Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag everyone, the first of the post-draft edition. Lot to talk about, I’m sure.

One quick comment to throw out to all you guys before we dive in. Been looking over the comments as your newest official moderator for the comment sections. Obviously, we don’t want anyone’s post to get flagged because I know that can be really frustrating. So two things to keep in mind.

1. Don’t swear. That’ll get you flagged every time and we generally won’t let it through. We try to keep it clean around here since people of all different age groups are on this site.

2. Links will get you flagged every time too. That’s because of the way spammers work and we don’t want any of those to go through unfiltered so no one clicks on it.

So just a couple things to keep in mind. I do sorta through the flagged comments every couple hours and approve the ones that are appropriate. If you have an issue, just hit me up on Twitter (@Alex_Kozora) and we’ll get things taken care of for you.

To your questions!

nikgreene: Is there one Steelers draft pick where can identify another player that was still on the board you would liked more (assuming the team stayed in that draft slot)? I guess exclude the Holba pick, cuz, c’mon, too easy.

Alex: I’m sure you can and if you pose the question, you’ll get a bunch of answers. There’s always the guys a fanbase oddly fixates on during a draft. Desmond King was a weird one this year. I don’t even get the rationale for that one – is it the uniforms?

But I don’t really look at it that way. And I haven’t gone back and done that exercise. I just look at the player, his value, positional need, and overall fit for the scheme. That’s how I evaluate. Not the “they should’ve done this instead” because that’s meaningless. Doesn’t matter now.

I bet most will point to a player/position other than WR in the second. Steelers did have some bad luck. Maybe S Josh Jones is a Steeler if the Packers didn’t take him one pick ahead.

*shakes fist at Ted Thompson*

Sam Clonch: I recall thinking that they were expecting Golson to eventually play last year, and that he only landed on the IR because of injuries elsewhere made it so they needed his roster spot. I KNOW he was on the 53 for the first month or so. Am I recalling things correctly, or is it just wishful thinking?

Alex: Yes, he was on the 53 because Dupree was IR-return and Golson wasn’t eligible to be on the PUP since the injury happened after camp started. Ina  perfect world, with everyone healthy, they may have been able to wait it out. But a lisfranc foot injury is serious stuff too so a return wasn’t certain. Not only does he have to fully recover but then work back into football shape. Missing most of camp and the first half of the regular season, for a young guy…it’s a steep climb.

Either way, what happened, happened. Assuming he finally sees the field this year, it’ll be a span of 31 months from his previous game to this one. Sure, Sean Spence made it back. Jordan Zumwalt didn’t. There’s clearly no confidence in Golson right now and rightfully so. Now he has to beat out a couple of vets, Gay/Sensabaugh, to keep his job.

srdan: Do you think J. Jones was teh pick in RD 2 or believe that Jjss was too much to pass up even if Jones was there?

Alex: That requires a crystal ball I don’t own, unfortunately. It’s hard to evaluate because heck, we had zero idea there was *that* much interest in Smith-Schuster. Jones certainly would’ve been a top three guy on their list. That much, I’m pretty confident of. And after he went off the board, so did the Steelers’ quest for a safety. Now, playing dime is looking less likely than it did pre-draft.

Matt Manzo: Do you think the team not addressing the ILB or Hybrid/S position in the draft means that the team does not see those as positions of need?

Alex: I think they saw it as a want, a position to look to add/upgrade. That’s why they went all in on the big name safeties. If you’re going to make the switch, you need top personnel. Melifonwu, Baker, Peppers, Marcus Maye, Josh Jones, they clearly didn’t just want a mid-rounder in there. That’s pretty much what I said before the draft and why I left a safety off in my final mock. If they didn’t get one in the first two rounds, they weren’t going after one at all.

Still, would’ve been nice to have. And even a better argument against Hightower, even if that’s a moot point now. A cheap ILB is the way to go if you want to play dime. Hard to justify signing Hightower to mega-bucks just to take him off the field 25-30% of the time. Bad strategy. But if it’s Vince Williams? That works schematically and financially.

S.T.: Criticism of the Dobbs pick seems to be based on an unspoken assumption that the alternative choice would be to nab one of next year’s crop of top-tier QBs. What would that cost us, and how many Yinzers’ heads would explode if we traded several picks to move up to get Darnold or one of the others? And doesn’t the Dobbs pick look that much better in that context?

Alex: I can only speak for me, but listen to the team talk and it sounds like they’re going to jump back into the QB hunt in another year or two. Which makes sense. You can’t put all your eggs into the “Josh Dobbs is the future” basket, especially that by the time Pittsburgh looks for a QB again (maybe next year) all Dobbs has done is throw passes in the preseason. You can’t make him the guy based off just that.

So the issue isn’t that, they should’ve waited, it’s that they’re going to repeat this process all over again. Dobbs doesn’t change that plan. So you might as well go a non-QB direction this season. It’s wasted time and energy to draft one. I’m fine with the dry run. Not fine with actually taking one.


Watched 3 full TJ Watt games. Came away more than impressed. Would you agree he’s futher along as a player than Bud was when he was drafted?

Alex: Yes, I’d agree. Which is so impressive for a guy who started one season. Dupree was really raw coming out. Maybe contribute that to the coaching staff. Wisconsin has a good group up there. They have, for example, an actual outside linebackers coach (Tim Tibesar, who spent time as a DC in the CFL too). Kentucky didn’t.

