Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Welcome back to the last Ask Alex before Sunday’s kickoff. What a time to be alive.

To your questions!

Boots: Who is your pick to get released for LB?

Alex: My guess is that Steven Johnson gets the yo-yo this season.

John Noh: Alex, based on what you’ve seen at camp and in pre-season, are you adjusting your predictions for the sack count for Dupree and Watt?

Alex: No, nothing has changed so positively or negatively to make me think they’ll change. Dupree still has the talent to hit 12 sacks and 5-6 is a fine projection for Watt. If you made me choose, Watt could have a higher number because he’s going to play more than I thought. Something closer to 66/33 than the 50/50 split I assumed heading into camp.

CP72: Alex,
Tuiit, Hargrave, Heyward vs Keisel, Hampton, and Smith….if you could have either unit in their prime right now who you taking?

Alex: Oh man, that’s really tough. Give me this current group because of the way the league is now. Higher priority on athleticism and pass rushing ability. And this group has it, especially at nose tackle.

Bryant Eng: Do you see the Steelers using JJ Wilcox as a move LB type player in sub packages? E.g., DB: Mitchell, Davis, Burns, Haden, Hilton; LB: Wilcox, Shazier; EDGE/DL: Watt, Dupree, Tuitt, Heyward. Just a thought – how might he be used?

Alex: Maybe though I don’t think it’ll happen right away. I think they go with Hilton/Gay (whoever isn’t starting in the slot) as the dime defender as they’ve done in camp. I’ve had some Cowboys’ fans say Wilcox is a bad fit as a dime/box player, though you could argue Sean Davis rolls down and Wilcox plays deep. Wilcox is stiff and not great in man and he’s a more inconsistent tackler than Gay. So keep Gay out here for now as adjust from there.

barry: if somehow the steelers claim pryor who would get cut. Would it be Golden? Is he an upgrade there?

Alex: Meh, Steelers have enough of the Pryor types. I mean, yeah, if they got him, Golden’s days could be numbered. If Wilcox could become the #3 in a couple weeks, then I have no problem with Golden being the #4 and pure special teamer.

Chris: Alex. The Steelers recently signed Joe Haden, and had the opportunity to get TJ Ward. I’m curious to know which player you’d personally rather have, who do you think can be more impactful on the football field, and which player do you think is better for the Steelers. Additionally, factor their contracts into the mix

Alex: I mean, you guys know how I still feel about Haden but still, there’s a fit here. Wouldn’t have that with Ward. He wouldn’t start and would have less of an impact. Contracts don’t sway me too much because the Steelers can wiggle out of the deal after this season if they need to. So you’re basically comparing Haden’s one-year, $7 million deal vs Ward’s one year, $5 million deal. Doesn’t really end up mattering.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex,
I know Dave was impressed with James Conner’s ability to create explosive plays in college. Do you think that, combined with his size, he would be a good option for a KR?

Alex: It wouldn’t be a terrible idea, though you’re always nervous about a rookie being out there (of course, JuJu will likely take the first kick). Not much different than Watson.

My issue with the way the team has handled kick returns is not who they chose but when they chose them. Which is to say, they’ve done it right now. And still really aren’t sure who they have, how good these guys are, how things will work out. They are no closer to an answer now despite ample opportunity. That’s my source of frustration.

John Romanski: The KR/PR uncertainty is even more volatile than usual this year. In past years the KR contestants at least took their shots in preseason. Are we really considering 230+ lb power backs for the position, with no experience? Do you think the front runner is Smith-Schuster?

Alex: I have no problem with Watson being back there. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, at least. Long list of wobbly runners who have held that spot.

Gary Russell
Najeh Davenport
Carey Davis
LeGarrette Blount

And now Watson. There is an upside to a guy of his size getting a 20 yard head of steam. I assume the pairing will be Watson/JuJu and hopefully, Watson will act more of that lead blocker, which is helpful and better than Eli Rogers trying to throw a block (he can’t).

My concern, like I said above, is not how the KR unit is going to run back two kicks for scores. I really don’t care about that all that much. The critical components are decision-making and ball security. You want to avoid the horrible outcomes. Muffed returns. Fumbles on the tackle. Taking a ball out you shouldn’t. Dancing. Not getting upfield.

And when you have rookies and/or guys who haven’t done it in a long time without those reps, you can’t simulate it in practice, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There is a good chance something goes wrong and the unit kicks their own butt. And that’s how you put yourself in a position to lose to lesser teams like the Browns.

Daniel Santo: Alex,
Who has more receptions and yards through the first 8 games. V. McDonald? or The Outlaw?

Alex: Vance. Take it to the bank. McDonald wasn’t brought in to sit around and he’s clearly the better weapon in the passing game.

Spencer Krick: 2-14. But only because they play the Browns/Bills.

IndianaCarson: Alex: I have a question–if the Steelers FO would have signed LeVeon Bell to the 3 year contract for $42 million then would they have been able to sign Vance MacDonald, Joe Haden and JJ Wilcox and made those trades with the money that they have in their cap spending budget after signing LB?

Alex: It’s possible. I’m not a god cap guy. But I know Omar Khan is. You can always structure these deals to make them work. Maybe another contract would’ve had to be restructured, I dunno. But I can’t sit here and say there’s no way you could’ve made those moves. In 2017, Wilcox (who had deal re-done) and McDonald aren’t costing a whole lot. And you could’ve kept Bell’s 2017 salary low too, I’m sure. Usually what happens in these extensions anyway.

LucasY59: probably too early, but since the college football season has started are there any specific players/draft prospects you are watching?

Alex: Too early, for me at least, Lucas. Just don’t have the time to devote myself to doing draft stuff all year round.

nutty32: Do you think the Steelers will cover the 10 points or are you going with a close game as most posters here?

Alex: I’m not a betting man but I’d be careful laying money on this one. AFC North games too unpredictable for me to feel comfortable assuming that margin of victory.


Fantasy trade, I give up Gronk and Michael Thomas and would get AB and Isaiah Crowell. Good trade?

I have Hunter Henry as my TE2, but my RBs need help with Hunt as my RB2 and Paul Perkins as my flex.

Alex: I am not crazy about Crowell for FFB but I get where your head is at. And hey, you no longer have to root for a Patriot. I consider that a win.

srdan: Who is the second best pass rusher on this team? I think it’s hargrave. 92 being first

Alex: If the season goes the way I hope it does, and really, the way it needs to, Dupree will be the first. Second place is up for debate. It sorta depends on the type of pass rusher you look for. Tuitt/Hargrave win with finesse, Harrison/Heyward with power.

If you gotta make me choose though, I go with Heyward because of his ability to collapse the pocket and finish plays.

srdan: The trademania this summer seems to plug holes, and most of us interpreted it as “win now moves”, rightfully so. But how much do you think it was done in an attempt to not have to handcuff ourselves to a certain position in next years draft(maybe take a QB RD1)? Or are you buying into Colberts “i wanna win now” statements.

Alex: It’s a good question. I haven’t thought about it a ton outside of the “win now” mode. I think the trades were drive by that desire more than wanting to take a QB high, knowing the window for a Super Bowl (i.e. the Roethlisberger era) is closing.

Because when you do these trades, make these signings you lose picks, and you eat up some future cap space that can make it tougher to be active in free agency and gives you fewer chips in the draft. If you want to trade up for a QB, which the Steelers will likely have to do this year if they want to make a huge push, they don’t have as many pieces either to do that or leftover to still have a functional draft.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the games!

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