Article

Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

We’re out of the Combine. Onto free agency. Lot more info coming in and we’re getting close to start putting together a solid shortlist for the Pittsburgh Steelers are interested in. Let me know what’s on your mind.

To your questions!

Brian Tollini: 

Hey Alex! 2 Questions.

1. Can you name the player (from any draft) that most sticks
out in your mind that you most overrated and most underrated while evaluating?

2. On a letter grade basis, with A+ being a position of most
need, where would you put the CB position with the Steelers heading into this
draft (assuming no one is added in free agency).

Alex: Hmmm…I got asked a similar question last week. I’d have to poor over all my notes. I loved QB Nathan Enderle coming out…had him ranked above Cam Newton. That, uh, didn’t turn out so well. I’m not sure who I underrated. Someone, I know that, but I can’t think of a name. It might have been Le’Veon Bell. I’ll put egg on my face. Here’s the whole dumb thing I wrote about Bell in 2013.

“Aside from Giovani Bernard, every back was on the board for the Steelers at pick 48. But they surprised some, passing up Eddie Lacy to take the former Spartan. To be blunt, in the two games I’ve taken a close look at Bell, I am not impressed. He is blessed with quick feet for a big frame that will surely draw Jerome Bettis comparisons from some (though not me, for the record). Bell can run hard and shows flashes of power at moments and attempts to churn out extra yardage on nearly every carry. He possesses good vision and will sometimes make a downhill safety miss in the hole. In his sophomore and junior years, the Sparty product combined for 67 receptions.

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.”

“At best, he’s Jonathan Dwyer.” I am an IDIOT.

Now that you know that, here’s more of my Steelers insight. I’d give it a B. So much rides on Artie Burns and how he matures above the neck. That’s really hard to predict. Communication in general has to improve too. The focus for this group is hard to quantify but mighty important.

Bryant Eng: We need to address the ILB and S positions, but what, in your opinion, must this defense do, holistically speaking, to become dominant enough to contend. I, for one, would like to see us add an edge and/or interior pass rusher to add to our rotation, but is this possible on a budget/draft needs?

Alex: I’d go broader than that. It’s about communication. That’s what sunk this team time and time again. Giving up those chunk plays is not how you reach the dominant threshold.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, I’m interested to see what Chris Hubbard fetches on the open market.
What do you imagine is value is and who do you think might be interested?

Alex: For starters, it depends if the league views him as a tackle or guard. He’ll make more at tackle. Hard to peg down a number. I think he gets $4 to $5 million a season. A 3 year, 12-15 million deal. But we’ll see.

Bill Sechrengost: Hi Alex. The Steelers talked to quite a few of the TE’s at the combine, much to most people’s surprise. If they draft a TE, do you think it will be early or later in the draft? I know that might depend on if they sign any free agents.

Alex: Could be either but early wouldn’t shock me. Get some serious talent to help situationally in the short-term but also look for potential replacements in 2019. TE is one of the hardest positions for rookies to make the transition too. Even top guys like David Njoku struggled. Ideally, if you’re looking for a starter, get one a year early who can add weight, learn how to block, play in an NFL offense.

Michael Stickings: 

Hi Alex. I know many of us are hoping the Steelers go heavy on D in the early rounds (I’d love to see FS and OLB, with an ILB signed in FA), but what do you see as a potential offensive pick in the first, say, three rounds? I’ve seen possibly TE in the first, though that makes little sense to me with JJ and McDonald. Could you see WR or RB that early? Any early sense of what offensive players they might have high on the board?

And, more broadly, it’s already clear many of us — myself included — already have blinders on not just for certain positions of need but for certain prospects (e.g., LVE). Yes, it’s that bias you guys have talked about. So what positions do you think (like WR last year) the Steelers might be targeting that we’re not focusing enough on right now?

Alex: In the shortlist I made yesterday, I included two names on offense. Both tight ends – Hayden Hurst and Mike Gesicki. If they go offense, that’s probably the spot. Red zone threat, potential “guy” for 2019 if McDonald doesn’t quite work out. I don’t see RB. Praying it’s not a QB. WR is a little more possible than those two but I’d still put it behind TE.