Bob Francis: Why do you think the Steelers have had such poor UDFA classes lately? Is it that the Steelers aren’t going after the “right” players, or that players are choosing other teams over Pittsburgh? On one hand, I’d bet players would want to come to a winner in Pittsburgh, but maybe their changes of sticking are greater with a team with a poorer roster. I imagine it has a lot to do with the depth chart by position, and really, the money. Thoughts?

Alex: I think you’ve gotten several strong answers in the comments. I still think there’s spots to come in and compete. The roster is good but it’s not like the depth is so much better than anyone else. Every team has an Xavier Grimble or a L.J. Fort. ILB, S, RB, TE, NT, all positions where a guy could – in theory – make a push if he played well enough.

Money is a good answer. New England got several bigger name FAs but they ponied up the $$$ for them. Harvey Langi got 100K base salary guaranteed, the highest of any UDFA. I can’t imagine any of the Steelers’ UDFAs got much of anything like that and their signing bonuses were probably low, too.

Still, I think it’s an easy sell to come here. Great coaching staff, including positional coaches (who wouldn’t want to play for John Mitchell??), winning ways, and a history of UDFAs making big impacts. Current guys like James Harrison and Ramon Foster. Previous ones like Willie Parker.

Sure, UDFAs choose places where there is a chance for a spot. Of course. But they want to go somewhere with a strong culture and where the coaching staff gives these players a fair shake. Pittsburgh does it as well as anyone. I hear that from every UDFA/tryout guy I’ve talked to. Tomlin treats them all the same.

falconsaftey43: From past drafts, any guy stick out to you that you’re way wrong on? either way, better or worse than you thought. Sadly, mine was Shamarko Thomas.

Alex: I’ll go the other direction. The guy I wasn’t crazy about was….Le’Veon Bell.

Yes, I am an idiot.

Just for you guys, I unearthed an article I wrote (for a different site) after the draft and graded the Bell pick. Here is part of what I wrote. Brace yourself – it ain’t pretty.

“However, as others have noted, Bell needs a compass; he’s too much of a East/West runner for a back of his size. Dancing in the hole too much, he rarely gets his shoulders square and gets momentum going downhill. There are times where he tries too hard to bounce it when he should cut upfield and take what he can get. He isn’t a home run threat either lacking a second gear and only a marginal burst who again, hurts himself by failing to run downhill. It’s Juan Pierre thinking he’s Adam Dunn.

It’s safe to assume the Steelers are drafting him to be a feature back but he’ll fall short of that mark. At best, he’s Jonathan Dwyer and like him, also has his fair share of weight concern. The Steelers’ added no new dynamic and only a little bit of talent with this pick.

Grade: D

Swing and a miss. I turned out to be the Juan Pierre thinking he was Adam Dunn.

Bryant Eng: Are their other opportunities for the Steelers to improve press-man coverage and corresponding schemes? Artie Burns, as I recall, has absurdly long arms, and we added Sensabaugh? Can Burns’ improvement and FA/Draft really help that much?

Alex: Yes and expect them to. It’s not all about arm length. It’s about speed, change of direction, ability to find the football, competitiveness at catch points. Cockrell is a pretty good man corner and he has little baby arms. It’s not that you can change things in a day, in a season. But over the course of 2-3 years, you can make the switch.

Burns, Cockrell, Sutton. 2017/2018 starters. All guys brought in because they can play man coverage.

Crowned: With the success Vince Williams had when Shazier missed time in 2016, do you anticipate Shazier sliding into Timmons spot and Vince Williams taking Shazier’s spot?

Alex: Nah, I think they stay. Shazier the Mack, Williams the Buck. No need to shuffle them.

Boots: Do you have a cut wishlist for players on other teams or a free agent wish list?

Alex: I don’t and probably won’t until towards the end of camp or something. More focused on the players they do have than the ones still out there. Not many moves will be made anyway so it’s just wishful thinking. More than usual, I mean.

Michael James: Hey Alex! How much longer do you expect Big Ben to play?

Alex: Again, my crystal ball is in the shop, lol.

My guess is 2-3 years. He won’t play until he’s 40. But talking about retiring and actually retiring, especially when you’re still at the top of your game, are two different things. Wait for Ben to diminish. Then he’ll walk away. Until then, I think he’ll stick around. Dude loves football, loves to compete.

Jeff Papiernik: Given the depth (or lack thereof) at ILB, do you think the Steelers should consider giving Gerald Hodges a phone call?

Alex: Eh, I guess I’m ok with it but I have a sneaky feeling they really like Matakevich. Especially what he did against Miami last year. Another reason I think they decided against upgrading the position.

Hardy Steeler: Gary Barnidge is a free agent now, do you see the Steeler’s having interest in him?

Alex: I don’t and I’m glad they don’t. Receiver who isn’t much of that anymore? I’ll pass. Teams are showing interest in him anyway. Pittsburgh isn’t one of them.

renoir: Does your crystal ball show who this years Ross Cockrell might be??? Another teams player who you envision being cut and us scooping him up and playing…

Alex: Oh man, I have no idea. We’re so far out. Injuries, trades, performance, all stuff we gotta wait and see. And Cockrell is unique because he was totally unexpected.

Wreckless: I know it’s way early on in the process, but excluding the Long Snapper who will remain nameless, which one of our picks do you envision giving us the most production early on? I’m on the Juju train myself.

Alex: That’s a good pick. I said he could be the starting slot receiver Day One or at least within the first month. Watt is an easy answer too. Opportunity is there. We know he’s playing.

Sorry guys, gotta cut things a little short today. Great chat, talk to you in a week!

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