CB at 30, but it’s not going to drive my decision. Let’s see if the team even brings in more CBs for visits – maybe they wind up thinking it’s less important than I do.

@AirXn68: QB so important. Ben’s window is closing. As a GM would you continue with long-term approach to draft or pick/trade for more instant impact?

Alex: I think most people on this site know my stance. I want to win now. QB is on the backburner for me. Would rather spend time and energy to find the pieces to win today than maybe win in the future, if I find the right guy and have the ability to rebuild my team again.

@wagonmastergene: If Jerald Hawkins was coming out this year what range would you predict he would go? Went 123 overall last yr. Teams desperate.

Alex: That’s a good point – I think he’d end up higher. A lot higher, really. He was hurt that last year at LSU and what he looked like in college compared to him in camp was a big difference. Big improvement. Another healthy year at a Power 5 school in a down year? We could be talking about a first round pick.

@pdellegrazie: If set on QB that is 7s heir & there at 30 why not just make the pick?Then adjust given the depth. Isn’t it worth 12 more good years at QB?

Alex: If you know you’re getting 12 years with that guy.  That, of course, is no guarantee and you’re going to wait several years to find out. 2-3 post-Ben, another two to figure out if you made the right pick. At least with another position, like corner or edge or whatever, you’ll know a lot sooner what you have and can correct course if you made a mistake. After two years with Jarvis, Steelers tried again with Dupree. Knew what they had.

And you have to balance hoping for that franchise QB against hurting your chances to win with the guy you already have. There’s a lot of risk. I don’t think it’s as simple as you’ve outlined.

@madams241: Where would you think Artie Burns and Bud Dupree would rank in the this year’s CB/EDGE class

Alex: Dupree would probably still be my top EDGE guy, even in this class. The way he tested…man, that’d be tough to ignore. Burns, I’d like to think he’s higher than what I should’ve pegged him. He got ragged as a bad tackler in college – that was never really accurate – but compared to some of these other guys, he looks really good. Right up there with Kevin King, viewed as a late first rounder.

Sam Clonch: Any idea on the teams stance on the use of advanced analytics? I know players have been wearing sensors in their pads for several years now. Not sure what use has come out of it.

Alex: They’re generally behind the times. Tomlin, obviously, not much of an advanced stats guy. Gut-oriented, the Colbert Report of coaches. Colbert…I’m not sure where he stands. They do have an analytics guy, Karim Kassam, so it does exist in the organization. How much is it used to drive decisions, I’m not sure sure.

I’d point you out to this article we wrote last July. The Steelers sorta surprisingly came in 7th in their analytics department but the details weren’t too comforting. Apparently, Kassam doesn’t actually know much about football and it reinforces the idea Tomlin isn’t crazy about the concept.


I think your mocks typically take Steelers history and tendencies into account ( some great work btw). Can you do a mock solely as if you were the emperor of the Steelers? I’d like to see how you’d run the draft if you and only yourself were in charge ( not asking you to do the mock right now, obviously)

Second one:
Pick between these 2 mocks
1. Obi/Peppers Takk/Harris
2. Rivers/Lawson Kevin King/Tank
3. Awuzie/Jackson Willis/Basham
3c Jake Butt Justin Evans
4 Price/Smoot QB prospect

Alex: Yes, I’ll either do one solely dedicated to my own opinion or, you’ll see it play out in my full, league-wide seven round mock I’ll write up shortly before the draft.

From your options…

1. Melifonwu
2. Rivers
3. Awuzie
3c. Butt
4. Smoot

falconsaftey43: Does Cockrell really struggle that much in man coverage? Seemed to me he does very well in coverage overall, biggest struggle is in the run support area. Everyone seems focused on wanting another outside “man” CB (none of which can tackle) because of the AFCCG and Tomlin’s comments. I think slot CB with man skills and ILB/S with man skills is what’s holding them back from working in more man coverage.