Yeah, I could see a WR starting really anytime in the third round. They have to know Bryant is gone after 2018 and it’s proactive to prepare for that. Not everyone is going to be JuJu.

Ken2345: Is there any chance the Steelers tell Bell to sign an extension or the tag before the NFL draft or they rescind the franchise tag?

Alex: No. That will not happen. Just bad business. Talks won’t heat up again until the mid-July deadline.

Shai Landesman: Hey Alex! How tired are you of the Le’veon Bell saga?

Alex: Not as tired as you probably think, though I’m hoping to stop writing about it for a few days. I’ve felt for the longest time – and you guys know this – that a deal isn’t going to get done. So I’m not waiting with bated breath for a deal to get done. I don’t expect it to happen. And I expect Bell to be there Week One.

HdMartinez: Hi Alex,
1.) Who is the FA you want & who do you think the steelers might actually sign(with bell either getting a long term deal or playing on tag).
2.) if you believe this will be bell’s last year wearing black and yellow how high would you draft a RB this year?

Alex: Well I want Anthony Hitchens but it sounds like he’s going to Indy. It’s hard to peg down who they will sign, really a dart throw. The best thing we can do to try and predict is look at old pre-draft visits. So a John Hughes, Bruce Ellington could fit because they’re guys the Steelers showed interest coming out of school.

I wouldn’t draft a RB until the third round and even then, he wouldn’t have to be my replacement for Bell. Those guys are plug ‘n play. You can draft high next year. Not something you have to plan for like say, TE.

Sdale: 

Alex, a couple of questions. I missed Deshon Elliot’s drills at the combine. I’m curious what you think of him now after the combine drills and testing. Did he reinforce your initial assessment, or were there things that changed your mind about him?

Also, I wasn’t a big fan of Rashaan Evans, but I thought he looked really fluid and athletic in the drills. What did you think about his combine and, If we don’t get a ILB in FA, do you think he’s at the top of the list, or do you think we would still go safety with Reid?

Alex: Unfortunately, NFLN didn’t show much of the combine workout with the safeties. So I don’t have a lot of info there, which sucks. But he ran well enough, a 4.58. My threshold, and there are exceptions of course, for safety is sub 4.6 (sub 4.5 for CBs, sub 4.7 for LBs). My assessment is about the same as before. Hope to go back and watch more before the draft.

Evans was ok. He was dealing with an injury so there’s a curve to his workout. He’s running on the 28th so we’ll see how he times.

I know the schedule is tight but I don’t get how there are Pro Days basically a day after the Combine ends. You got Alabama kids who just went through the ringer at the Combine, a grueling event, having to work out again less than a week later. That’s not fair to those kids.

Jesse Hernandez: Hey Alex, what’s going on with the announcement about the site?

Alex: You’ll find out soon!

Chad Weiss: Alex,next week will the Steelers sign a long term starter at ilb or fs or will it be a bridge gap starter til future draft picks progress?

Alex: I think they’re going to target ILB. But it’s all about if you find the right guy for the right price. No guarantees. Ideally, you want someone who you think can start for at least the next two seasons.

Michael James: Hey Alex! You see other teams draft some ultra-raw athletes (e.g. D.Hunter in Minnesota or Ngakoue at Jacksonville) and turn them into quality edge rushers quickly. The Steelers have failed pretty miserably in actually developing their OLBs over the past few years. When is Porter held accountable?

Alex: Yeah, that’s tough to figure out. I mean, I guess we’re really only talking about Dupree, aren’t we? He was the only freak. Watt’s doing well, Jarvis was a negative athlete, and Chickillo isn’t in that category. So we have to be careful of how broad that statement is. And of course, you have great athletes who didn’t work out either.