Alex: No, I don’t think he’s that bad and he was the best man/cover corner on the team last year. There’s a reason why he was shadowing Marshall and Green early on in the season. But you can’t ignore Tomlin’s comments either and I understand the desire to upgrade. Especially if they want that long, physical, press corner…Cockrell doesn’t really fit any of those things.

But you’ve hit on what I’ve said. Find a slot option – none of these guys are going to do great in man – and that hybrid safety who can match up and be on the field on critical downs.

Darth Blount 47: If you could add any one Defensive player from the Dick LeBeau Era onto this team right now to start tomorrow, and they’d be in their prime, who would it be and why?
(Note: I think there are 5 really good options/choices)

Alex: Ha, that’s a great question. But it’s Troy and I think the answer is a layup, even with all the other great options to choose from (Porter, Woodley, Farrior, Timmons, Hampton, Aaron Smith, Ike, Clark). All those guys were great. None of them are Hall of Famers. Troy is.

John Noh: Which first-round selection for the Steelers would upset you more – Mahomes or Kizer?

Alex: Kizer. I like Mahomes more. Though I have respect for Kizer. Brian Kelly seems like that crazy ex-girlfriend who will never, ever stop calling you. The one who shows up at your wedding day to object. Yikes.

Brian Tollini: How do you feel about Awuzie in the 1st round? I have seen him in multiple mock drafts taken between 25-32.

Alex: I get it. He’s a borderline first round talent to me. And with the injuries at CB, he’s gotten a boost. I don’t think it’s realistic though for Pittsburgh. Dallas, maybe?

Jeff McNeil: I have seen Conley and King ranked above each other in different lists, which do you prefer?

Alex: I really like King. Think I’d break against the grain and go with him over Conley.

Barry Foster: Hey Alex do you jarad Davis worthy of a the steelers 1st round pick ? Just makes sense to me if they was willing to pay ten mil a year for a inside linebacker that can’t cover ?

Alex: Yes, the talent warrants it, if that’s what you mean. Is he still the guy when you look at similar talents at bigger positions of need? It’s a much tougher discussion. But if you’re drafting Davis, you’re drafting top talent. That’s never a bad idea.

Spencer Krick: If Kizer was there in round 2, would you consider it?

Alex: Still wouldn’t do it.

Ace: Alex, am I too late to the party? Does it look like the Steelers are looking at more box safeties and not free safety types per the interviews and visits? If that’s the case, does that make much sense to you seeing how Davis is mostly the guy there and MItchell could be the one to upgrade?

Alex: I think you’re correct. But what it *could* speak to is the desire to find that hybrid player, a Josh Jones who can match up against an athletic tight end I’ve been talking about. That’s my hope, at least. We’ll see who else gets brought in.

T3xassteelers: Would you be happy with a QB (Mahomes) in the first if they got Rivers in 2 and one of Sutton or a similar CB in the 3rd along with say the Ashland TE (name escapes me)?

Alex: If things could break so well, maybe. But what if the team could get Tankersley in the first and in this world, Rivers in the 2nd and a Sutton/Kazee in the third with Adam Shaheen? How awesome of a draft would that be?

Lukesaenz: Crazy thought of the day: Our excess cap space allowed us to explore Hightower, could you see it also allowing us to consider Sherman for say a 1 and a 4? Would it be worth it to you?

Alex: Probably not and they’re two different scenarios. You can structure Hightower’s contract, you’re taking on Sherman’s. Hightower probably wasn’t going to count $13.6 million against the cap this year like Sherman is. So you’re taking on a huge deal and giving up a first round pick? For maybe two years, the rest of his deal? Not worth it.

Ike Evans: Think we are going to fundamentally change defenses this year or next?

Alex: It’s not a sudden change. It’s a gradual, persistent one. The defense was sorta unchanged in Butler’s first year. By the end of last year, it was very much a blend between Tomlin and Butler ideals. And I figure it’ll continue to shift to Tomlin and some new stuff, some more man-coverage concepts. But it’s not going to happen in just a week or even full season.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for the chat.

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