The guys you mentioned are also 4-3 defensive ends whose sole focus is pretty much on going forward and getting after the QB. Tough to compare that to a 3-4 OLB. Lot more on their plate, less chances to rush, lot more complexity to the position/evaluation. That’s not an excuse but it is something to bear in mind when you’re trying to compare the two.

SteelSonOfFarmer: 

Hi Alex,

Will you sign Richard Sherman for right price?? If yes how much do you think steelers are willing to pay him??
Do you know anything about Dane Crunkshank (excuse my spelling cant remember the last name lol) SAfety form Arizona?? What day do you think will he go in draft??

Alex: Nah, I’ll pass on Sherman. Where is he going to fit? Bumping off Haden? Burns? Not going to happen.

I don’t know much about the prospect though he had a good Combine workout.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
What is a position that low-key needs to be addressed this off-season?

Alex: Returners, returners, returners. Season started today, who are your KR/PR? Yeah, I don’t know either. They gotta address that, ideally, with someone who can do both (but that’s tough to do).

Phil Brenneman II: 

This is going to be sort of half demand half question. Similar to how during the season you will occasionally do a video where you run all-22 and explain what you are seeing, you should do something similar for your draft profiles. What you do with the all-22 is some of the more interesting stuff done on the site and I think it could be even moreso with giving us more insight into how you scout. I know we get some of that with the gifs provided in the profiles along with the explanations but I would like to see more live features from you. That was the demand.

The question is, is there a possibility of you doing that? Maybe try one as a test run and see how it goes?

Alex: That’s not a bad idea. Our goal is to definitely do more video content. I think I’d rather wait until either right before the draft or after we know the picks. Otherwise, we could – not “waste” – but spend time on a guy that won’t end up mattering (though I guess the same can be said of the draft profiles). Thanks for the idea, Phil.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex!! If you had the chance would you:
1. sign LB Todd Smith and draft FS Justin Ried or
2. sign FS Tre Boston and draft LB Rashaan Evans

Alex: Give me Boston/Evans. Mainly because I don’t trust Smith enough on passing downs. I don’t see him as that complete Mack linebacker and the Broncos didn’t either. He was regularly subbed out. I like him as a Buck, not a Mack.

i58: I’m curious why the Steelers would give Bell the exclusive vs non-exclusive tag? Why not let him test the market and then either (a) match the deal if it comes in below his (maybe?) inflated expectations or (b) let him walk and take 2 first round picks as compensation. Use the presumably high/middle first rounder we get to take a defensive difference maker, and use our own late round pick on a replacement RB. And put next year’s extra 1 in the bank. Could also open up some interesting trade-down possibilities as well if you think there’s going to be good RB’s on day 2.

Alex Couple reasons. No one is offering two firsts for Bell and paying him a truckload amount of money. And two, I think it’s part of the idea of negotiating in good faith. They want Bell to remain a Steeler and the exclusive tag is a subtle hint of “hey, we don’t want you going anywhere else.

Put the non-exclusive tag on him and you’re sending a signal that he should start looking elsewhere. And I think that’s just going to add more tension to an already dicey situation.

CP72: Alex,
After seventeen Kevin Colbert drafts in Pittsburgh we can get a fill for what type of player that both he and the Steelers like. In your opinion what “Steeler” trait do you see as the most consistent in the guys that have succeeded?

Alex: That’s tough. Especially when we’re talking about guys who succeeded because that’s much broader than say, who they draft (a more finite group). I don’t know if I could give you a thoughtful answer of those who succeeded without sounding super cliche like some Ford commercial. Tough. Determined. Steeler. 

I just focus on the types of guys they actually select. That’s my predictive power. We know at the top, they’re going Power 5. In the first, underclassmen now rule the day. Top-notch athletes. High character. Productive. And guys they meet with at Pro Days/pre-draft visits.

Petherson Silveria: 1) Would you trade for Earl Thomas?
2) Would you trade Mike Mitchell for Earl Thomas, with their actual contracts?

Alex: Depends on what I’m giving up. That’s always the million dollar question.

Straight up? In a heartbeat.


That’s all for this week. Appreciate you guys stopping by.

To Top